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“If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.” Those aren’t Kim Jordan’s words — they belong to Guy Dauncey — but they are words she lives by. And they are words that embody the principles she’s created for her company, New Belgium Brewery.
Take the company’s logo: a graphic of a bicycle. Sure, it was originally supposed to be iconic of Jordan’s husband’s bicycle trip through Europe, where he first fell in love with beer culture. But since then, it has come to embody those two cornerstones of the company’s philosophy: fun and sustainability. And to prove that the company walks the walk, it gives a bicycle to each of its employees.
That’s not all that New Belgium employees get. They also get equity in the company. Jordan never refers to her 395 employees as anything but co-workers. Those co-workers own 41 percent of New Belgium Brewery; management owns 14 percent; and Jordan and her family claim “the balance.”
When Jordan and her now late husband originally decided to start the brewery, they went on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to discuss what, exactly, the yet-to-be-born company was going to be about. Their informal business plan included just three goals:
1. Make world-class beer.
2. Promote beer culture.
3. Have fun.
You’ll notice, Jordan points out, that there was no discussion of customers or employees then because, well, they didn’t have any. “Entrepreneurship is something that sneaks up on you,” she says. Everything must be done in stages. So when the company did have employees, she decided that part of having fun was going to be creating community. She read a book about open-book management and decided it was a management style that was right for New Belgium. “But open-book management without equity is like inviting someone to smell the dinner without letting them taste anything,” she says. And let’s face it: part of the fun of running a brewery is the tasting part.
Her decision to share equity in the company with her co-workers demonstrated a valuable business lesson: in order to command any credibility, you have to make decisions that are consistent with what you’ve said is important, Jordan says. That lesson is still relevant when pursuing her other goals regarding sustainability. New Belgium utilizes solar-ray technology on its packaging farm, gets its energy from wind farms in Wyoming (even in 1998!) and reuses energy via heat transfers in its brewing process (Jordan and her husband used an aluminum trash can as a DIY heat transfer in their basement home brewery; the commercial heat transfer is considerably more advanced now). But the journey toward sustainability is far from over.
To better lay out plans to lessen New Belgium’s environmental impact even more, Jordan and her team decided to publish the company’s sustainability report, warts and all. It was a tough decision. On the one hand, the company prides itself on its environemntal policies. On the other hand, nobody’s perfect, and New Belgium’s carbon footprint, while commendably smaller than many counterparts in the industry, still exists. “It was really freeing, actually,” Jordan says now. “It was really freeing to say, ‘here’s where we’re doing well and here’s where we’re still working.'”
And New Belgium is in fact still working on its sustainability initiatives. Jordan has become a face of the social entrepreneurship movement, and her company has adopted something it calls advercacy, a mixology of advertising and advocacy, as a marketing plan.
So what percent of New Belgium’s success can be attributed to its tasty suds versus its sustainability initiatives?
“Whenever we don’t know the answer at New Belgium, we say seven,” Jordan says.
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