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Sustainability at Great Lakes Brewing Co.
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The Class Assignment

Write a paper and give a presentation, describing and analyzing the sustainability components of a corporation. To what extent does the company embrace the concept of sustainability? Do they define it? What components of sustainability do they discuss and seem to practice?

The Class Deliverable #1: The Paper
How could I possibly find a company and report on its sustainability efforts in an interesting and effective way?  After several days of mauling over this question, I finally discovered the obvious answer: select a local company. One that would allow me to hear the story, see and smell the facility, and even taste, the product; thereby drawing my own conclusions about the company’s sustainability efforts.  In other words,
I could bring the project to life.  And so I began:
The Great Lakes Brewing Company (GLBC) located at 2516 Market Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio was easily accessible to me, and the management encouraged my visit which took place on March 14, 2009. I had access to hear the story firsthand by interviewing Saul Kliorys—GLBC’s Environmental Program Coordinator. My proximity to the company also enabled me to see and smell the facility by taking a tour. And most importantly, I could taste the experience by sampling the company’s delicious food and drink. In so doing, I gathered the following information.

GLBC is an environmentally and socially conscious brewer of award-winning, all natural beer. The care that goes into the beer resonates from a commitment to the community and environment, otherwise known as the Triple Bottom Line. GLBC employs this philosophy by engaging in economic, social and environmental practices that achieve a sustainable, yet profitable, business. This is not just a flash in the pan idea, but rather it is the way of life at GLBC. In fact, the Triple Bottom Line is so ingrained in the belief system of the organization that it has become part of the logo, represented by the bottom three waves, which you can see in the figure to the left.

The mantra of the Triple Bottom Line sounds good, but the question now becomes why go the extra mile? Wouldn’t it be easier to forget about the environment, especially in this economy? What is the business case to be eco-effective?  Quite simply, the answers reveal three poignant motivations:

  • The company cuts operating costs.
  • The company gains income-generating opportunities.
  • Customers support the business.

Pat Conway, co-owner of GLBC substantiates such motivations when he states,  “By taking a 'full circle' approach, we are making the most of potential savings and income-generating opportunities as the raw materials used to produce our products are continuously transformed into a host of food-generating and energy-saving opportunities. Our sustainable efforts just give our customer base another reason to support our company.” 

To that end, the company deploys the following strategies:

  • Reducing, reusing and recycling
  • Implementing efficient energy practices
  • Supporting sustainable urban renewal projects
  • Changing natural resource use from Take, Make, Waste to Take, Make, Remake.

In fact, the company’s ultimate goal is to implement zero-based initiatives in order to mimic nature, where 100% of resources are used in closed-loop ecosystems.

So how well does the company walk its talk? It appears as though the company is doing a good job at making full use of the by-products generated by the brewing process. For example, there are four ways that the company turns spent grain into food.

Waste = Food
GLBC gives a local farmer spent grain. The farmer blends it with corn, hay, soybeans and other ingredients to feed cows. Eventually, the cows will produce waste, which will be used as fertilizer to help vegetables grow.

2. Killbuck Farms uses brewery grains as a substrate for growing organic Shiitake and oyster mushrooms. The substrate is combined with sawdust and paper to serve as a medium for growing the organic mushrooms used in entrees.

However, GLBC is still perfecting this system because the farmer has better yield from purchased grains.  GLBC doesn’t want to adversely affect the farmer’s business so they have put the mushroom trials on hiatus.  If GLBC were to grow mushrooms for themselves, they would need to find the right type of mushroom that will produce well on brewer’s grains.


3. Zoss the Swiss Baker produces the cracked barley beer bread and pretzels found on the menu using grains from the brewing process.

4. GLBC uses vermicomposting to produce natural fertilizer. A portion of paper, kitchen scraps, grain and cardboard is fed to worms, which then produces castings—top-of-the-line organic fertilizer—used to fertilize the herbs and vegetables found on the menu.

So what does the company do with its low-filled beer (the beer that accidentally doesn’t get filled to standard requirements during the bottling process)?  Waste = Food. So it is used in recipes such as salad dressings, Stilton Cheddar Cheese Soup and Edmund Fitzgerald Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream, which is made by Mitchell’s Ice Cream.

Alternative Fuel
GLBC operates a beer delivery truck and a shuttle bus called "The Fatty Wagon" that runs on straight restaurant vegetable oil. Results show that engines running on straight vegetable oil produce 40% less soot than diesel and are 25% cleaner.

GLBC recycles cardboard, glass, plastic, steel/aluminum, paper and brewer's barley to reduce trash removal fees by over 50%. GLBC prints newsletters, menus, beverage napkins and promotional items on 100% recycled paper. In addition, all packaging (i.e., 4-packs, 6-packs, 12-packs and the unbleached "eco-carton", which holds a case of beer) consists of recycled content.

