New Belgium Brewing: Ethical and Environmental Responsibility

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Although most of the companies frequently cited as examples of ethical and socially responsible firms are large corporations, it is the social responsibility initiatives of small businesses that often have the greatest impact on local communities and neighborhoods. These businesses create jobs and provide goods and services for customers in smaller markets that larger corporations often are not interested in serving. Moreover, they also contribute money, resources, and volunteer time to local causes. Their owners often serve as community and neighborhood leaders, and many choose to apply their skills and some of the fruits of their success to tackling local problems and issues that benefit everyone in the community. Managers and employees become role models for ethical and socially responsible actions. One such small business is the New Belgium Brewing Company, Inc., based in Fort Collins, Colorado. History of the New Belgium Brewing Company

The idea for the New Belgium Brewing Company began with a bicycling trip through Belgium. Belgium is arguably the home of some of the world’s finest ales, some of which have been brewed for centuries in that country’s monasteries. As Jeff Lebesch, an American electrical engineer, cruised around that country on his fat-tired mountain bike, he wondered if he could produce such high-quality beers back home in Colorado. After acquiring the special strain of yeast used to brew Belgian-style ales, Lebesch returned home and began to experiment in his Colorado basement. When his beers earned thumbs up from friends, Lebesch decided to market them.

The New Belgium Brewing Company (NBB) opened for business in 1991 as a tiny basement operation in Lebesch’s home in Fort Collins. Lebesch’s wife, Kim Jordan, became the firm’s marketing director. They named their first brew Fat Tire Amber Ale in honor of Lebesch’s bike ride through Belgium. New Belgium beers quickly developed a small but devoted customer base, first in Fort Collins and then throughout Colorado. The brewery soon outgrew the couple’s basement and moved into an old railroad depot before settling into its present custom-built facility in 1995. The brewery includes an automated brewhouse, two quality assurance labs, and numerous technological innovations for which New Belgium has become nationally recognized as a “paradigm of environmental efficiencies.”

Today, New Belgium Brewing Company offers a variety of permanent and seasonal ales and pilsners. The company’s standard line includes Sunshine Wheat, Blue 1 © O.C. Ferrell 2006. We appreciate the work of Nikole Haiar in helping draft the previous edition of this case, and Melanie Drever who assisted in this edition. This case was prepared for classroom discussion, rather than to illustrate either effective of ineffective handling of an administrative, ethical or legal decision by management. All sources used for this case were obtained through publicly available material and the New Belgium website.

Paddle Pilsner, Abbey Ale, Trippel Ale, 1554 Black Ale, and the original Fat Tire Amber Ale, still the firm’s best-seller. Some customers even refer to the company as the Fat Tire Brewery. The brewery also markets two types of specialty beers on a seasonal basis. Seasonal ales include Frambozen and Abbey Grand Cru, which are released at Thanksgiving, and Christmas and Farmhouse Ale, which are sold during the early fall months. The firm occasionally offers one-time-only brews, such as LaFolie, a wood-aged beer, which are sold only until the batch runs out.

Until 2005, NBB’s most effective form of advertising has been its customers’ word of mouth. Indeed, before New Belgium beers were widely distributed throughout Colorado, one liquor store owner in Telluride is purported to have offered people gas money if they would stop by and pick up New Belgium beer on their way through Ft. Collins. Although New Belgium beers are distributed in just one-third of the United States, the brewery receives...
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