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What makes Greyston Bakery and New Belgium Brewing Best for the World?

Screencap from New Belgium Brewing's annual report

This post was originally published on B Lab's Best for the World publication on Medium.

What makes a company Best for the World — and what pushes them to keep getting better? Each of the 350 companies honored this year has an amazing story to tell, so it would be misleading to call any of them “exemplary.” Still, if you want to start taking a closer look at the lists, you could do worse than to start with New Belgium Brewing Co and Greyston Bakery. Between them, they cover three of the four 2015 lists.

Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, New Belgium Brewing Co is the third-largest craft brewer in the United States, and has featured on the Best for the Environment list for three years running. While many of the companies who are Best for the Environment specialize in green energy or waste management, New Belgium makes the grade by dint of a near-obsession with waste reduction, energy savings, and water usage, as shown in their most recent sustainability report. Environmental sustainability is also literally in New Belgium’s foundations — both their brewery in Fort Collins and their future site in Asheville, NC, are brownfield sites that New Belgium is rehabilitating.

When we spoke to Katie Wallace, New Belgium’s Assistant Director of Sustainability, she had more than a few examples of their commitment to preserving the environment. Beyond their onsite solar energy production and the biogas that comes from their water treatment plan, New Belgium also “taxes” themselves on their non-renewable energy usage.

“We have an additional program where we tax ourselves for all the additional, non-renewable energy we buy,” Wallace explained. “We put the money toward our future renewable energy projects. We actually opened up a portion of that tax fund and are inviting our coworkers to submit their ideas for how to use that money.”

Collaboration across teams was a theme that came up more than once. While Wallace’s job focuses on sustainability, she pointed to the efforts of the entire New Belgium staff to explain their success. “I often encourage companies to work on integrating sustainability into the culture,” Wallace said. “That’s where we gain the most momentum. Many of our best ideas come from our coworkers in the brewery and warehouse. By committing to involving them, we get so much more than we would if it were just a few of us up here at our desks.”

As an example, Wallace shared the story of a coworker of hers who worked in an offsite warehouse that New Belgium leased. He pointed out the energy inefficiency of the lights in the warehouse and suggested replacing it with LEDs. Despite not owning the building, New Belgium took on the project of replacing the lighting. “It will pay itself off in a year,” Wallace said. “We’re saving money and saving energy, especially because we no longer have to cool the building to counterbalance the heat that came off the old lights.”

New Belgium’s commitment to positive impact doesn’t just cover their environmental goals. When New Belgium completed their B Corporation recertification in early 2015, their score increased over 20 points, largely due to their conversion to a full ESOP. New Belgium’s stock is now 100% owned by non-executive employees. Kim Jordan, the founder of New Belgium, had previously held a controlling interest, but sold her shares back to the employees.

“As [Jordan] prepares to transition, it was important to us that the legacy was protected,” Wallace said. “She could have sold to private investors or to another brewery, but it was very important to Kim that we maintain our human-centric business model.”

Fewer businesses are more human-centric than Greyston Bakery, New Belgium’s fellow 2015 Best for the World honoree. Making repeat appearances on the Best for Communities and Best Overall lists, Greyston Bakery has been a B Corporation since 2008, and a benefit corporation since 2012.

Like a brewery on a list honoring sustainability, a bakery ranking so high for community impact might be a surprise. However, for Greyston, baking brownies has only ever been a means to their true end: workforce and community development in Yonkers, NY. Owned by the non-profit Greyston Foundation, Greyston Bakery has operated with an “open hiring” policy for thirty years. That means that the only thing preventing someone from getting a job at Greyston is the waiting list — not traditional barriers to employment such as homelessness or a history of incarceration. Once hired, Greyston employees have access to a wide variety of skills development programs, along with perks like employee vegetable gardens, healthy cooking classes, and vouchers for the local farmer’s market — important assistance for those living in food deserts.

Like Katie Wallace at New Belgium, Ariel Hauptman, Greyston’s Director of Business Development, touts the benefits of team-wide investment in positive impact. “In our organization, there’s no one person who’s solely responsible for our mission,” Hauptman explained. “We all chip in, whether that’s HR, sales, marketing, or the executive team. It’s not just one person trying to police policy. I think that’s a really important philosophy. I don’t knock people that have specific [sustainability] departments, but I think there’s something holistic about making sure your whole team understands what it means to operate with an environment, people, and profit focus.”