Energy Efficiencies
According to The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine 2005, GLBC’s total savings from energy conservation efforts are between $15,000 and $20,000 per year. Some energy conservation tactics include:

            • Skylights and light sensors in the Tank Farm and Brewery cooler allow in natural light and minimize use of electricity.
            • An "air curtain" at the Brewpub keeps warm air from escaping when patrons enter and exit.
            • A cooling system in the Brewery cooler brings in cold air during winter months to cool the beer.
  • A retractable roof that encloses the current open-air Beer Garden, which allows use of this indoor/outdoor dining area all year.
  • The Beer Garden also includes a radiant heat fireplace and floor, a straw bale wall and 10 ft. high sliding glass doors.
  • It costs as little as $6 per day to heat the Beer Garden in the winter.

I must admit that although the company is right in my backyard, I had absolutely no idea that GLBC embraced sustainability. I was very impressed with all that the company is doing. And I was quite surprised at the response when I asked how well they thought they were doing.

It appears as though GLBC feels that “they are just doing the easy stuff.” In order to ramp up their sustainable efforts they are currently being coached by the McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC), a consultancy focused on helping clients implement Cradle to Cradle Design—a positive new approach to sustainability and prosperity.  When I say currently, I truly mean it. They started on Monday, March 16.

Corporate Components of Sustainability
My analysis of GLBC enabled me to review and evaluate the company’s Corporate Components of Sustainability. My ranking system below is similar to the star classification system used by reviewers of movies, TV shows, theatre, and music, but with one, small difference. Rather than granting stars, it seemed appropriate to award globes, instead. Therefore, one globe indicates the lowest rating possible. On the other end, four globes represent the highest rating possible.

  Imbed sustainability in corporate mission and core values
The company receives four globes because sustainability is mentioned in its corporate mission, which is: Great Lakes Brewing Company is a principle-centered, environmentally respectful and socially conscious company committed to crafting fresh, flavorful, high-quality beer and food for the enjoyment of our customers. We aspire to maintain our status as the premier craft brewery in the Great Lakes region and are dedicated to uncompromising service, continuous improvement and innovative consumer education.

Since I had the opportunity to interview the Environmental Programs Coordinator and tour the facility, I know that sustainability is not only a part of the company’s core values; it is its passion and a way of life!

 Create partnerships and alliances
GLBC receives another four globes because Management considers itself an innovator and is focused on continuous improvement. I believe that is evident by the fact that it is seeking consultation from MBDC.

Further, GLBC has established a ton of alliances and partnerships including:

  • The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where they collaborate on composting
  • Farmers with whom they join forces to turn waste into food
  • Merchants such as Zoss the Swiss Baker and Mitchell’s Ice Cream, again, to turn waste into food
  • Halle Farm and Village is a new partner for GLBC. The company has approximately 1/3 acre of farmland where it will grow its vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. GLBC’s vermicomposting will eventually move out to Halle Farm and Village.
  • And believe it or not, GLBC has a fruitful collaboration with competitors including New Belgium Brewing Co., who seems to lead the charge in sustainability.

  Create green products
While GLBC doesn’t “label” their products “green” it is clear that all its beer is environmentally friendly. The four ingredients in the brew are all natural—water, barley, hops and yeast.  The company does not use preservatives so as soon as the beer is bottled it must be cooled. And interestingly, the beer can last up to 180 days. Also all beer packaging is made with recycled fibers.

Further, GLBC is launching a new beer in 2009 called Grass Roots Ale, which will use herbs that the company is growing at Halle Farm & Village. Therefore, GLBC receives four globes for this category too.

 Set measurable goals
GLBC only receives two globes for this category. Although the company has goals, they are not quantifiable—at least as far as I can tell. Through all of my research and even in the interview, I could not find anyplace where GLBC “puts a number” on their goals. Therefore, how can they possibly be measured?  Further, during my interview Mr. Kliorys wasn’t shy about saying they needed to improve on measuring their efforts.

 Foster reporting and transparency of activities
GLBC’s top-priority in 2009 is to gather their findings into a report. The report will help them understand their successes, shortfalls and identify areas of improvement. Since this is a new initiative for the company, I am awarding only one globe. However, the company recognizes the importance. GLBC will share their report findings, which will also outline transparency of activities with internal staff and their partners and alliances.

Nothing satisfies me more than accomplishing a goal. I believe that I have successfully found a company and reported on its sustainability efforts in an interesting and effective way.

Your assignment has truly helped me to bring sustainability to life.  It enabled me to hear, see and taste it firsthand. Now for the first time in nearly 40 years, I am aware of environmental issues. And as McDonough and Braungart so eloquently state: “Now that we know, it's time for a change. Negligence starts tomorrow.”

The Class Deliverable #2: The Presentation
Rather than present facts I gathered from the Internet, I shared my sustainability scrapbook with the class. Click here to download the presentation. It's humorous and creative. You'll enjoy it.

Click here to see another project on sustainability, which is the final written report and presentation. It constituted an assessment of the sustainability performance of PNC, my employer.

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