Entrepreneurs

“A real crisis”: Meet the entrepreneur raising a glass to the Great Barrier Reef

Matthew Elmas /

Great Barrier Beer

Good Beer Co. founder James Grugeon. Source: Supplied.

Social entrepreneur James Grugeon founded The Good Beer Co. with two priorities.

First, as the name suggests, good beer.

Second, exploring how Australia’s booming craft beer market could help social and environmental campaigns reach beyond the choir.

It’s a pressing issue. While awareness about the ailing health of Australian ecosystems is growing, not everyone is on the same page, and, in a society where reaching across the divide can be difficult, age-old human traditions such as beer can build bridges.

Established in 2015, Grugeon’s Queensland-based social enterprise has waded into growing concern about the ailing health of the Great Barrier Reef, supporting the Australian Marine Conservation Society by creating Great Barrier Beer, a product aimed at giving consumers a different option at their local bottleshop.

Rather than booking a profit, Grugeon donates 10% of the revenue from every can sold to the conservation society, which works to preserve Australian marine ecosystems.

But beyond that, he hopes to kickstart a broader shift in the growing craft beer market towards not just sustainability, but active involvement in prominent environmental campaigns.

“We’re having conversations with people others wouldn’t usually talk to,” Grugeon tells SmartCompany.

“People are reacting to the fact we’ve got a real crisis on our hands around climate change … it’s becoming increasingly clear to the business community that consumers are concerned about these things.”

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is home to more than 7,000 marine species — but has been making global headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years.

Coral bleaching events linked to warming oceans have ravaged large parts of the reef, leading to concern among marine scientists of lasting effects that are unlikely to improve unless problems such as climate change, the impact of coal mining and dredging are addressed.

Building bridges with beer

Stocked in more than one hundred Dan Murphy’s bottleshops throughout Queensland, The Good Beer Co. is prosecuting the case for sustainability in a state which, on the one hand, is scrambling to improve protections for rapidly degrading ecosystems like the reef, while on the other, recently approved the largest coal mine in the country.

It’s a storm in a teacup, so to speak, but Grugeon says small enterprises like his have a crucial role to play in shifting the cultural needle on environmental issues.

“Doing stuff that can be replicated or can lead to positive change in a world where products are being produced at a large scale, that’s how we’re going to solve the big problems we’re facing at the moment,” he says.

“That’s why, increasingly in the startup space, you’re seeing businesses looking to have a conversation with people about purpose.”

Grugeon says going to market with environmental issues is also the best way to reach mainstream Australia, rather than getting caught preaching to the choir.

“In charities, you’re often talking to the same group of people, but we need to reach out to the mainstream … there has to be a better way to have a conversation with consumers through a product,” he says.

Shifting the needle

Grugeon’s background is campaigning, having worked with companies in the United Kingdom seeking to reduce their carbon footprints before coming to Australia and working with renewable energy company Powershop.

With the Good Beer Co., he hopes to shift the competitive landscape in the craft beer market, working with local brewery Ballistic Beer and implementing plastic-free biodegradable packaging.

“It should be about having enough of an impact, either through market share or innovative packaging and branding, to send a message to the big companies that they should take this kind of thing on,” he says.

“When the big companies get on board, that’s when you see change at a larger scale.”

Earlier this year, Great Barrier Beer launched in the United Kingdom, taking efforts to improve awareness about the reef global, while at home, Grugeon says Woolworths, the owner of BWS and Dan Murphy’s, has been receptive to his efforts.

More recently, the enterprise, in partnership with the conservation society and LADBible, has launched a campaign to make the Great Barrier Reef a citizen in a bid to raise awareness about the disconnect between the rights afforded to Australians and the degradation of the reef.

An online petition, which will be sent to politicians in Queensland, has received more than 58,000 signatures in recent months.

NOW READ: Why small businesses can’t ignore climate change anymore

NOW READ: “Pure economic sense”: Five easy ways your business can become more sustainable

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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