At a time when many businesses are downsizing or worse, New Belgium Brewing, which opened in 1991 and has become the third largest craft brewery in the United States, is profitable and growing. While our customers have traditionally enjoyed our beer west of the Mississippi, we grew 7 percent this year by expanding our sales to the District, Maryland and Virginia. People may be tightening their belts, but they still want affordable luxuries, including a six-pack of their favorite beer.
We have learned that people want to support a business that sells a well-made product and treats co-workers and customers with respect. Visitors to the brewery often remark on the positive energy throughout the organization. That’s a result of shared ownership and decision-making with our 425 co-workers. We attract passionate and talented people because we share the profits, pay 100 percent of health insurance premiums and match 401(k) contributions. We’re proof that a business can be profitable while treating co-workers with respect.
Customers and co-workers also support us because of our charitable giving and environmental stewardship. For every $1 of beer sold — $700,000 granted in 2011 and $4 million over our 20-year history — we donate to causes like The League of American Bicyclists, which is working to create a bicycle-friendly America. Furthermore, we were the first brewery to commit to wind energy and work to turn our by-products back into fuel.
In addition to our customers’ and co-workers’ support, our business benefits from national and state regulations. We welcome a fair playing field that raises the bar for all. It’s one of the reasons we joined the American Sustainable Business Council, a network of business organizations advocating for public policies that address the new realities of the 21st century global economy.
Because beer has been a heavily regulated commodity since the repeal of Prohibition, the stability of knowing what is expected of us — and our competitors — is helpful. Some businesses, usually the ones that lay off workers while their CEOs take in millions in pay, say regulation is bad for business, but our experience shows otherwise.
Most of the 100,000 people who visit our brewery each year come from out of state to drink beer against the backdrop of Colorado’s natural beauty. To us, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Colorado’s oil and gas drilling rules and other safeguards ensure people will continue to come. Without these laws protecting the environment, we would see an unrestrained rise in the destructive practices that contribute to the brewery business’s biggest threat: climate change.
Beer is an agricultural product developed from hops and barley. This year, those crops fared poorly due to unseasonably cold and wet weather. In 2012, the price of barley and hops will increase while supply decreases. If the climate isn’t primed to produce high quality ingredients, many of the 1,800 breweries in America will struggle. We need regulations that promote stability and sustainability instead of destructive practices that benefit a select few.
Jennifer V. Orgolini is the director of sustainability and strategic development at New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colo.