It's not ALL about the beer: Here's why we go the extra mile when it comes to social and environmental responsibility. By Sufferfest Beer Co. Founder & CEO, Caitlin Landesberg
Back in 2015, I started to realize that the beer I’d created to support my own lifestyle was catching on in my local neighborhood. However, as I looked into what it would take to turn this small-time side hobby into a real beer venture, I was immediately struck by the sheer amount of waste produced by the beer industry; brewing is water intensive and packaging is single-use. If I were to proceed with building this business to stand the test of time, I needed to address this drawback immediately and head on. I decided then that I’d create a beer that not only met my needs in terms of taste and ingredients but also made me feel good as a conscious consumer. As I envisioned what success would like, I knew Sufferfest Beer Company needed to stand for something bigger than its products to call this a “win” in my book.
Working hard to get it right
As I began looking into ways to hold myself and my company accountable for being good stewards, my mind immediately went to earning a B Corp certification. I’m fortunate enough to come into regular contact with inspiring B Corp brands based in the Bay Area: Grove Collaborative, Equator Coffees & Teas, and Fireclay Tile to name just a few. After a handful of conversations with Equator, who served as an excellent model and shepherd for this process, I knew Sufferfest had the opportunity to put our money where our mouth is and to be on the right side of history from the start — we decided to go ahead with making Sufferfest Beer Co. one of the few breweries worldwide to achieve B Corp certification.
Despite its challenges, our B Corp certification has shaped our brand and focus for the better. From the outset, certification solidified our commitment to the outdoors and protection of the environment surrounding the places we do business. Sufferfest stands for celebrating athletes, but it quickly became apparent that in order to celebrate athletes, we also had to work towards protecting the outdoor spaces in which our athletes trained, suffered, and celebrated. Starting with supporting the GGNRA, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, and the Access Fund, we look at being a good neighbor as a critical component in our brand recipe, especially as we expand into new regions with unique environmental challenges.
Supporting and celebrating our internal team became an important goal of mine as well. I wanted to make sure that we moved towards offering full benefits in record time despite the Company’s nascency. Additionally, every full-time employee receives equity ownership to underscore that we’re all responsible and rewarded for building something great. As a team, we set up a volunteer policy and corresponding incentives so that the Sufferfest team could be an active and enthusiastic participant in practicing what we preach — every employee gets one paid volunteer day per quarter and is encouraged to use it.
The constraint that keeps us compliant with B Corp standards often begets creativity, especially as we look for out-of-the-box ways to be better neighbors and minimize our impact. As we identify packaging partners, form factors, and materials, our decision making is streamlined and accelerated because we’re obliged to choose the best option for recycling and upcycling. While we’re enrolled in the standard statewide recycling programs, we’re also inspired to think outside the box. For example, we’ve provided our used cans for retail displays, artistic displays, and installations, giving our cans a second life that we’re proud of.
Early on, what it meant to be a B Corp was challenged by investors, knowing that we’d be committed to making the most sustainable choices (and often more costly choices) as we grow. This meant moving operations to be more centrally located in the regions we serve, and carving out sales proceeds to support 501(c)(3) organizations that fit our charter. However, it seems that it’s good to be “good”; for example, Goldman Sachs has found that stock values are 25% higher for companies viewed as “socially responsible”. We’ll cheers to that.
Another interesting part of this journey is that, in addition to “raising” this young company, I’m a new parent. Parenthood reminds me to act like a B Corp a little bit every day: How can I turn a challenge into an opportunity, and a setback into a lesson? More importantly, if there’s anything that I do that will further ensure the safety of my child (and potentially garner her respect!) is my priority. The way we run Sufferfest Beer Company is something that I believe my daughter will be proud of, especially as the world evolves and corporate responsibility becomes even more necessary. Being part of this amazing B Corp community is the thing that I am professionally most proud of.