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New Belgium Brewery Tour

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New Belgium Brewing Company was founded on a pledge of environmental stewardship when Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan put their dreams of brewing beloved beer into forward motion and now, the company is iconic within the US beer brewing industry for its commitment to sustainability practices, supporting the local community and most importantly brewing good beer. The innovative sustainable techniques that they have applied throughout their business along with the integration of their core values have allowed the company to minimize the impacts that it has on the environment. Through the various practices discussed at the brewery tour and those outlined on the New Belgium Brewing Company webpage, it is clear that they have addressed the economic, socio-cultural, ecological and institutional dimensions of sustainable development.

New Belgium is constantly striving to improve and employ new techniques to reduce the consumption of natural resources in their processes and increase their energy efficiency and recycling. We see early examples of this in 1998 with a unanimous decision by employees to subscribe 100% of their electricity to City of Fort Collins wind power program and to date, it is the brewery with the largest wind consumption in the country (New Belgium’s steps to being green, ND). This vote was in response to an audit that revealed that brewery’s largest carbon dioxide emiisions were coming from the coal power plant from which it got its energy-the effects of this transition to wind energy saved approximately 15.2 million pounds of coal from being burned and reduced the emissions by 29.4 million pounds from the dates ranging November 1999 to march 2005(New Belgium’s steps to being green, ND).

Although New Belgium inevitably had to pay a voluntary premium over coal prices, the company and its employees placed more value on environmental stewardship than that of a larger paycheck. The motivations behind this decision are with respects to reducing pressure on the physical environment as well as preserving a resource (fossil fuels), for future use which can be attributed to the economic and ecological dimensions of sustainable development. In addition, this switch to wind power also has an institutional perspective because the employees were involved in making this decision. The largest attention paid to the institutional aspect of sustainable development comes with the recent announcement that New Belgium brewery is now a 100 percent employee owned business.

Other improvements that New Belgium has made to increase their energy efficiency are the use of alternative light sources: sun-tubes, skylights, and large east and west facing windows for natural lighting. While not everywhere within the brewery receives the benefits of natural lighting, New Belgium has installed motion-censored lighting (New Belgium’s steps to being green, ND). These are mostly simple sustainability practices that anyone can employ at home, but some of the innovations at the brewery are very complex as well as effective. For example, New Belgium has a biological process water treatment plant on site where microbes clean all of the production waste water through a serious of anaerobic and aerobic digestion basins. Through this process, methane gas is released as a by-product which in then trapped and transferred back into the brewery where it powers an engine (New Belgium Brewing, 2012). Here again are examples of the ecological dimension of sustainable development.

New Belgium encompases the economic dimension of sustainable development by their emphasis on buying what they can locally and whatever cannot be purchased locally, they turn to alternatives that minimize distribution channels. Not only is it about the location of their potential business partners, but the nature in which they run their organization- are they accountable for the impact of sourcing, making, and selling their products? Relatively recently, New Belgium has committed to buying 100% organic cotton tee’s from Patagonia (which is retailer local to Colorado), and has been deemed as Patagonia’s largest corporate consumer of the tee’s. (New Belgium’s steps to being green, ND). Economic aspects are considered environmentally sustainable only as long as the amount of resources utilized to generate welfare is restricted to a size and quality that does not deplete its sources for future use (Cottrell & Vaske, 2006).

Furthermore, New Belgium Brewing Company embodies the socio-cultural dimensions throughout many of their sustainable practices. In 1995, the philanthropy program was established and with that, a promise to donate one dollar for every barrel of beer produced to non-profit organizations in the communities in which they sell their beer (New Belgium Brewing, 2012). One statistic that I found amazing and admirable was 3000 hours of volunteer time that co-workers spent on their communities (New Belgium Brewing, 2012). Tour de Fat is the most iconic community involvement event that New Belgium puts on. It celebrates biking as alternative form of transportation that will reduce ones carbon footprint while at the same time, enjoy the outdoors and this social event.

I remember the tour guide at mentioning that the attendance at last year’s event was 20,000 people, and even with that staggering number, New Belgium still practices zero waste with recycle and reuse methods (one of their core values) at Tour de Fat. In addition to a great bike cruise and responsible beer drinking, the sale of all the beer sold at the event goes to help bike related non-profits.

New Belgium has decided upon a set of core values that is shared by all of its employees and guide decisions including but not limited to sustainable development. These core values that are outlined parallel that of the sustainable practices that the brewery employs and that of George Wallace’s principals for ecotourism. Wallace’s first principal states that resource use must be in a manner that minimizes negative impacts to the environment and local people (Wallace, ND). One of New Belgium’s most infamous core values is to conduct environmental stewardship by minimizing resource consumption, while maximizing energy efficiency and recycling. By using unconventional resources for power and electricity, and in addition, using those resources as a source of heating and cooling for the factory as a sort of ‘closed-loop system’, New Belgium sets a strong example for George Wallace’s first principle of ecotourism.

