Examining BrewDog’s sustainable ethos

Not only is BrewDog the UK’s fastest-growing brand food and beverage brand, it also stands out for its charitable activities and environmental ethos

Writer: Dani Redd


British people love their beer. In 2018, a staggering 8.5 billion pints were sold in the country. 
 
According to one article in The Conversation, Britain has more breweries per person than anywhere else in the world besides New Zealand; a figure which stood at 2,274 at the end of 2018. Many new entries into the market are craft breweries – small, independently-owned micro-breweries that place emphasis on high quality ingredients and processes. 
 
However, in 2019 growth began to plateau. Experts worried that many small outfits were beginning to flounder in an increasingly competitive market, especially since larger multinationals were beginning to muscle in on the craze. But one craft beer company has detached itself from the pack, and is enjoying unprecedented growth.
 
In 2019, Brand Finance named BrewDog, an Aberdeenshire-based craft brewing company, the UK’s fastest-growing company in its 2019 Brand Finance UK 150 Report.
“With its brand value up 89 percent since last year, BrewDog is valued at £1.2 billion in this year’s Brand Finance UK150 2019 and shows no signs of slowing down,” the report reads.

“Known for its flavoursome ales and creative packaging, the brand now owns 80 global locations and is expanding rapidly, both here in the UK and abroad, as it seeks new sites in Exeter, and notably announced plans recently for its craft beer hotel concept.”

Considering that the brand started its life in an Aberdeenshire garage, the brainchild of James Watt and Mark Dickie, it’s come a long way since then.
 
A recipe for success
 
But what explains the company’s success? For a start, there’s its passion for its product. 
 
“Everything is about the beer. Everything. We want to make people as passionate about great beer as we are. Change perceptions, challenge conventions, but do it on our terms,” Watt said in an interview with The Guardian.
 
Indeed, BrewDog has scooped multiple prizes at the World Beer Awards, including several in 2015, for brews such as its flagship brew Punk IPA (which won the ‘United Kingdom’s Best IPA’) and Cocoa Psycho (which won ‘World’s Best Flavoured Stout/Porter’).
 
Then, there’s the company’s unconventional and innovative marketing campaigns, which appeal to its millennial clientele. Some of Brewdog’s most unusual publicity stunts include chartering a helicopter to drop stuffed cats on London, projecting naked photos of Watt and Dickie on the Houses of Parliament, and brewing a limited 11-bottle edition of The End of History – a 55 percent proof beer served in bottles stuffed inside taxidermied animals.
 
Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the world sat up and started taking notice.
 
Independent minded
 
Despite rapid growth, BrewDog maintains its independent ownership, and has not joined forces with a larger, multi-national conglomerate. 
 
What’s more, it is part-owned by more than 130,000 people. It runs a popular scheme, ‘Equity for Punks’, that has enabled members of the public to purchase shares in its company, thereby becoming investors. Shares come with a number of benefits, including free merchandise, drink vouchers and discounts, alongside a ROI.
 
The most recent funding round of Equity for Punks enabled the company to raise over £8.7 million from over 47,000 people.
 
And it’s not just stakeholders – BrewDog’s staff are also heavily involved in the business, both on a decision-making and financial level. In 2016, BrewDog started the Unicorn Fund, an initiative where it shares 10 percent of its profits equally amongst its staff, whatever level of seniority they are. This enables all employees to feel greater ownership of the company, and to be even more invested in its growth.
 
Brewing Good
 
But one of the most notable things about BrewDog isn’t its marketing stunts, independent mindedness or even it award-winning brews – it’s the company’s social and environmental conscience.
 
BrewDog makes it a mission to help both small local charities and larger non-profits, including Guide Dogs Scotland (for whom it is aiming to fundraise £50,000). It also supports BrewGooder – a craft-beer organisation donating 100 percent of its profits to providing clean water in developing countries – by brewing, packing and exporting its beer onsite at no profit.
 
