Case 13.3 Emerging Trends: Going Green Keeps New Belgium Brewing Company in the Black
Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch, the husband and wife founders of New Belgium Brewing Company, envisioned building a world-class beer brand while minimizing the company’s footprint on the planet. Nearly two decades later, they have built a workplace where employees are engaged and enthusiastic about supporting the company’s environmental cause. New Belgium currently has 320 employees and generates $96 million in annual revenues.
One of the secrets of the company’s success is finding fun and communal ways for employees to be involved and not preaching from the top. “I think it is very important not to be heavy handed and instead set an example that employees can follow if they want to,” says Jordan, New Belgium’s chief executive officer.
The company gives employees ample ways to be environmentally conscious at work and in their free time. It also ties those efforts into its signature beer, Fat Tire, by encouraging bicycling. Each New Belgium employee is given a cruiser bike after one year of employment and roughly half of the employees based in Fort Collins, Colorado, commute by bike in the summer months. What is more, every summer the company hosts an 11-city event called Tour de Fat, where New Belgium employees dress in costumes and lead local residents on a bike tour. Not all of the company’s initiatives are centered on bikes. New Belgium leases Toyota Prius hybrids for its sales force to drive to meetings.
The company also tries to make environmental sustainability a big force at the workplace. An on-site recycling center allows employees to recycle goods such as old car batteries and motor oil. The company also donates 1 percent of its profits to 1% For The Planet, a global philanthropic network. New Belgium also has been using wind-power electricity, a clean energy, since 1999 for its brewing process when employees voted to use wind power instead of electricity from the local coal-based utility company. Employees voted to subsidize the higher cost of wind-powered electricity over cheaper coal-based alternatives from their profit-sharing bonuses.
One challenge has been keeping the feel of a close-knit community, even as the company grows quickly and adds employees in cities outside of the Fort Collins headquarters. Each month, New Belgium holds a videoconference meeting for all employees to discuss new developments, and every employee gets invited to an annual retreat. After five years of employment, each worker gets a one-week complimentary trip to Belgium to learn about Belgian beer culture.
Jordan says that employee ownership has also helped boost engagement. Employees own about 32 percent of New Belgium through a stock ownership plan, and the company practices open-book management, hosting monthly meetings where it walks employees through the company’s financial statements.
Chris Winn, the self-titled “event evangelist” for New Belgium, says the company has made the work environment fun and collaborative by letting employees be themselves and by not setting strict rules for employees to follow. “There is a lot of very different, dynamic people here,” Winn says. “There is no element of them trying to beat that out of you.”
What communication and HR practices does New Belgium use to keep employees in the loop so they feel involved with the company and part of a community?
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