When craft brewery darling New Belgium first got involved in water politics, it was just another aspect of the company’s sustainability efforts – from smashing industry standards for water efficiency to conjoining their Fort Collins’ brew with all things biking.
But as environmental politics heat up in Colorado, New Belgium finds itself in the line of unexpected crossfire.
The employee-owned beer company, which gives $1 million a year to sustainability causes, donated roughly $10,000 between 2008 and 2014 to the environmental group WildEarth Guardians.
WildEarth won a lawsuit this summer that threatens to shutdown the Colowyo coal mine in Craig, Colorado, if the feds can’t redo the mine’s environmental-impact assessment before September.
With 200 small-town jobs hanging in the balance, the heat came down on New Belgium.
Indeed, the Craig Daily Press reported that when a local bar owner found out that New Belgium and several other local breweries had given money to WildEarth in the past, his direct quote was, “Get that shit out from behind my bar.”
This came as a pretty big shock to the folks at New Belgium.
“The surprising thing about Craig is that we had only given money to Wild Earth Guardians for very specific healthy watershed projects,” New Belgium spokesperson Bryan Simpson wrote to the Independent.
“We gave no operational funds and did not support – nor were we aware of – any initiatives regarding the coal industry.”
Simpson said New Belgium sent a team down to Craig which “had positive, compelling dialogue” with some of the retailers who had pulled their beer.
“We have a tremendous respect for those who work in the energy industry,” Simpson added.
While Craig beer sellers said they were impressed by New Belgium’s listening skills, they also said they didn’t plan on starting to sell their brews again.
Yet even while New Belgium’s environmental politics are angering some drinkers, they’re delighting others. Indeed, craft breweries across Colorado, and across the nation, have been dipping their toes into water politics, as of late — adding their brands to the fight to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act, which they say threaten the state and the beverages they love.
“I think the people who are running these breweries are younger, more progressive-minded businesspeople who want a triple bottom line,” said Kim Stevens, an organizer for Environment Colorado who recently hosted a party to celebrate the new clean-water rules at the Denver Beer Company.
“A lot of these craft brewers are also tapping into a younger demographic of people. By them taking stances on these issues, they’re educating a younger demographic and getting them more active and involved in politics.”
For New Belgium, hitting that right political balance appears to be a work in progress, and one the company is willing to let ferment.
“We’ve been working to clarify our position, and maybe that will help with some folks and not with others,” Simpson wrote. “That is one potential risk of advocacy, but it certainly should not stop businesses from supporting projects they believe in.”
Image from New Belgium tour by Matthew Peoples.