Honestly, I don’t like beer. No matter how many Summer barbecues and picnics I have been to, nothing has changed. You would think that that would prevent me from appreciating the process that goes into making the “water of the gods,” as a professor of mine once called it. Yet, after speaking with Katie Wallace, the sustainability specialist from New Belgium Brewery, I received a glimpse into the beauty, connection, and sustainable practices that can go into making this “godly” beverage.
It all began for New Belgium Brewery before the first beer was even sold. The two co-founders of the company decided to take a hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The magnificent beauty they found in the nature around them made it inevitable that protecting that beauty would be a core value in the Brewery.
Although this brewery has no Jewish or religious connections, I can’t help but be reminded of Heschel’s idea of radical amazement. He writes, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” The co-founders decided that the radical amazement that they experienced on their determining hike should go into every ounce of their product. Although they may not call it spirituality, I get the feeling that this is the emotion they are trying to convey to their workers through their focus on sustainability.
Sustainability, for New Belgium, is not just about technology and business, but it is about happiness and well being. What is key for the company, is to make long term investments that will ultimately be profitable economically as well as in terms of the quality of the product and the happiness of the workers. Katie explained that the beautiful building that the brewery is in was a big investment. They did not merely care about functionality, but wanted to create beer in a place that the workers feel comfortable in and would evoke the magnificence of that historical hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Right now, there are two really exciting paths that the company is taking in terms of sustainability. The first is that they are involved in cleaning up the Colorado River and reducing water usage in making their beer. People all along the river are committing to using less water, and although water is a necessity for beer, New Belgium is finding ways to reduce their usage along the way. At one point they had the lowest water consumption in the nation and although that is difficult to maintain because of their smaller batches with greater varieties of beer, they are always trying to reduce water usage.
The other exciting development in sustainability for New Belgium is their emphasis on personal sustainability. Personal well being of the workers, their happiness, is part of making a sustainable company. New Belgium has always been an employee-owned business. The workers know about all aspects of New Belgium and they themselves are the ones that can help most in ensuring sustainable practices. Since they have an investment in the business and are working on the beer day to day, they are able to really pinpoint where there is waste and what can be done to improve the situation. But, just as empowering the workers is a key to sustainability, so is ensuring their happiness. People themselves need to feel good in their job and even personal lives so that every part of the business, from the workers home lives to the finishing of the product is sustainable.
What really brings this home is Katie’s other title–Purveyor of the good life. Sustainability is about ensuring that everyone and everything has a “good life.” Often, I do not think about sustainability in terms of myself, but rather I think of labels and technology. Sustainability is really much more personal and relatable. Everything around us can be and should be inspiration for sustainability-our nature, our shelter, the people we talk to, and the work that we do.
Even though I probably will not grab a beer at my next summer barbeque, I wonder if you can taste the sustainable practices and workers happiness in the brew. Maybe this is what can make all the difference not just in beer, but in food, in business, in people and really-I have no other way to say this but to make a huge generalization- in everything.
Dahlia Herzog is a rising senior at Brandeis University studying Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. She is interning at Hazon this summer.