Cheers to Sustainability: How this Beer Company Brews Green Culture

For employee owners at the fourth largest craft brewing company in the U.S., culture isn’t about what you say; it’s about what you do. New Belgium Brewing’s culture is strongly based on sustainability and workplace wellness, and continues to be an example many companies strive to emulate.

By Poornima Apte, Contributor

On June 11, 2019, Erin Williams summited Denali, the highest peak in North America. Shortly afterward, she posed with a can of Fat Tire Amber Ale, the flagship product of New Belgium Brewing Company, headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Erin Williams at the top of Denali
Erin Williams at the top of Denali

The photo was a nod to the team behind her success: her co-workers at New Belgium. Williams, the senior systems engineer at America’s fourth-largest craft brewery, is humbled to be an advocate for a company she’s worked at for more than nine years. “It was an honor for me to represent New Belgium from an environmental perspective on that mountain,” Williams says, “I wanted to be an advocate for our brand, for responsible beer drinking, and for the craft beer industry.”

Brewing a Focus on Sustainability

Williams’ love for the outdoors makes her a natural fit at New Belgium, a certified B Corp that has prioritized environmental responsibility in every facet of its operation.

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New Belgium abides by a long list of green initiatives: It donates one dollar per every barrel of beer sold—the company has donated $26 million to date—to nonprofits that support community well-being and share New Belgium’s commitment to sustainability. It diverts 99.8 percent of its waste from landfills; and Fat Tire beers are 1% for the Planet-certified, meaning 1 percent of sales goes to environmental causes. Additionally, the brewery leaders co-founded the Glass Recycling Coalition, which focuses on making glass recycling more accessible and efficient.

The emphasis on sustainability runs up and down the supply chain, Williams explains. “We have electric cars and some hybrid delivery trucks that deliver beer in town. Specialty software—much of it written in-house—monitors tank temperatures and other kinds of metrics so water is used most efficiently.”

New Belgium has also been evaluating how it packages its products, striving toward a smaller and denser design that uses fewer resources. “We removed cardboard dividers from some of our packages to reduce material consumption,” Williams says. “Related to beer packaging and sustainability: When we flush out the inside of the bottles, we capture and reuse that same rinse water to spray off the outside of the containers.”

“We have always tried to be a leader and an inspiration to others on the sustainability front.”

—Erin Williams, Senior Systems Engineer, New Belgium Brewing Company

“We have always tried to be a leader and an inspiration to others on the sustainability front,” she continues. “Since the beginning, we make every attempt to honor nature in our business.”

New Belgium’s focus on sustainability also extends to the vendor partnerships it establishes. “We want to partner with companies that are focused on environmentalism and cultural change and those that are really trying to be a force for good,” Williams explains. “I think Dell Technologies represents this focus. We consider environmental and sustainability factors in all our decisions, including technical ones, and Dell Technologies [has worked with us] to craft solutions that use less real estate and more shared resources to deliver the same results.”

“We have reduced our physical infrastructure footprint, which results in more efficient cooling needs,” Williams adds. New Belgium has instituted Dell’s VxRail solution, which has a smaller footprint. “A smaller, more resource-dense package translates into less cooling and power requirements, fewer power and patch cables, a decrease in power and network ports, and, in general, less material for cable management, housing, labeling, and packaging,” Williams points out.

Gearing Up for Fun

Jeff Liebisch was on a bicycle trip to Belgium when he fell in love with the Belgian brewing techniques and decided to found the Colorado brewery with his then-wife, Kim Jordan. Consequently, on their one-year work anniversaries, employees—many of whom work within biking distance to the office—receive a New Belgium cruiser.

In fact, bicycle culture is so strong at New Belgium that employees look forward to the annual Tour de Fat, where participants ride in a bike parade, typically dressed up in costumes. The parade follows a predetermined route through town, ending with music, food, entertainment, games, and, of course, beer. “We have people dressed up in ridiculous outfits on crazy bikes—it’s all part of the whimsy,” Williams says.

“Having fun is one of our core values and beliefs,” she continues. “In fact, we have a Director of Fun. We take pride in our products and jobs, but have fun doing it. Love and laughter are woven throughout my day.”

Culture That Employees Love

That love and laughter comes from nurturing a corporate culture where teammates watch out for each other. In fact, says Williams, her Denali expedition would not have been possible were it not for extensive support from her co-workers. The fact that she could take three-plus weeks off to complete the trip is proof that New Belgium stands by its principles. “A co-worker friend dropped me off at the airport, another took my dog in for three weeks, they brought me flowers, picked me up from the airport—they are incredible,” she says.

There are lessons here for other businesses, Williams acknowledges, including starting with sustainability initiatives, no matter how small. New Belgium, she notes, is also 100 percent employee-owned. “That comes with a lot of accountability and empowerment. ” Williams understands that not all businesses lean toward becoming completely employee-owned. One of the biggest takeaways, she says, is to create a culture where everyone wants to come to work. “I have been here nine years and I want to keep working here—it’s just such a great place to be.”

Strong sustainability and workplace wellness culture has a spillover effect into how customers view their business. “Since the beginning, New Belgium has been focused on sustainability—that is at our core,” says Williams. “We were the first wind-powered brewery; many of our loyal customers are aware of that history and drawn to New Belgium because of that. Some new customers are gaining awareness of our sustainability efforts through Fat Tire, which has a very strong connection to the outdoor community through local and national partnerships. New Belgium wants to show consumers you can be a conscious brand and produce delicious beers.”

And that’s a win-win worth cheering.