Sustainability—a wholistic approach to business and life—is something the craft beer industry models exceedingly well.
- Building a community—call it a tribe or a group of passionate fans and customers
- Environmental stewardship
- A cooperative industry business model
- Giving back—an act of generosity, be it to employees, community or non-profits
- A commitment to quality
A few key elements of their (and your) sustainable design include:
Craft beer brewers foster community and customer loyalty
Brewers start with an old-fashioned value that still works today.
Be it a barn-raising at the turn of the century or today’s 21st century craft beer industry, sustainability depends, in part, on community and collaboration. Two things the growing craft beer industry know how to do well.
They foster loyalty to craft beer as a drink of choice, not just to the individual brewery or a specific beer. Corie Brown notes that one of “the hallmarks of the entrepreneurial craft spirit” required to be a successful craft industry brewer, is being “devoted to your customers and able to honor their loyalty.”
Many craft beer brewers start by brewing small batches out of their garage. (Might this be the equivalent of a minimum viable product in the online world?)
They are passionate.
Passionate about what they brew and what they consume. Through many nights of taste-testing with friends and family, they hone and refine their specialty. By the time they actually sell beer, the importance of community and the spirit of sharing is deeply rooted in the brewmaster and continues as he moves into the market place.
This sense of community and generosity also fosters trust.
“There are a lot of new flavors out there, and [craft] beer drinkers are willing to try brands they haven’t tried before because they trust the category, Gatza says” in an article by John McCurry. This creates a sustainable win-win as brewers get to experiment and grow and loyal customers always have something new to keep them engaged and buying more.
They care about the environment and make eco-friendly choices
Yup, sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too. We often believe we can’t make eco-friendly choices a first priority or we will compromise our financial bottom line.
- Putting the health of the environment into your business plan,
- buying local,
- having a solid recycling plan and communicating it,
- offering generous benefits to staff or
- incorporating exercise-culture into the workday routine.
Those are just a few ways you can design a sustainable difference into your business. Yes, your business needs to be a going concern. And two of the biggest craft breweries are not only a solid going concern, they are each an extraordinary example which proves that you can run an environmentally friendly business that is also financially sustainable.
Setting an admirable standard of ecological efficiency, Sierra Nevada has consistently combined sustained growth—about 7 to 8 percent a year—with a widely recognized emphasis on resource maximization….In 2012, only a decimal dust’s worth of the brewery’s solid waste (0.2 percent) entered a landfill.
[And] New Belgium pumps it [untreated waster water] into an on-site anaerobic digester….microbes consumed residual brewing biomass to produce methane…This methane is subsequently channeled into engines that convert the gas to electricity that’s used to brew beer. —James McWilliams,/p.
They support each other—side-stepping the “traditional” business model of competition only.
Okay, so, yes, they each want to sell their own beer. However, because they start with a passion, design, test and hone their skills out of their home, they need others. Truly, how much beer can one person drink? Craft beer, by it’s very nature, is a collaborative “sport.” And this collaborative spirit continues to permeate the industry as a whole. They form strong alliances and support each other to create a strong craft beer industry. And sometimes it is, in a David vs Goliath way, against the big breweries…
Sierra Nevada…expand[ed in] to Asheville, but only after the company met with the local brewers association and all the members voted to welcome it to the neighborhood. Now, Sierra Nevada brings trainloads of malt and grain to Asheville and allows smaller competitors to buy from it. Before, the local brewers had to buy grain in bags (a trainload of grain is more than the average small-brewer can afford). Now they can buy at wholesale prices.” —A.C. Shilton
Clearly the craft beer industry’s approach is both successful and sustainable.
In less than 20 years, the industry has grown from barely a blip on the sales radar to 11% of beer industry sales per the Brewers Association 2014 data. Pretty amazing growth for what is considered a luxury market item (sometimes costing up to $7/bottle of beer) during challenging economic times.
So how can you, a small business owner or solopreneur take your cue for how to create a successful AND sustainable business from the craft beer industry?
Are you a solopreneur or a very small team?
Build goodwill by passing along jobs to a larger agency that are really too big for you to handle. This builds relationships and community. It shifts the business model to cooperation as the larger agency refers smaller projects your way. In the end, everyone wins—and importantly—
- the customer experiences a cohesive environment,
- gets their needs meet in the best possible way and
- becomes a loyal customer.
This benefits everyone involved. This is sustainability—everyone performs the role they are able to play best and the whole team gets a round of applause from the customer.
When researching your “competition,” take the lead and find ways to connect and collaborate with those business owners in your industry.
There maybe ways to share costs or reduce expenses. An example might be to do a survey of what trainings are needed in your community.
- so the costs are shared,
- the community learns together,
- one person (trainer) travels to present vs many traveling to a training (and the environment also wins).
Then set up a calendar for trainings with a different business hosting each time
You also meet and form relationships with others in your industry and the customer wins as they get a superior product or solution, no matter which business they use.
This is sustainability—everyone benefits locally and is uplifted.
Be willing to do what it takes to follow your passion and make it a viable business.
A study on America’s future done by James and Deborah Fallows for The Atlantic magazine notes, amid a few other indicators, that “A city on the way back will have one or more craft breweries”. An interesting observation which Jeff Alworth takes a bit further—start up breweries often…
can’t afford expensive commercial space. So breweries end up on the fringes, in bad parts of town where the rent is cheap. That alone is the first step of revitalization.
But breweries aren’t like the average industrial plant. They are people magnets, bringing folks in who are curious to try a pint of locally made IPA. In fairly short order, breweries can create little pockets of prosperity in cities that can (and often do) radiate out into the neighborhood. Pretty soon, other businesses see the bustle and consider moving in, too.
If you want to know how to create a sustainable business, rent a space near a new brew pub and get in on the ground floor of a local revitalization.
Take steps to support the environment and your local community
Even if you do business online, you can buy supplies from a local vendor, find green hosting for your website, shop at the farmer’s market, turn off equipment and lights when they are not in use. And hey, maybe get a bike ride or a walk into the middle of your day to break up the routine and revive yourself out of that afternoon slump.
We don’t all have what it takes to keep the doors open long term.
So, sure, there are failures, just like in any business sector. Yet the industry growth has been amazing. And much of that growth is not just about beer consumption. Find tangential products to sell or services to offer. The craft beer industry sells everything from logo’d items to great restaurants to brewery tours.
What other ideas might inspire your next business step based on your love of craft beer or your favorite industry?
(And true confessions, I don’t drink much, though on occasion, I do love a good craft beer) And you? Share your favor brew and your ideas on how to add sustainable design to your business in the comments below.