How do you measure the cost of climate change?
While a comprehensive answer to that question may be impossible to find, New Belgium Brewing is trying to address it in one small way—by attempting to calculate what beer will cost after agriculture is significantly disrupted due to climate change. If the prices of barley, wheat and rice continue to rise as expected, the cost of brewing (and buying) beer will become prohibitively expensive.
So to mark International Beer Day today, New Belgium is giving drinkers a taste of that less-than-utopian future. For today only, six-packs of Fat Tire Amber Ale cost $100—a tenfold increase in price.
The Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewery also announced today that Fat Tire is now the first carbon-neutral beer brand in the United States. And by 2030, New Belgium is committed to ensuring that its entire operations reach carbon neutrality. The company is announcing the temporary price change, new carbon-neutral certification and 2030 goal with a full-page ad in The New York Times, across digital and social platforms, at select retailers and on a new website, DrinkSustainably.com.
According to CEO Steve Fechheimer, environmental stewardship has been a priority for New Belgium since it was founded in 1991. In 1999, the brewery’s employees voted to shift over to exclusively wind power. Four years after that, the company founded its in-house sustainability department. And in 2010, the brewery added a wide array of solar panels to account for as much as 18% of its total energy consumption.
And within the past year, Fechheimer said the brand started working on an even more ambitious goal: full carbon neutrality. To start with, the brewery focused just on its flagship beer, Fat Tire.
To achieve a carbon neutral certification, Fechheimer said you first have to know where your baseline is—exactly what level of emissions you produce. For New Belgium, that was information the brand already had on hand. “We’ve been tracking our own greenhouse gas emissions for quite some time, and we publish a report annually about it,” he said.
Next, New Belgium had to purchase offsets to account for all the emissions created through that production, which it’s now achieved for Fat Tire. The next step is to create a plan to eliminate those emissions altogether so the offsets aren’t necessary—and then do the same thing for the entire brewery.
But while creating a strategy to limit the damaging effects of manufacturing and production on the climate is one thing, the potential impacts of climate change on the industry is another.
“Every day that we, as a country and as a world, don’t take action, the severity of the actions that we’re going to have to take on the back end and the depths of the mitigation efforts that we’ll have to take only go up,” said Fechheimer.
“There’s still an amazing amount that can be done to reduce the impact of climate change,” he added, “but it’s going to require bold action.”
New Belgium’s efforts also include pushing for legislative change to curb greenhouse gas emissions and to build a greener electric grid, said Fechheimer. The company is also actively researching more sustainable packaging options and working with suppliers to implement greener manufacturing practices.
Today, in raising the price of a Fat Tire six-pack, New Belgium simply hopes to spark important conversations around the tangible ways in which climate change will impact our everyday lives. Like, for example, the cost of the beers we drink.
Rising costs related to beer brewing ingredients is something that New Belgium is already facing, said Fechheimer. “We’re seeing that with our barley and our hops, and the wheat and citrus fruits that we source most specifically,” he said. “There are many years in which a flood or a storm or a drought actually limits our access to the products that we need.”
That’s different from the way it was 30-40 years ago, said Fechheimer, when one bad year here and there didn’t have a lasting impact on price or accessibility. Now, the natural disasters that disrupt supply chains for brewers happen more frequently, and they’re more severe. And as the climate continues to change, scientists only expect that kind of activity to accelerate.
“So for all those people who love craft beer and love New Belgium, there’s a there’s a real, long-term 10-, 20-, 30-year question around how viable this industry remains,” said Fechheimer.
In the midst of the pandemic-induced economic crisis, Fechheimer said people have an even better idea what this kind of impact looks like on a societal level. And without drastic intervention on local, national and even global levels, the crisis we’re headed for will likely dwarf the current one.
“That $100 is a way to bring that to the forefront of people’s minds, to actually cause them to think about the issue, perhaps in a different way,” said Fechheimer. “We thought that would spark a helpful conversation.”
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