Not surprisingly, given their mission, Greyston even tackles the B Corp certification process with an eye toward empowerment. “We have a B Corp committee that meets monthly,” Hauptman said, “which is also cross-sectional and includes people from operations, HR, sales, etc. Our CFO sits on that committee — we take it pretty seriously. People walk away from those meetings and lead the charge within their own departments. We want to give more people authority to understand the benchmarks and criteria. That kind of attitude has really helped us grow over the past few years.”

In fact, New Belgium is already moving to a similar model. “We’re actually starting a committee to engage the rest of our coworkers around the B Impact and being a B Corp,” Wallace told us. “It helps us have a more holistic, umbrella view of things that are sometimes siloed.”

Greyston has begun taking a similar approach with their supply chain, as well, due in part to the experience of taking the B Impact Assessment. “We really overhauled our supplier program with the help of Ben & Jerry’s and the Assessment guidelines,” Hauptman said. “We phased it in. At first it was a supplier questionnaire to help us create a dialogue. Then we thought, why not create some focus groups? It’s so important to understand where your vendors come from. That helped up put together a more comprehensive supplier code of conduct.”

Rather than stopping there, though, Greyston decided to take a more proactive approach. “We realized we needed a supplier education toolkit to go along with the code of conduct. What does it mean to reduce your emissions? How do I install solar panels? We didn’t just want to preach to our suppliers — we wanted to help. We also include the B Impact Assessment in our code of conduct now, and we want to help our suppliers become B Corps. That’s going to be the future for Greyston — how can we extend a hand and help bring people along?”

Both companies had exciting plans for the future they were itching to talk about. For Katie Wallace at New Belgium, the next challenge was carbon. “New Belgium helped push forward the Climate Action Plan in Fort Collins,” she told us. “We want to contribute to carbon neutrality in our community by 2050.”

For Ariel Hauptman, the next frontier is building more career development options for Greyston’s employees. “This year we’re actually going to be selling our products at the local farmer’s market, not just helping our employees purchase from there. That’s a different avenue and skillset that our employees can develop by working in a different environment. We also just launched an internal marketing internship for our bakers. They’ll go to events, attend demos, do social media — skills that will be valuable for them in any position. It’s important to us to be able to offer multiple career development pathways.”

For both businesses, it’s clear that satisfaction isn’t an option — despite already being high-performing, award-winning organizations. Both are (and have been) Best for the World, but rather than resting on their laurels, they’re already looking to the next challenge.

“Our waiting list is a year long,” Hauptman explained, referencing those who have applied to work at Greyston Bakery but have no available spots. “There’s still so much we need to do in our community. We’re not at capacity yet — we’ve definitely grown over the last year, but we have more capacity, so we have a lot left to do. Our community needs us, and that means we need to grow.”

Wallace was equally straightforward. “We’re not there yet,” she admitted. “We’re not making a net positive impact on the environment. We’ve previously had campaigns that said ‘We are New Belgium and We Pollute,’ and that’s just about staying humble. We do still pollute and still have greenhouse gas emissions above neutral. We don’t want to just make a small step and then ride the wave — we’d rather continue pressing forward until we reach the ultimate goal.”

She also pointed out a more self-serving reason to keep improving. “From a business perspective, we see that our resources that provide our livelihood, like water, are drastically affected by things like climate change and drought and mismanagement. Half of our water comes from the Colorado River, and there’s a business risk to being dependent on that. By reducing the water we consume, we’re also reducing our risk.”

Hauptman pointed to Greyston’s benefit corporation status as another driving force for improvement. “I’m really proud of being the first benefit corporation in the state of New York. That was such a turning point,” she told us. “We’ve always had open hiring and a social mission, but I think that brought a whole new level of accountability to the organization with regards to our environmental footprint. We were throwing everything away, but we moved from putting things in a landfill to now implementing single-stream recycling. We got a donation of 36 solar panels for our roof. We got the building retrofitted with LEDs and found funding for that as well. ”

So how can companies that are just beginning their impact journey take the first steps?

“Create some type of measurement system,” Wallace said immediately when asked. “Measuring what matters is so important to actually create change. Without measuring it, it’s really hard to stay on task and track improvement and progress. The B Impact Assessment really helps with that.”

Hauptman pointed others towards other resources they may not be aware of. “There’s some low-hanging fruit. There are simple ways you can get funding for projects, which people overlook. I started going to community meetings to understand what grants were available from the state. One of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen is that improving your community impact is expensive or isn’t gonna pay off. Many of the projects we’ve done, we’ve gotten big chunks of funding for.”

She came back to an earlier point as well. “Get a group of people together who are passionate,” she said. “One person shouldn’t own everything. Get a couple people together and form a little committee and champion the B Impact Assessment. Teamwork, even if it sounds cheesy.”

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