In 2017, the company introduced Unicorn Fund 2.0. Here, not only does it divide 10 percent of its profits among staff – it also donates 10 percent of its profits to carefully selected charities.
 
The company is also taking steps to reduce its environmental footprint and become more sustainable. In February 2020, it announced ‘BrewDog Tomorrow’ – six major new sustainability initiatives.
 
“We want to make sure that we’re working to inspire a new kind of business, with sustainability at its core. Real change takes time. But just because change doesn’t happen overnight, doesn’t mean it can’t – if not now when? BrewDog Tomorrow is our commitment to continuously raising the bar and setting a new standard for beer and business,” explains co-founder Watt.
 
One of these is initiatives is the unique Cans for Equity – an incentivised recycling programme. Customers are invited to bring 50 empty BrewDog cans to its nearest BrewDog bar. In exchange they will receive a voucher entitling them to a share in the brewery. 
 
Meanwhile, the cans will be recycled through a partnership with First Mile Recycling and returned to the industry. Not only does this conserve energy and reduce CO2, it also means the cans don’t go into landfill, where they could take up to 500 years to break down.
 
Generosity in hard times
 
However, BrewDog’s meteoric rise has been halted by COVID-19. In a letter to shareholders last month, Watt explained that the business had seen a 70 percent drop in revenue practically overnight when the UK’s lockdown measures were imposed. According to The Drinks Business, both Watt and Dickie will be forgoing their salaries this year, in order to protect as many jobs as they can. The company has quickly rolled out a home delivery programme of different beers, which can be purchased on its website.
 
But even in such difficult times, BrewDog has not forgone its generous spirit. It is using its distillery in Aberdeen to produce hand sanitiser, in response to the national shortage, which it is delivering to the NHS and other key workers for free.
 
According to a blog post on the BrewDog site, getting up to speed on NHS regulations and UK HSE guidelines has been a challenging experience. So, too, has been the shortage of suitable packaging.
 
“So far we have filled 50ml glass bottles, 100ml glass bottles, 100ml plastic bottles, 200ml plastic bottles and larger containers too,” Watt’s post reads.
 
However, despite these challenges, BrewDog worked with NHS Grampian to produce hand sanitiser that met the UK medical standard of 80 percent proof. On April 8, BrewDog delivered the first 5,000 units of its medically-approved hand sanitiser to NHS Grampian. 
 
“In the unprecedented times we face today, we all need to step up and do what we can to help,” said Steven Glass, NHS Grampian’s Head of Procurement. “It's heartening that firms like BrewDog are choosing to play their part, and helping protect our NHS workers on the frontline across Grampian.”
 
BrewDog have now donated over 50,000 units of hand sanitiser to NHS Grampian and charities including The Archie Foundation (supporting parents being accommodated at Aberdeen Children’s Hospital) and Aberlour, which looks after vulnerable families in Scotland.
 
In times of hardship, BrewDog’s generosity must be praised. There seems little doubt that this innovative, resilient company will bounce back once lockdown lifts. We, for one, will be heading down to our local BrewDog for a pint.
BrewDog Tomorrow's six initiatives
 
1)      Cans for Equity – anyone who trades in 50 empty BrewDog cans will be able to become a BrewDog Equity Punk, owning a share in the company.
2)      Indie Trash Cans – aluminium is 100 percent recyclable, and BrewDog will be ambitiously recycling used beer cans for its own products.
3)      Once Beer Vodka – beer that fails to meet industry-leading standards will be distilled into vodka, reducing waste.
4)      DIY Dog – to help reduce transport miles, BrewDog will encourage people to make their own beer at home with DIY kits.
5)      BrewDog Freehouse – BrewDog will ensure its beer brewing knowledge and recipes are publicly available, ensuring the company is transparent and its expertise disseminated.
6)      Tomorrow Fund – a fund of one million pounds a year to support research and initiatives that will enable the brewing community to make a positive impact, alongside charities nominated by staff and stakeholders.