This morning I watched the BBC documentary on the investigation into Scottish brewers BrewDog. Founded in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie, BrewDog has become the pride of Scotland. A beacon of entrepreneurial success that claims to have ripped up the rule book. As well, this company loudly shouts its sustainability credentials and, until recently, was the poster child for the B Corp movement after certifying in early 2021. Just a year later, BrewDog has fallen from the pedestal, now is in disgrace for alleged lies and greenwashing. I feel bitterly disappointed and disillusioned. Many in the B Corp community are wondering what happens now? More on that later.
PALE, MALE AND STALE
The BrewDog documentary was part of the BBC’s Disclosure series. Reporter Mark Daly investigated the rumours of a company that basically doesn’t always walk its talk. ‘All mouth no trousers’, as my granny would say. Daly’s doco suggests that the self-proclaimed ‘bad boys of brewing’ are green-washing capitalist liars and hypocrites. From pretending to change their names to ‘Elvis’ when the estate of Elvis Presley objected to them naming one of their beers Elvis Juice, to holding $500,000 worth of Heineken shares while building their brand on loudly ridiculing corporate Big Beer Inc.
‘We’re not like those giant corporate b’stards!’ Watt and Dickie told us. ‘We may be grown men but we blow stuff up! We’re edgy, punk and cool and you will be too if you drink our humorously named beer… or invest in our crowdfunder… you could win a free tattoo of our logo!’
Yeah, yeah, whatevs Watts.
As well, the doco revealed a company with a toxic culture riddled with misogyny and fear, where employees were fired at whim, on the spot.
For me though, the worst and most egregious betrayal is Watt and Dickie’s betrayal of the planet. They have claimed that sustainability is their priority and say they’re the first carbon neutral brewery – all while the founders fly in private jets (maybe they just forgot about those pesky scope 3 emissions) and plane loads of beer were flown between Scotland and the US when their US-brewery wasn’t ready in time for the big launch. As well, BrewDog claim to plant a tree in their Lost Forest every time they sell a pack of Lost lager. Yet, according to the documentary, not a single tree has been planted.
In all fairness, it seems the BrewDog blaggers do genuinely plan to plant a million or so trees, they just don’t plan to spend their own money. In 2021, BrewDog applied to the Scottish government for a grant of up to £1.3 million to begin Phase one of mission tree plant.
GREENWASH WITH YOUR LAGER?
I feel personally let down. Duped, even. Despite having nothing to do with the company other than be a former admirer of its supposed sustainability efforts. I’ve never drunk a drop of BrewDog, or any other beer brand for that matter. Vodka is my tipple. My husband though, a teetotaller since 2016, almost wept with joy when, on my recommendation, he first tasted BrewDog’s non-alcoholic range a couple of years ago. Now he buys it in bulk. Or he did buy it in bulk. The latest revelations of BrewDog chicanery will probably put paid to that. In the same way he vowed to never buy a Tesla when he heard Elon Musk had refused to investigate the conditions of workers in the African mines that provided the minerals required to produce batteries for electric cars.
But I digress. Let’s return to the greenwashing hypocrites of beer, Watt and Dickie. Did they just get carried away with their own success? Did they start out with the best of intentions and then just get washed away on a foamy sea of beer and money? And where does this leave B Lab? Do they set an example and revoke BrewDog’s certification? Or does B Lab instead hunker down and work more closely with the company to help it walk its talk and do better? My preference is the latter. I believe the B Corp movement is still vital to transforming the business sector.
THE BITTER END
Within the sustainability community, I’ve heard rumblings of dissatisfaction with the rigour of the certification process if company’s like BrewDog can slide in on a silver tongue and empty promises. There’s even been a group formed called ‘We need to talk about B Corp’, which is positioning itself as a ‘critical friend’ that wants to hold B Lab accountable to its original purpose.
My take on it is that there is no sustainability certification that can ever 100% be certain that its members have not misreported or massaged the truth. You can be ISO certified and still be degrading the planet. As well, sustainability is such a new concept, we are all scrambling to make sense of it and figure out the best way to get what we ultimately want – which is a healthy planet that can support life.
Like every organisation in this space, B Lab and B Corp are quickly evolving in response to need and demand as well as the urgency of global warming. Situations like the one with BrewDog were inevitable and are a valuable learning opportunity. This is also a chance to demonstrate to the business world that retribution for greenwashing is swift and harsh and very public.
Let’s make sure BrewDog gets that message. Until they do, our house is a BrewDog-free zone.
To watch The Truth About BrewDog documentary on BBC iPlayer, go to https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0013yfj/disclosure-series-4-the-truth-about-brewdog
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