Museum of 21st Century Design
BrewDog Brewery and Pubs
Image credit: BrewDog Brewery and Pubs
Beer (malt, hops, yeast, water, and aluminum), breweries, pubs, and additional materials used to make BrewDog carbon negative, such as trees, marshes, and reused packaging
Poor, see paragraphs five through nine
The entire BrewDog team, including Mike Berners-Lee, Lead Scientific Advisor; James Watt, co-founder; and Martin Dickie, co-founder
A craft brewery and pub chain
BrewDog beers are widely available across Europe
Poor, see paragraphs five through nine
BrewDog reports that it removes, beginning in August 2020, twice the amount of carbon it and its supply chain puts into the atmosphere
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The independent craft brewery and pub chain BrewDog claims to be the world’s first “carbon-negative international beer business.” That means the company removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces throughout its entire supply and distribution chain. Carbon dioxide (also known as CO2) creates a cover that traps the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet. It’s a primary factor in the climate crisis. Getting our carbon levels down is key to keeping our ecology intact.
BrewDog enlisted Professor Mike Berners-Lee as their lead scientific advisor to help remove carbon from the atmosphere. Berners-Lee applied his expertise in carbon footprinting and sustainability to help BrewDog go negative. Going negative is a comprehensive effort. It includes switching to wind power and electric delivery vehicles, repurposing drinking cans and ingredients, and planting a forest’s worth of trees.
BrewDog is planting 1,400 acres of broadleaf forest and returning 650 acres to peatland. That’s 2,050 acres of land and more than one million trees in Scotland near Loch Lomond in the Scottish Highlands. The trees and peat will remove and sequester carbon from the atmosphere and provide a natural habitat for wildlife. BrewDog is also adding a campsite for sustainability-focused retreats and workshops. Meanwhile, BrewDog is doing its best to reduce waste. Spelt from the brewhouse goes into dog biscuits, otherwise wasted beer goes into a zero-waste vodka, and otherwise wasted fruit goes into their sour beers. BrewDog now removes twice as much carbon from the atmosphere as the business puts in. All of this information came from the company’s sustainability report. We recommend starting with the final few pages, which contain the aptly named “Science Bit.”
Over the past few years, the company has used this ecological mission and speed of growth to justify poor business and labor practices. Those activities include allegedly creating a culture of fear for employees, a severe customer security breach, and false advertising.
In an open letter from June 2021, more than a hundred former employees alleged that the company's rapid growth involved cutting corners on health and safety measures and creating a toxic culture that left staff suffering from mental illness. The letter states that “Growth, at all costs, has always been perceived as the number one focus for the company. Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog.” BrewDog responded with a clipped apology, saying, “As a fast-growing business, we have always tried to do the best by our team — we do have thousands of employees with positive stories to tell as a result. [...] But the tweet we saw last night proves that on many occasions we haven’t got it right. We are committed to doing better, not just as a reaction to this, but always; and we are going to reach out to our entire team past and present to learn more. But most of all, right now, we are sorry.”
The letter also calls into question the accuracy of the company's eco-friendly image by claiming the company charted a private plane and brews beer with glacier water, “half of which was dumped down the drain.” BrewDog did not respond to these claims, as The Guardian Reports. Additional open questions remain about the company's treatment of queer folx and women.
Over 2020 and 2021, BrewDog exposed the personal information of more than 200,000 ‘Equity for Punks’ shareholders and many more customers, reported by the security consultancy Pen Test Partners. A poorly designed app without proper authentication processes made this breech possible. The company failed to inform shareholders, even omitting the fix from the changelog until weeks after the breach was discovered. BrewDog responded by saying, "We were recently informed of a vulnerability in one of our apps by a third party technical security services firm, following which we immediately took the app down and resolved the issue. We have not identified any other instances of access via this route or personal data having been impacted in any way. There was, therefore, no requirement to notify users. We are grateful to the third-party technical security services firm for alerting us to this vulnerability. We are totally committed to ensuring the security of our user's privacy. Our security protocols and vulnerability assessments are always under review and always being refined in order that we can ensure that the risk of a cyber security incident is minimized." The Register reports that BrewDog took four attempts to fix the issue and, on one occasion, broke the app itself.
The company's history of inappropriate or inaccurate advertising began in November of 2020 when the company attracted the attention of the Advertising Standard Authority. BrewDog announced in November 2020 via a tweet that it had hidden 10 “solid gold” cans of its Punk IPA within 12-packs for consumers to find. The company's troubles began when people found the cans and discovered that they were gold plated, not solid gold as advertised. Ad Week reports that BrewDog stated the error was a cause of a “miscommunication” between its marketing and social media teams when repeated on the Hazy Jane gold cans messaging. They said they put “more robust measures” to avoid another repeat of the mistake. One of the co-founders, James Watt, ultimately compensated all winners the original £15,000 evaluation promoted in the campaign. Another battle began last year when the ASA banned a BrewDog campaign visible to children that read “F**k You C02,” to which James Watt replied, “The ASA can go f**k themselves. We are in the midst of an existential climate crisis.” Most recently, the company advertised an alcoholic seltzer as "a health drink," which the ASA required they change.
While BrewDog's ecological efforts impressed M21D, the alleged culture of fear and inappropriate advertising practices have caused the museum to discontinue its research on the company. It is no longer a candidate for the M21D permanent design collection.
Brewdog might make an OK pint but its security sucks: Flaw opened door to free beers for anyone, The Register
BrewDog Touts Itself as ‘Planet’s Favorite Beer’ After Wave of Controversy, Adweek
Can BrewDog Outgrow Its History of Alleged Discrimination?, Vinepair
Former BrewDog staff accuse craft beer firm of culture of fear, The Guardian
Free BrewDog beer with a side order of shareholder PII?, Pen Test Partners