Case Study: New Belgium Brewery

Here is a reflection regarding a tour I took at the New Belgium Brewery regarding their sustainability attempts. Enjoy reading!

new belgium brewery logo

After going on the New Belgium tour, I was not only amazed at all the beer but stunned at how well New Belgium practices sustainability through socio-culture, institutional, economic, and environmental dimensions. These four dimensions of sustainability are so very dependent on each other; they overlap one another to create an ongoing flow of sustainable practice. From day one founder Jeff Lebesch and co-founder Kim Jordan have never lost the idea of environmental stewardship. New Belgium began of just a mere basement operation of brewing beer that turned into a company that is producing over 325,000 barrels of beer annually. So how does a company like new Belgium balance the environmental stewardship and four dimensions of sustainability?

The core values and beliefs guide the company to follow sustainable practice. In order for the company to engage in sustainable practices it starts with active participation from the employees. To help engage the employees New Belgium stands by “high involvement culture.”  They offer their employees stock through a program called “Employee Stock Ownership Plan.” Thus, the company is 43% employee owned. By allowing employees to have ownership within the company it not only empowers better work ethics but also sets a foundation for a workforce to be efficient. New Belgium states how employees ownership should not just exists on paper, but in practice (Corporate Sustainability Report, ND). By building this institutional dimension of sustainability for the business New Belgium accomplishes the other dimensions.

The employees are constantly trying to update and improve practices to help the ratio of input and output of natural resources used. First, in 2000 New Belgium realized the increase in brewing was creating a ton of wastewater so they built a water treatment plant onsite. This plant generates methane as a byproduct, it can then be used a fuel for engines onsite. This has resulted in helping reducing energy use by 10-11% annually. Another sustainable practice is the practice of solar power. New Belgium has the second largest private solar panel in North America. While walking through the brewery, you’ll notice a large amount of windows. The sun is there primary source of day lighting (New Belgium’s Steps to Being Green, ND). The facility is also equipped with motion sensor lights and sun tube lights. These sun tube lights, light is captured at the roof and travels down the tube to give out radiation without the heat (Personal Communication, 2012) . In 1999, New Belgium had an employee vote to be the first brewery to subscribe to purchasing 100% of the energy through wind credits (New Belgium’s Steps to Being Green, ND). As for more environmental friendly practices the facility is a real live example of recycled, reuse and recycle. The office furniture is made from recycled products, the carpet comes from interface (no waste is produced in the production), the interior wood is pine beetle kill, most of the paper products are made from recycled materials, the sound absorbers are aspen shavings, and the window sills/countertops are made from granite scraps (New Belgium’s Steps to Being Green, ND). These examples are just some of the ways the facility promotes environmental sustainability, as you can see New Belgium strives to have a positive impact on the environment. By following these practices it helps promote a sustainable economic and socio-culture impact.

The socio-culture dimension of sustainability is achieved through a strong commitment to giving back to the community and supporting local. New Belgium donates thousands of dollars to non-profits in every state that they sell beer in (Environmental Sustainability Report, ND). Each year New Belgium holds the Tour de Fat that is an event where people are encouraged to celebrate bicycles and raise money for nonprofits. As of 2009 the event has raised 1.25 million dollars for bike related non-profits (Corporate Sustainability Report, ND). According to our tour guide, New Belgium’s new factory in North Carolina is going to strive to hire local and give back to the local community by acting in a sustainable way and reducing use of the local natural resources (Personal Communication, 2012). Another example from the tour I noticed was how the facility has two electric charging stations suggested conscious habits for employees and community members (Personal Communication, 2012). Overall, New Belgium strives to engage the community to act in a sustainable way by their practices, education and involvement within the community.

The economic dimension of sustainability of New Belgium is accomplished by looking at the growth of the company in the past decade. It has passed milestones and attempts to not only focus on the profit of the company but the surrounding communities. They focus on supporting local; they use 300 local businesses to supply the company with day-to day operations (New Belgium’s Steps to Being Green, ND). New Belgium focuses on not supporting out-sourcing and is committed to support the United State economy. I found it interesting that to this day the company’s artist was a neighbor of the founding members in Old Town. Another example of how they support local economies is when the waste is produced they will sell a mixture of grain, hops, and other spent ingredients to local farmers for cattle feed (New Belgium’s Steps to Being Green, ND). By focusing on stimulating local business New Belgium can cut expenses and stimulate the local economies.

