From Grain to Glass
By Saray Deiseil
“It is possible to live according to your values and be extremely successful in the conventional sense.” – Jenn Orgolini, Sustainability Director, New Belgium Brewing
To live and work in this American culture it is a challenge to maintain grounded and focused on moral values. Our passions can easily turn into vices, leading us to blindly consume, waste and work in unhealthy environments. It’s becoming more an everyday reality, but it’s something we can change. At New Belgium Brewing Company, a sustainable regional craft brewery located in Fort Collins, Colorado, everything is done differently.
It all started when Jeff Lebesch embarked on a bicycle tour of beer breweries in Belgium. An electrical engineer by trade, he returned to Fort Collins and started crafting his own beer in his basement. After much practice, Jeff was ready to sell his brew. However, before going on the market, Jeff and his wife Kim Jordan sat down to compose their core values and goals, and how they believed a business could be run in congruence with those ideals. To this day, their love for the environment and communal living are carried throughout the company they founded.
The combination of People, Planet and Profit is how New Belgium Brewing runs their business. Triple bottom line. New Belgium has taken a stance by saying no to coal, becoming the country’s first brewery to purchase 100 percent of its electricity from wind power. Their wind power comes from Platte River Power Authority’s wind turbines in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. In becoming wind-powered, New Belgium Brewing elected to pay an increased rate at about 25 percent more for their electrical energy. As the largest subscriber in the program, it allowed Fort Collins Utilities to become Colorado’s first electric utility company to offer wind power. Jenn Orgolini, Sustainability Director of New Belgium Brewing thinks of Fort Collins as an example of the possibilities a union between a company and its city can create. “We believe that Colorado is the center of the new energy economy” Jenn Orgolini, says “and Fort Collins best exemplifies that in the state of Colorado.”
By designing the architectural specifications and energy modeling of the factory space, New Belgium Brewing was able to reduce the lighting and cooling costs by 50 percent. The facility’s granite is salvaged from dumpsters and the interior trim is lined with beetle kill pine from Colorado. Colorado is anticipating that mountain pine beetles will kill 98 percent of their lodge pole pines. Being that they can’t stop the pine beetles from destroying the trees, New Belgium decided to give these trees another life.
Set on the goal to close the loop on their brewing system, New Belgium Brewing found another way to produce energy: The Water Treatment Plant. Using microbes to clean the production wastewater creates two valuable by-products; nutrient-rich sludge and methane. The nutrient-rich sludge is harvested to create a high protein fish food for aqua farms and the methane gas is piped back to the brewery, where it powers a co-generator, a combined heat and power engine. This process turns brewery waste into 15 percent of their electrical needs. The Water Treatment plant takes the waste, treats it, converts it into energy, which is then used to create more beer, to create more waste, to turn back into energy. Another example of a closed loop system is the New Belgium brew kettle, Steinecker’s Merlin, the second of its kind installed in the U.S. and is more economical than the average brew kettle. During the last stage of brewing, at the kettle, New Belgium captures the steam and uses it to heat water and store it to use for the next brew.
Believing that every action can create a change in others, New Belgium Brewing implemented an Advercacy Program, where advertising meets advocacy. New Belgium Brewing gives money to non-profits in every state they sell their beer. They collaborate with the community and non-profits to help restore natural areas and promote legislation to protect the environment. As a sustainable role-model business, New Belgium Brewing has partnered with Colorado State University, collaborating on agriculture research. They recently created The Organic Hops Research Project, where they fund graduate students to develop an organic specialty crop industry in Colorado. If successful, New Belgium can utilize local organic crops instead of importing them from outside of Colorado and overseas farms.
Every year, New Belgium hosts Tour de Fat, a bicycle parade and festival that tours different cities encouraging people to get out of their cars or trade them in for bikes. All gross revenues from their beer sales go directly to their partner non-profits in each city, keeping the money within the community. This contribution helps raise money for non-profits promoting environmental efforts and raising cycling awareness. Another community-involved event is Team Wonderbike, where people can pledge to bike instead of drive a certain of miles a month. Right now over 20,000 people have signed up and the amount they pledge has been over 15 million miles per year of biking instead of driving.
Industry will be here for the long haul, so companies like New Belgium Brewing Company are an excellent example of how things can be done differently. We can create a model to consciously consume, reduce waste, and care for our planet. We can stand up for causes that are important and interact with our community and work together to make a better living and working environment. New Belgium Brewing is proof that we don’t have to be wasteful; we can keep our morals in check and yield financial and karmic dividends.
To learn more about New Belgium Brewing Company and their sustainable practices log onto New Belgium's website @ http://www.newbelgium.com/sustainability.