New Glarus Brewing serving ‘green’ beer all year round
Connoisseurs across the country have spilled barrelfuls of ink praising New Glarus Brewing’s signature beers, and the brewery has taken home wagonloads of trophies from major festivals and competitions, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the company saw its latest laurel as just another dreary mantel filler.
But New Glarus’ brewmaster, Dan Carey, is at least as excited about winning IB’s Business Sustainability Award for Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative of the Year as he has been about his numerous brewing awards — though, to be sure, the feeling’s not quite the same.
“I would say that winning an award for the beer is an ego gratification,” said Carey. “I’m a brewer, so it’s sort of like your family coming over for Thanksgiving, and for two weeks you’ve thought about how you’re going to make a Thanksgiving dinner for them, and you found the perfect turkey, and everybody comes over and they say, ‘Wow, you did good and it was a beautiful dinner.’ That’s what winning a brewing award is. There’s a feeling of artistic success.
“Winning the environmental award, it’s a different type of satisfaction. For me, it’s more like saying, ‘Hey, world, we have a problem. We live in a world of diminishing resources, we live in a world of changing climate. We all have a lot of angst on this, we all have different opinions on why it’s happening, but we all know that things are in flux. We all need to do what we need to do. So when I win an award like this, I feel like I’m a good soldier. I feel like I’m doing my part. Like my father said about fighting World War II, we did our bit.”
New Glarus won its Business Sustainability Award for a five-pack of improvements it made when it commissioned its new brewery seven and a half years ago. Those included upgrades to its clean-in-place system, which eliminated the need to empty the entire system between washes; the use of treated wastewater to irrigate its hop garden and its Bier Garden landscaping; new energy-efficiency measures, including LED lighting and new fixtures that have resulted in power savings of 64%; heat-recovery systems that reclaim heat from kettle boil-off; and increased recycling and reuse efforts that have saved the company about $300 per month.
To Carey’s way of thinking, operating as efficiently and economically as possible is really not that laudable — it’s just what businesses do if they want to remain viable. At the same time, Carey sees good environmental stewardship as a natural outgrowth of his generation’s prevailing ecological ethic.
“I was born in 1960, so people of my generation grew up with the NASA space program. We landed on the moon and we saw the big, blue marble for the first time. And during that time, it had a huge impact when we saw this blue planet in a sea of black. It became very clear to all of us that this is all we got, and it’s really beautiful.”
Of course, in an age when companies often try to squeeze as much goodwill as they can out of their green initiatives, you could forgive Carey if he followed suit. But Carey insists he’s more interested in appealing to informed consumers than trying to pander to shoppers.
“We live in the world of the Internet, and people are much more informed now,” said Carey. “People often feel helpless — they feel helpless that we have a government in gridlock, we have a world situation that’s not very comfortable. But when you go to the store, you vote with your pocketbook, and capitalists respond to that because you feed them with your pocketbook. So when customers are informed, they make purchasing decisions, and those purchasing decisions will drive what manufacturers will do, and I feel that’s very important.
“I get calls from people all the time asking, ‘Are your beers vegan safe?’ or ‘Do you use GMO products?’ And all of these things are people that are engaged, and I encourage that. I think it’s important, but I don’t like the idea of me advertising and saying, ‘I’m more virtuous than the other guy because I do X.’”
Carey notes that job one for any business is to be a sensible businessperson, and that includes taking care of the low-hanging fruit that affects any business’s bottom line, such as energy-efficient lighting. Often, the bigger, more ambitious projects with returns on investment measured in multiple years necessarily come later because, as Carey says, “If your stomach’s not full, it’s really had to be thinking lofty thoughts.”
For New Glarus, an established, thriving Wisconsin brewery (try finding a local bar that’s not offering Spotted Cow these days), the time has come to be more forward-thinking and start picking higher on the tree.
“Now that the low-hanging fruit is being taken care of, you’re observing and watching, you’re starting to maybe be more comfortable when you have a little bit of money, and then you start to look at initiatives that maybe have a payback of three to 10 years, and then you do those,” said Carey. “And then you get to the point where, all right, now my system in in balance, I’m always daily looking for opportunities, but then I realize my customers say, ‘I want to buy my beer from a brewery that’s investing in technology to minimize their footprint.’ Then you start to invest in the things that are maybe 100 years before you pay back that investment.”
But while Carey is happy and gratified about his company’s Business Sustainability Award, he’s quick to point out that being green really just equates with being a sensible businessperson — or with simply being a practical-minded citizen.
“It just makes business sense, and that’s nothing new,” said Carey. “In some ways, the term ‘sustainability’ or being green is now a buzzword; it’s become a feel-good term, when really it should always be and should have always been a tenet of all people in society, whether they’re a corporation or an individual.”
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