Brewing Up Change for Sustainability

Brewing Up Change for Sustainability

What’s cooler than working for one of the most recognizable beer brands in America? Working to help that beer brand become environmentally friendly in its efforts to brew some of the top ales in the nation.

Sarah Fraser ’05 (M.E.S.) wears the title of sustainability specialist at New Belgium Brewing in Asheville, N.C., where she is a member of the corporate and social responsibility team that supports the company’s environmental stewardship programs and engages her co-workers to make progress toward energy, water, emissions and waste reduction goals.

“I was drawn to New Belgium for the company’s environmental ethic,” says Fraser, who studied biology as an undergraduate at Appalachian State University before earning her master’s in environmental studies from the College.

Sarah Fraser ’05 is a sustainability specialist at New Belgium Brewing. (Photos by Reese Moore)

Fraser developed a love and appreciation for the natural world while wandering in the woods and splashing in creeks as a kid.

“My parents were both teachers and had summers off, so we spent several months camping, hiking and fishing each year,” she says. “As I learned about environmental issues in school such as deforestation in the Amazon, depletion of the ozone layer and extinctions caused by habitat loss, I felt frustrated that humans would cause such harm to the planet and natural world that I cherished. I felt obligated to do something to make up for the destruction my species has caused.”

That passion for the environment eventually landed her at CofC.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the M.E.S. program really appealed to me because so many of the environmental issues that I was interested in helping address are affected by public policy,” says Fraser, noting that the program gave her a foundation in the intersection of science, policy, economics and environmental law.

For many years, Fraser saw big business and the pursuit of profit as the culprit for environmental degradation, but during her career, she’s discovered that corporations have an important role to play in making a positive difference on the planet.

“New Belgium is a 100 percent employee-owned company, and environmental stewardship has been one of the company’s core values since our inception 26 years ago,” she says. “In 1998, an environmental audit of our brewery revealed that the largest contributor to our carbon footprint came from the coal-powered electricity we purchased. This finding resulted in New Belgium employee-owners voting unanimously to forgo their profit-sharing bonus and subscribe to our utility’s wind program, paying a voluntary premium over coal prices. With this, New Belgium Brewing became the country’s first brewery to pay a wind premium for 100 percent of its electricity. Signing on to this program solidified our commitment to sustainability and helped bring wind energy to our community of Fort Collins, Colo.”

New Belgium has since formalized an environmental stewardship program by creating a sustainability management system that lays out goals and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and waste sent to the landfill at both its Asheville and Fort Collins breweries.

“And while we do what we can at our breweries to reduce our impact on the Earth, we also realize that those changes that will have the greatest impact will come at the policy level,” Fraser says. “We use our voice as a business in favor of progressive, commonsense policies to protect water and encourage cleaner energy sources and to help move the classic ‘business vs. the environment’ debate to a conversation that is inclusive of those seemingly competing aims.”

And what better way to solve the world’s problems than with a cool beer.