Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's Thirty-Year Journey toward Sustainability: Ken Grossman Is an Avid Outdoorsman. He Is Also the Founder, CEO, and Owner of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (SNBC). to Understand the Culture at SNBC, and the Competitive Advantage It Brings, You Have to Start with Ken
Casler, Angela, Gundlach, Michael J., Persons, Bonnie, Zivnuska, Suzanne, People & Strategy
The Dual Nature of Sustainability
Ken founded the company in 1980, with the intention of running his company in a way that allowed him to respect and pay homage to the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where he had spent so much time backpacking. Thirty years later, he still is personally involved in all aspects of the company's operations and just as passionate about the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
Ken's abiding love of the great outdoors is evident in his personal life as well as the operations of SNBC. As he explains it, sustainability describes business practices that have a positive impact on the social and natural environment, but that also enable a business to maintain and grow.
From Ken's perspective, this dual meaning of sustainability is vital to understanding the success of SNBC. He believes a company should pursue sustainable business practices because they benefit the social and natural environment, and because they drive the success of a company. To him, focusing on people and the planet as an integrated, strategic center improves profitability.
This philosophy drove Ken throughout the start-up of the company and it still does today. It only has become stronger over time and has influenced every aspect of the company's operations. Now, SNBC is the six'th largest brewery in the United States, and it produces a wide variety of award-winning ales and lagers. Moreover, the many sustainable business practices at SNBC all have been a natural outgrowth of the talented human resources personnel that Ken and his staff have hired and trained.
Sustainability from the Heart
Clearly, SNBC is a company with a culture that values the triple bottom line: "the economic, social, and environmental performance of a company" (Elkington, 1997, p.2). Not surprisingly, its genuine dedication to sustainable management has earned SNBC many accolades. In 2005, SNBC received California's top environmental honor for sustainable practices regarding waste reduction and recycling. Additionally, every year since 2001, SNBC has received the prestigious WRAP (Waste Reduction Awards Program) award from California.
However, when anyone mentions the awards SNBC has received and its reputation for being a leader in sustainability, Ken is reluctant to discuss these issues from a marketing perspective. He does not promote the idea of showcasing SNBC's leading sustainability practices as a strategic approach for the company. He and his employees embody these practices because they make good business sense, and they feel like the right thing to do from the heart. In fact, the SNBC sales force is specifically instructed to refrain from promoting SNBC products as being "green." Rather, they sell their beer based on its evident quality and taste.
Human Resource Practices
These sales and marketing policies illustrate a key point in the relationship between SNBC's corporate culture and its human resource practices. Because sustainability is such a natural element of its culture, a sustainable mindset directly feeds into its human resource policies and practices, but not in a contrived or obligatory manner. The human resource department has made a concerted effort to develop policies and practices that support employee engagement and foster commitment to the firm's goals. Employees are actively encouraged to develop new ideas through a formal suggestion process and an employee-run continuous improvement group. Innovation related to sustainability is rewarded explicitly through recognition programs and the performance management process.
Not surprisingly, this HR approach has led to the generation of many cutting-edge sustainability initiatives that have benefited the company. In 2007, SNBC started a program to use spent vegetable oil from its restaurant as an alternative fuel source. It purchased a biodiesel processor to provide alternative fuel to be used for truck deliveries. …