New Belgium’s core values and beliefs are a direct effect of the practices stated above. They are transparent to George Wallace’s six principles of ecotourism. Wallace’s first principle outlines that you must use resources in a manner that minimizes negative impacts on the environment and local people (Wallace, ND). This principle is a direct connection to New Belgium’s first and foremost principle of environmental stewardship; to minimize resource consumption, maximize energy efficiency and recycling (Corporate Sustainability Report, ND). By using alternative resources for power and electricity, doubling those resources as a source of heating and cooling for the factory, and using recycled materials for the infrastructure of the facility, New Belgium sets a strong example of George Wallace’s first principle to tourism.

George Wallace’s second principle states increasing the awareness and understanding of an area’s natural and cultural systems and the impact that involving visitors have on those systems (Wallace, ND). This principle directly relates to one of New Belgium’s values, which states by learning, participative management and the pursuit of opportunities will result in cultivating potential. At New Belgium they give monthly meetings for all the employees, where people can ask questions and information is openly given and recommendations are given from employees. There is also open book management where employees can look at all the financial books and training is even offered to people. This technique helps employees make better decisions individually, that affects New Belgium’s profitability. This idea of letting employees full rein of information flow is similar to Wallace’s second principle because if you think of the business as a natural area, the employees can learn all about the business thus it will have positive impact same goes for a natural area.

New Belgium’s values don’t specifically relate to Wallace’s third principle however they do metaphorically. The value of continuous, innovative quality and efficiency improvements is very similar to Wallace’s third principle, “Contributes to the conservation and management of legally protected and other natural areas.” If you think of New Belgium’s facility as a protected area they are always making steps to be more sustainable if its taking out cardboard inserts from the product or using byproducts for fuel they are focused on the conservation of the business. New Belgium focuses on reducing waste and efficiency use of resources, both of which are external factors of a natural area.

George Wallace’s forth principle explains the importance of having early and long term participation in the decision making process in order to determine the amount and type of tourism that takes place (Wallace, ND). I think this has the biggest similarities with the core value of kindling social, environmental and cultural change on a business role model. This directly relates to the idea of research and evaluation, by creating a business model New Belgium can take into account the social, environmental, and cultural impacts of the business.  By understanding these aspects of the business from the beginning they are able to grow and understand them more in depth. In Wallace’s principle it is involved with understanding the amount and type of tourism but with New Belgium I see it as understanding social, environmental and cultural change. With active participation these principles will result in a positive change on a business role model.

George Wallace’s fifth principle outlines the idea of direct economic and other benefits to local people, while not replacing traditional practices (Wallace, ND). New Belgium’s core values are committed to help the local economies, and not replace and change existing communities in negative ways. One value which states, balancing the myriad needs of the company, staff, and there families is a good example of the fifth principle. New Belgium take the spent grains and hops and sells them to farmers for cattle feed, which is a direct benefit for the local farmers. Another example I noticed was when our tour guide explained how the new facility in Ashville is planning on not taking the craft brewery market out there but growing it. The new factory is focused on supporting the new community and not replacing the traditional practice.

George Wallace’s final principle states “provide special opportunities for local people and nature tourism employees to visit natural areas and learn more about the wonders that other visitors have come to see” (Wallace ND). This last principle relates to New Belgium’s values of producing world-class beer and promoting beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer. They offer free tours where people enjoy their beer, see the processes and are involved in the fun of brewing beer. The Tour De Fat event is a good example of how New Belgium provides special opportunities for the local people of Fort Collins to come together and partake in beer culture. Producing this world-class beer and teaching people about their processes is their way of providing for others and is in perfect alignment of George Wallace’s sixth principle.

After the tour and research of New Belgium, I wasn’t only surprised at New Belgium’s sustainable practices but flabbergasted. This company sets the bar for sustainability at a large business level. New Belgium achieves these sustainable practices through sociocultural, institutional, economic, and environmental dimensions through their core values and beliefs. They put the people and environment first and realize that the profit will come after that; they have grown immensely in the past decade. It really inspired me how successful a company can be by following these sustainable dimensions; it opens up a door for new business to follow. Being a growing environmental sustainable business enterprise New Belgium endeavors new heights and makes me think why more large businesses can’t have the same values and beliefs. Shouldn’t we implement regulations to follow these dimensions help our communities be more sustainable?

References

  1.  “Corporate Sustainability Report.” New Belgium. New Belgium’s Sustainable Business. Retrieved from <http://www.newbelgium.com/culture/alternatively_empowered/sustainable-            business-story/profit.aspx>
  2. Personal Communication (2012). Tour guide at New Belgium Brewery.
  3. (September 13, 2012).Wallace, George N (n.d.). toward a principled evaluation of ecotourism ventures.  New Haven, Connecticut: Yale F&ES Bulletin.
  4. New Belgium (2012). New Belgium. Retrieved from http://www.newbelgium.com/shift.aspx
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