New Belgium Brewery: 'If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable'

There is a vast array of reasons to commute by bike. People who choose to cycle for transportation do so because, for many, it is the most efficient, enjoyable and sustainable way to travel. At New Belgium Brewery, bikes are a natural part of the company culture, as the Colorado-based brewerys core values and beliefs include kindling social, environmental and cultural change as a role model of a sustainable business.

New Belgium Brewery: Tour de Fat
Image: New Belgium Brewery

When New Belgium was established in Fort Collins in 1991 by Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan, they sought to create a business that is profitable not in spite of honoring nature, respecting all employees, and being a fun place to work, but because of these values. These beliefs have been at the core of New Belgium since its inception, and today, the company has a formal Sustainability Management System (SMS) to ensure that the founders original vision is maintained as the company continues to grow and mature.

I had the opportunity to speak with Katie Wallace, NBs Sustainability Specialist, to discuss how the company developed and practices its sustainability objectives, what its like to work in that type of environment, and how other businesses can learn from NB. According to Katie, alignment is the foundation for New Belgiums SMS. The company has clearly defined its vision, mission statement and core values and beliefs, and, from the top down and bottom up, all employees engage in activities that reinforce these values.

New Belgium has consciously created a High Involvement Culture (HIC), and all employees are encouraged to share their ideas, many of which have been passed on to project managers and adopted by the company.

Within their Sustainable Business Story, NB explains that the HIC helps the brewery to operate more intelligently while recognizing everyones unique gifts. This culture, coupled with the fact that NB also has an Employee Stock Ownership Plan and 43% of NB is employee-owned, helps to further engage and reward employees.

New Belgium Brewery
Image: New Belgium Brewery

How does cycling fit into this sustainable business story? To start, New Belgiums original Belgian-inspired beer is called Fat Tire and features a bike on its label. The company also presents all employees with a cruiser bicycle after one year of service. As Katie explained, the gift of a bicycle is a celebration of each persons first year and of the company culture. Rather than offering its employees monetary incentives for performance, New Belgium believes in creating a balanced, honest and engaging culture to reduce turnover and to keep people passionately involved in their jobs.

When a company genuinely encourages an environment that is socially and environmentally conscious, it attracts like-minded employees who then positively contribute to the company culture. At New Belgium, a driver named Asher rides fifteen miles each way, every single day, to the warehouse. Jason rides a longboard ten miles on his daily commute. Fortunately for New Belgium, healthy employees are more productive employees.

New Belgium Brewery
Image: New Belgium Brewery

So what does Katie say to other companies who may have reservations about creating and implementing a sustainability management plan? Each company has unique needs, but change and long term planning require investment. To build a business in an unsustainable way is shortsighted and demonstrates a limited view of that company and of society.

At New Belgium, Katie and the rest of the crew subscribe to Guy Daunceys belief that If its not fun, its not sustainable. After completing five years of service, NB employees celebrate with a company-funded trip to Belgium. To commemorate twenty years as a successful business, New Belgium gave bikes to all of its employees. Sounds like fun to me.

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