New Belgium Brewing - More Companies Should Follow Their Lead - by G. Adams

Whether you realize it or not, we are smack, dab in the middle of what I'll call the 'age of anxiety pods'. Anxiety over the war in Iraq, the economy, gas prices, education and a litany of issues that can make the calmest of us quiver in our $200 running shoes. Today, I'll focus my anxiety pod on one that isn't just looming over, but actually includes the horizon - the environment and the different ways corporate America plays with it and in it.
The word 'green' has been transformed from a worthy environmental battle cry, to the most egregious corporate marketing ploy since Dubya introduced us to 'WMD'.
Corporations have become proficient in the use of green market buzzwords to help create the perception that they are the ethical and socially conscience stewards of the environment. There are corporate conferences like 'Good and Green, The Green Marketing Conference', helping companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Nike, Jet Blue Airlines, Bank of America, Allstate and many others position their image and message around being one with the earth. I'm not a marketing guy, but for pure entertainment value I would love to be a fly on the wall for the Jet Blue strategy session, ("let's begin with your company name, Jet Blue. We can work with that for now, but we need to lose the 'Airlines' thing"). In all seriousness, I would like to know which conferences, if any, these companies are signing up for that actually teach them how to be greener. One company that is walking the talk is New Belgium Brewing Company, (New Belgium Brewery) , based in Fort Collins Colorado. Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, New Belgium's founders began brewing Belgian-style beer in their basement and by taking it commercial in 1991, became the first to brew and sell Belgian-style in the United States. That by itself is a pretty cool story, but what's truly remarkable is the belief system they instilled throughout the employee owned company and the impressive results achieved from those beliefs. Let's start with what I consider to be one of the few corporate 'mission statements', (New Belgium calls theirs 'What We Believe'), that actually guides culture and strategic direction:

What We Believe.

We believe, to be environmental stewards, we need to: 1. Lovingly care for the planet that sustains us. 2. Steward natural resources by closing the loops between waste and input. 3. Minimize the environmental impact of shipping our beer. 4. Reduce our dependence on coal-fired electricity. 5. Protect our precious Rocky Mountain water resources. 6. Focus our efforts on conservation and efficiency. 7. Support innovative technology. 8. Model joyful environmentalism through our commitment to relationships, continuous improvement, and the camaraderie and cheer of beer. Unlike most companies that I have been associated with, these words are more than something to talk about at the annual sales kick-off and post on conference room walls. These words have been translated into action! Having visited their facility on several occasions and spoken with a good cross-section of their employees across their footprint, I have seen the following claims from their website in action: - New Belgium has implemented many efficiencies in their brewing process, resulting in minimal use of primary energy to make their beer. They utilize UV blocking windows, sun-tubes, and light shelves for lighting at the brewery; use evaporative coolers that condition their 55,000 square foot packaging hall with no compressors, requiring much less energy - Methane produced by process water treatment is used to fuel a combined heat and power engine—or co-gen—which creates electricity and heat for the brewery. The co-gen offsets critical peak loads by creating electricity on-site from a renewable source — process wastewater. When the co-gen is running full-time, it can supply 15% of New Belgium's electrical needs. - In 1999, New Belgium became the largest private consumer of wind-power electricity at that time and the first wind-powered brewery. The most interesting part of this decision? When the employee's were told that the cost of wind power would have a less than favorable impact on their profit sharing pool, they voted unanimously in favor of the clean air option! - To encourage sustainable transportation, every employee gets a New Belgium custom cruiser bicycle after one-year of employment. - New Belgium has partnered with innovative companies like Solix and Oberon to further their status as good environmental custodians. Solix is developing the capability to make bio-diesel from algae, which has much higher yields per acre, and lower water and fuel inputs, than traditional bio-diesel crops. In support of those efforts, New Belgium will provide Solix with several acres of their property, CO2 from fermentation and warm water from their process water treatment plant. Oberon installed a small treatment plant next to New Belgium's that will use New Belgium process wastewater to harvest sludge, creating a high protein fish food for aqua-farms. If successful, it could provide the knowledge required to turn waste stream into a source of global nutrition. Since their inception, New Belgium has donated more than 2.5 million dollars through an organized philanthropic program, with a target of another $475,000 in 2008. Additionally, New Belgium became a member of 1% for the Planet in 2007. 1% for the Planet is a global network of environmentally philanthropic members with more than 800 companies and 1,500 non-profit organizations. Launched in 2001 by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Matthews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies of Bozeman, 1% members have donated more than $30 million dollars since its inception. ( In closing, I know what you must be thinking - he's got to be a shill for these guys! Let me reassure you that while I do love their product, (and most Belgian beers in general), what moved me to write this was my experience in visiting a company that I believe many in corporate America could learn from, transforming what for most is just a claim of being 'green friendly' into a reality. Peace, Gregg Adams

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Gregg - Greg from New Belgium here. Thanks for the sweet write up. A bit of a funny irony: I'm tentatively committed to speak at that Good and Green conference you ponder about and I've also spoke at such gigs before. In large degree, your estimate is right - some mega co.s do attend these just hoping to figure out a way to present at least a glimmer of greenness. Typically though, the enterprises and the consultants well-rooted in the sustainability movement are fast to warn all conference attendees that if the greenspeak doesn't have measurable green practices to back it up, you'll get shredded by savvy consumers. The reason me and others tell the New Belgium story at these biz conferences is our hope that they'll take some of our real sustainable learnings back to their much larger and thus much more impactful endeavors. If you have a minute, okay actually 36 of them, here's a link to a bootleg video from the Sustainable Brands '08 conference in early June where I told our story...