Wallace’s second principal to achieving ecotourism is to increase the awareness and understanding of an area’s natural and cultural systems and the subsequent involvement of visitors in issues affecting those systems (Wallace, ND). This principal is very evident within the stature that New Belgium holds within the brewing community with regards to promoting sustainable business practices to competitors/partners. I asked our tour guide how they implemented these company values focusing on minimizing resource consumption, and maximizing energy efficiency and recycling across state-lines and smaller work teams? He said for example, they send out representatives from the company who visit distributors across the country that they have interest in doing business with and they sped time sharing and demonstrating the company’s core values and sustainability initiatives.

The brewery tour and Tour de Fat alike have education in sustainable practices instilled in them and encourage public involvement which coincides with the later of Wallace’s second principal. They too, help to elicit the core value of promoting beer culture and the responsible enjoyment of beer. Because New Belgium is “third largest ‘Regional Craft Brewery’” in the US, they have the platform to influence and encourage their competitors and partners to strive for sustainable development within their organization (New Belgium Brewing, 2012).

Wallace’s third principal calls for a contribution to the conservation and management of natural areas (Wallace, ND). Though they do not protect a specific natural area, New Belgium makes sure to have limited waste and efficient use of resources, both of which are external factors of protecting a natural area. Continuous, innovative quality and efficiency improvements is one of the company’s core values, and it transcends the brewery’s initiative to conserve its natural areas by imposing as little pressure on the environment as possible. In addition, while the brewery does not directly contribute to management of natural areas, their philanthropy efforts have raised millions of dollars for non-profits in the community, some of which help to improve biking trails. George Wallace’s fourth principal illuminates the Importance of short and long term participation of locals in decision making processes that determines the kind and amount of tourism that should occur in their community (Wallace, ND).

There are multiple core values of New Belgium Brewery that exhibit how they involve locals in the decision making process. Cultivating potential through learning, participative management and the pursuit of opportunities are the building blocks to collaboration. The brewery tour facilitates local’s understanding of what sustainability and the things they can do, while the company learns from their success and failures implementing new ideas. Participative management calls to action community involvement and a participating voice in the discourse through community events such as Tour de Fat. The fifth principle of ecotourism, according to George Wallace, suggests that the business should direct economic and other benefits to the local people that compliment traditional practices. (Wallace, ND). By committing themselves to authentic relationships, communications and promises, New Belgium can secure and bond and trust with community members, organizations and non-profits that can benefit from circulating profits locally.

Tourism is an industry that relies on many small intermediaries working together to create an experience and Fort Collins is no different. I had asked our tour guide if there were any examples of this that the brewery was aware of? At first he explained how New Belgium sells back there by-product from brewing the beer for farmers to use as cattle feed, which compliments traditional practice. This is a great example of intermediaries working together on a local scale, but I then asked if he could elaborate on tourism related intermediary? Being that there are several different breweries here in town and all within a relatively close proximity to one another, there is a bus route called ‘the brew tour’ that transports guest from one brewery to another.

Wallace’s sixth and final principle advocates “providing special opportunities for local people and nature tourism employees to visit natural areas and learn more about the wonders that other visitors come to see (Wallace, ND)” New Belgium Brewery achieves the principal brilliantly with their dedication to producing world class beer sustainably. Opening their doors to the public, the brewery has made their process and vision accessible to all those curious about their craft beers and green initiatives. They have been able to create special events centered around word class beer and nature tourism employees such as our classes guided tour. This special event brought in Natural Resource students and others alike to study the Breweries methods and many of the other sites that other visitors come to see-Approximate 75 tours a week!

New Belgium goes beyond the walls of it brewery and packaging plant out into the community of Fort Collins as a pioneer in the sustainable tourism network. As Tour de Fat was at a record high of 20,000 participants this past year, we can see that the brewery is a major stakeholder in the sustainable tourism going on in Fort Collins. Partnering up with other organizations that share the same values as they, every fall this collaborative group of volunteers and employees alike put on a ballyhoo full of biking and craft beers with sustainable goals in mind. Another major contributing factor to New Belgium’s involvement with the tourism network is the public and private brewery tours that are running on a constant basis. Our tour guide had mentioned New Belgium Brewing Company has more brewery tours every year than any other in the US. The brewery has also joined forces with Planet Bluegrass for festivals such as Telluride Bluegrass Music Festival and other similar events to help reduce the impacts on the host community and environment.

From my perspective, New Belgium is on its way but not yet a fully sustainable company, although I think that it is impossible to have completely sustainable development because the two words are almost dichotomous with one another. I have also earned throughout this class this it is hard to have high sustainability due to the opportune cost of social, economic and environmental dimensions-within each of these dimensions it continues to get more complex with feasibility and livelihood. When comparing New Belgium brewing company with the four dimensions of sustainability I found that they addressed all four on numerous levels. The institutional aspect will see the biggest change in the near future as now the company has become 100 percent employee owned. This means that all employees are stakeholders within the business and have some voice in the decisions affecting New Belgium.

With regards to the ecological dimension of sustainability, the brewery has achieved countess projects that have reduced their pressure on the environment, but the one innovation that caught my eye was the ice chest. They had a massive ice cube in some containment that collect and distributed the cold air coming off of the ice cube as a means of air conditioning during the day, while at night, they let it refreeze and that process continues daily. Most of all, it is New Belgium’s commitment to their employees, sustainability and fundraising/donation/philanthropy that I most admire.

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