Why a Colorado Town Is Boycotting New Belgium Brewing

New Belgium Brewing is the target of a boycott in Craig, Colorado.
New Belgium Brewing is the target of a boycott in Craig, Colorado. Kathryn Scott Osler / The Denver Post / Getty Images

New Belgium Brewery, the U.S.'s fourth biggest craft brewery, is facing a boycott in the Colorado mining town of Craig (population 9,000). The 24-year-old company, based 200 miles east of Craig in Fort Collins, is catching flack from locals after providing monetary support to the watershed conservation non-profit WildEarth Guardians. The group, which New Belgium provided grants for restoring habitats and education, is campaigning to shut down a Colowyo coal mine expansion in Craig that many rely on for employment.

While New Belgium is famous for their inventive ales, they've also built a reputation as a green advocate through non-profit funding and aligning with other environmental advocate companies such as Lush and Patagonia. We spoke with the brewery's media relations director Bryan Simpson about the consequences of the boycott, why New Belgium supports green campaigns, its own use of fossil fuels, and what it all has to do with our Fat Tire Ale.

How has the boycott affected New Belgium's relationship with the Colorado beer market?
Well, we're not selling much, if any, beer in Craig. So that's no fun for us or the people who'd like to drink our beer there. We've gotten plenty of emails and phone calls in support as well, so you have to chalk it up as the cost of engaging in advocacy.

After all of New Belgium Brewery's past work with environmental causes, why is this project with WildEarth Guardians striking a nerve?
There is a heightened sensitivity in the coal industry and communities right now around how the nation regulates and secures its energy. In this specific instance, New Belgium granted funding to WildEarth Guardians for healthy watershed projects that had nothing to do with the suit the group later filed challenging the Colowyo mine expansion. Since we were listed as a donor on their website, we got dragged in sideways on this one. But here we are, and we stand by our decision to fund those watershed projects.

Why did New Belgium initially decide to work with WildEarth Guardians?
These were project grants specifically allocated for work restoring riparian habitats along the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers and for education about healthy watersheds. As a brewer, we are very dependent upon clean water, and these project grants helped fulfill that funding designation.

How does New Belgium decide which charitable causes and campaigns they wanted to align with and donate to?
We have a philanthropy committee that vets hundreds of grant applications a year and gives funding to four primary areas: healthy watersheds, sustainable agriculture, smart transportation, and environmental education. We look for projects that support those causes. We are members of 1% For the Planet and give right around $1 million a year.

How does New Belgium respond to criticism regarding the hypocrisy of taking anti-coal and anti-fracking stances while still relying on fossil fuel power?
First, to say we're anti-coal and anti-fracking is an oversimplification of our position. We are pro renewables and we are pro minimizing our carbon footprint. We are for transparency in the energy industry around process, and we believe municipalities should be able to self-determine setbacks.

As a consumer of natural resources, we believe it's our responsibility to limit our consumption and advocate for sound resource management. Although we produce around 18 percent of our electricity on site, we are still dependent on energy available through the grid. I'd say it's the opposite of hypocrisy for a consumer (New Belgium) to advocate for more sustainably sourced energy. The alternative is complacency.

Will this boycott change New Belgium's relationship with WildEarth Guardians or other causes they support?
A boycott is a great way to get attention, but dialogue is a better agent for change. Boycotts have not, and will not, influence our advocacy decisions going forward. In this case, we're being targeted by an industry we never challenged. So you'd stop supporting everything if you worried about what might happen.

Will New Belgium continue to support WildEarth Guardians?
We have no funding pending at this time, and we stand behind the money we granted for their work supporting healthy watersheds. We'll continue to review all projects and groups that solicit our support on a case-by-case basis.