“Neutral no longer enough”: Meet the brewery going carbon negative by planting its own forest

BrewDog

BrewDog co-founders James Watts and Martin Dickie (L to R).

BrewDog co-founder James Watt is much less worried about his bottom line than the impending climate crisis, and he’s put $55 million on the table to prove it.

The Scottish craft brewery has unveiled a plan to plant 1 million trees over the next few years in an effort to remove twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as it emits each year.

With arms of the business now in Australia, Europe and the United States, the fast-growing company has bought 2,050 acres of land in the Scottish Highlands to host what it hopes will eventually become a man-made forest.

Under the plan, drawn up in partnership with carbon footprint expert Mike Berners-Lee, BrewDog says it has become carbon negative, a step beyond merely eliminating its environmental impact that Watts believes all companies have a responsibility to pursue.

“We’re facing a climate crisis and huge change is needed right now, we want to be a catalyst for that,” Watts tells SmartCompany.

Thousands of companies around the world are implementing carbon-neutral plans at the moment, as the private sector reckons not just with its central role in causing climate change, but growing pressure from consumers to do something about it.

But Watt believes business can do better than merely eliminating their carbon footprints by 2020, 2030 or 2050 — when it could be too late to even matter.

“We think carbon neutral is no longer enough. We have to be actively taking carbon out of the atmosphere to get our planet back to an even keel,” Watt says.

“We steadfastly believe that change has to come from businesses, we think governments have proved themselves incapable and incompetent when it comes to driving change here, working on election cycles of four to five years … businesses are going to have to step up to the plate.”

A growing body of peer-reviewed evidence has drawn the conclusion that any serious attempt to curtail global temperature rises associated with greenhouse gas emissions will need to involve so-called “negative emissions technologies” or natural solutions, such as planting trees.

But going carbon negative is pricey. Watts has set aside £30 million ($54.6 million) to build their forest and introduce a range of sustainability projects across their business, including in Australia, where local carbon offsetting partners have been engaged in the interim to help the business meet its goals.

The business owner says he hopes customers will turn onto a brand going further than most to address the climate crisis, but insists he’s not worried if sales don’t increase following the investment.

“We’re nailing our colours to the mast,” Watt says.

“We’re at the edge of a tipping point, there’s no time to waste, so we wanted to put everything on the line for what we believe in.”

Watt says his position underscores an inescapable reality about the climate crisis, that if environmental conditions continue to degenerate, economic conditions will follow close behind, rendering previous attempts to safeguard profit margins totally irrelevant.

Watt’s Aussie expansion has so far been supported by several Queensland government initiatives, and he says the business has a responsibility to give back to the community by investing in carbon offsetting locally, not just in Scotland.

BrewDog Australia, which this week also launched a bevvy of new beers out of its base in Queensland, will soon be adding solar panels to power its local brewery, taproom and restaurant.

“We’re an international business, so we want to have an international impact when it comes to taking carbon out of the air,” Watt says.

As for the forest, work on which will begin early next year, BrewDog says its working with local experts to build woodland that promotes biodiversity in a bid to ensure the trees it plants develop into a self-sustaining ecosystem.

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