One of the most interesting conversations I had at Sustainable Brands 08 last week was with Greg Owsley of employee-owned New Belgium Brewery, makers of Fat Tire beer and many others.
Although I’ve always been a big fan of New Belgium’s beers, especially their summer beer, Skinny Dip, what I was most interested in hearing about were the brewery’s innovative practices to take sustainability seriously – from using organic ingredients, making their employees happy, committing to their local community and going to extraordinary lengths to measure their various impacts on the environment.
I asked Greg what were the things that made New Belgium a sustainable brand, and he offered four principals that can easily apply to any business seeking to operate in a more responsible manner. The payoff, of course, is not just the satisfaction of doing things right, but also earning the trust and loyalty of increasingly conscious customers.
1) Walk The Walk
This one almost goes without saying, but the idea, of course is that you can’t even start a conversation on sustainability unless you’re taking it seriously yourself. To do so would be straight up greenwashing. Examine carefully what you can and want to do and start doing it. Only then should you start congratulating yourself publicly (if at all).
2) Admit Flaws
New Belgium had a campaign at events for a while with banners reading “We’re New Belgium and We Pollute”. Such admission opens the doors to honest conversation with those who might have advice for improvement and who might otherwise consider your green credentials flawed. Faking it will get you called out.
3) Go With Soul
Building on points 1 and 2, this principal is about knowing yourself and your organization and being proud of it. Speak with an honest voice – as a human would, not as a PR agency might.
4) Make Ripples
This is the fun part. When you manage the first 3 principals it’s time to have some fun, take some risks, and make some impacts. New Belgium’s “Follow your Folly” website chronicles their devotion to cycling, their hometown economy, and to promoting the creative projects of eccentric folks such as John Anderson and his wormbulance.
At the end of that day, the beer is still the pride and joy of New Belgium and the core of their business, but by finding a way to inject an honest, principled approach to their day-to-day activities, the company becomes more than just a brewery, it becomes a hive of positive, motivated people doing things that make other people happy. Now if that’s not a good way to do business, I don’t know what is.
For some more fun, Geoff Beattie from Cohn and Wolfe posted the following quick interview with Greg at the conference. Enjoy: