Anderson Valley Brewing’s Kevin McGee Makes A Compelling Case for Sustainability

, Anderson Valley Brewing’s Kevin McGee Makes A Compelling Case for Sustainability

(Courtesy Kevin McGee / Anderson Valley Brewing Company)

It’s a problem for brewers and the data is clear, when polled consumers say they prioritize buying products made sustainably, but in practice they actually don’t.

So if sustainability won’t sell beer for the brewery, one might wonder if it’s worth the cost and considerable effort to commit to it, especially in today’s increasingly challenging craft beer environment.

Kevin McGee, President & CEO at Anderson Valley Brewing Company, the world’s first solar powered brewery, is passionate about the issue and he argues persuasively that there are five very good reasons for a brewery to do it.

 It’s the right thing to do.

Obvious? Yes. Important? Extremely. Even if no one ever hears about our brewery’s sustainability initiatives, we’d still be doing them. Have been, in fact.

Our water system has been operating for over 20 years and it’s only in the last two that we’ve been telling people about it. Which is a tragedy because our water system is incredible. We source, treat and discharge 100% of the water we use within the fence line of the property, making us a self-sustaining, zero-effluent manufacturing facility – no small accomplishment.

Sustainable operating practices like this reduce the impact of what we’re doing and that, by definition, is a good thing. Being a good neighbor and a responsible member of the community is important to every business and the responsible management of both resources and the waste stream is necessary. Everyone is connected to this planet and by extension each other and minimizing any negative impacts to both the planet and its people is a core responsibility of any business. Fight me.

 Good sustainability practices are good business practices.

, Anderson Valley Brewing’s Kevin McGee Makes A Compelling Case for SustainabilityI’ve written elsewhere and in greater depth about the business benefits of sustainable production practices. For the most part it comes down to this — sustainable business practices almost always have the reduction of waste or reduction of consumption either a primary goal or a by-product.

The reduction of waste or consumption is also almost always accompanied by a reduction in expense or cost. Use less stuff = pay for less stuff. Clearly there are situations where ideal sustainable functions are cost prohibitive (i.e. it’s just not possible for everyone to have their own self-contained water system), but there are always cost effective strategies and tactics that may not be “optimum sustainability” and are nonetheless effective and an improvement on the status quo. So do it for the dollars – which can then be used to do things like pay for improved health care benefits…

 It helps connect with people and let them know who you are and what’s important to you.

The true marketing impact of telling people about the sustainable practices at your business is that it helps create a connection with them and provides some insight into your business values and the kind of people who work and make decisions there. This is actually the same dynamic that’s in place with “Family Owned” and “Family Operated” businesses (our brewery is both). And don’t underestimate the impact and importance of connecting with your staff and employees on this level as well. Being a responsible employer improves both employee retention and aids in recruitment.

It’s also important to note that I’m talking about communicating sustainability practices that are actually in practice. Green-washing a business or doing things like claiming you’re planting a forest when you’re actually not is a completely different article. For sustainable practices to be meaningful they have to be durable and ideally long-standing. Reducing trucking one month a year or a weekend of using alternative energy production doesn’t do anyone any good other than serve as a starting line.

Retailers are customers too and they certainly do care about sustainability.

One major factor that doesn’t get focused on in the McKinsey study (or anywhere else that I’ve seen) relating to consumer behavior is the fact that the person making the decision whether to place your product in their establishment is a threshold layer of consumer a brewery should be thinking about. The amount of attention and importance that retail buyers have placed on sustainability has steadily been growing to the point that it is a fundamental part of some of their business models and identities.

Being able to demonstrate and communicate authentic commitment to sustainable practices can make the difference between whether your products get placed or not. This may also be a forward looking indicator that consumer behavior is evolving. Retailers have an enviable amount of direct contact with a wide range of consumers and if they’re prioritizing sustainability in their decision making the consumer may not be far behind.

  You should do it for the future.

, Anderson Valley Brewing’s Kevin McGee Makes A Compelling Case for SustainabilitySustainable practices are grounded in being sensitive to the impact that what we do today has on the world tomorrow. And while it’s clear that today consumers aren’t basing purchasing decisions on sustainable brewing practices, tomorrow is a new day and that trend might change.

Having an authentic and long track record of these practices could be more valuable than ever as we continue to grow our understanding of the impacts of climate change and human activity on the planet.

Track records need to start some time. The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago but the second best time is now. Even if consumer purchasing preferences never catch up to value sustainability you’ll still have spent years doing the right things for the right reasons and that alone is worth it.

Bottom Line— the most important reasons to brew sustainably have nothing to do with selling beer.

While it doesn’t actively sell beer – and even if no one else knows or even cares – sustainable brewing practices are deeply important. There are tangible benefits in saving the brewery money that flow from these practices but the real power and reason to implement them is in the intangible and often unquantifiable benefits and opportunities they provide the business.

Don’t get me wrong, I love data and our brewery needs to be successful as a business so we can keep doing these kinds of things and keep people employed. But doing the right thing is always the right thing and often can manifest good things in unexpected and powerful ways. In the meantime, as a family owned and operated brewery, knowing that we’re doing what we can for the long-haul of our business, our staff, customers and community is enough.

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