In the fourth episode of Series Three, David McDowall, President & COO at BrewDog, discusses his belief that businesses should be a force for good and how sustainability is more than just removing plastic from the supply chain. Instead, it sits at the core of their business, impacting on everything from packing and distribution, right through to managing their diverse real estate portfolio, which includes 100 bars across the UK.
BrewDog is a multinational brewery and pub chain.
Holly: Hello, and welcome back to the Take 10 with Colliers Podcast. I’m your host, Holly Brown, Head of Client Strategy here at Colliers. On Series 3 of the podcast, we are talking Net Zero Carbon and all things ESG.
Today's guest is from a company that is very well known to our listeners and I’m very excited to have him on the show. We have David McDowall, president and COO of BrewDog. David started with BrewDog over six years ago as MD of retail and now as president and COO he oversees BrewDog's entire leadership team who are continuing their huge growth strategy with breweries in four countries, over 100 bars, and a team of over 2,000 people worldwide. David, welcome to the podcast.
David: Hi, thanks for having me.
Holly: I have to just start by saying that it's actually really great to meet someone who I can officially blame for the almighty game of Tetris that I’m playing with my groceries every single week trying to fit them in around BrewDog cans. So thank you for that.
BrewDog has come such a long way from the days of hand filling bottles and hard filling bottles of Fraserburgh to now being the world's first carbon negative brewery and a certified B Corp company. Firstly, congratulations, what an impressive, impressive accolade. And secondly, what's driven BrewDog's mission towards sustainability? Can you share with the listeners some ways in which BrewDog has achieved that carbon negative status?
David: If I go back a couple of years, I think we thought we were being pretty progressive and we were doing a number of things to have more positive impact and to look at how our business could be more sustainable, and we were well down our process to remove all plastic from all aspects of our supply chain and a number of other initiatives. So we kind of thought we were doing our bit.
And we were fortunate enough, a couple of us were fortunate enough to go to a dinner that a fabulous Scottish entrepreneur and philanthropist called Sir Tom Hunter ran where he got David Attenborough to speak to the audience. And we left that realising that we were not doing anywhere near enough, to say the least. And we realized that we have a fundamental belief that business can and should be a force for good and in this area, we were just not at the races. And our team really felt that as well, I think.
So we felt propelled to completely re-engineer our approach and in true BrewDog style, over the past 12 to 24 months, we have put sustainability at the absolute core of everything that we have done and planned to do and be very open and transparent about that. So we've made some really big bets on our plans to be Planet Positive including we're cutting carbon as fast as we can through all aspects of our operations, including all aspects of our supply chain. We're in the process of investing £20 million in an on-site bioplant here at our brewery in Ellon in the north east of Scotland which will turn our waste water into clean water, to green gas, to organic fertiliser and to food grade CO2, and a number of other things.
There's wind turbines powering this brewery now which is amazing. I can look out the window and see our first electric vehicles starting to travel around the country delivering beer, so a really aggressive plan to overhaul our approach to sustainability and first of all, set a good example from our perspective, but hopefully inspire some other businesses to join us on the journey at some point as well.
Holly: Well, there's certainly nothing like David Attenborough to get the troops ready to go. I think it's just so inspiring to hear that story and how, not only has it come from your staff as well which we know in all the sort of podcasts we've been recording, it's so important to listen to your workforce and sort of the weight that they now have on company-wide decisions, but also how a company like yours can almost move away from the core of their business to really positively influence the environment and make it integral within their business rather than being a separate entity. So it's such an impressive story and I’m sure the listeners will be very inspired by that.
We all know that BrewDog has a very diverse range of beers of which I’m sure many of our listeners have and tasted. And as I believe soon to be spirits, but what our listeners may not know is that you've got a really diverse real estate portfolio as well, of course, you've got DogHouse Hotel, you've got BrewDog Kennels which are your micro hotels, even DeskDog which is co-working capabilities at your bars. What's the inspiration behind diversifying beyond the breweries and beers?
David: A completely selfish. And you know, we always say that our motivations are very, very selfish, so that way back in the day when James and Martin founded the business, it was driven by a very selfish agenda which was we're really, really excited about this burgeoning craft beer scene in America, but we can't get beer in this country that tastes of anything. So our mission became to put the flavour and the arts and craftsmanship back into people's beer glasses.
And similarly, we realised very selfishly that one great way to do that was to create brilliant experiential spaces where people could enjoy that beer. We could grow the category, we could grow our brand, and we crucially could create tens of thousands of brilliant meaningful one-to-one consumer experiences every day where people get a really close, hopefully emotional connection with our brand and our business.
So that's the reason why and we now have over a hundred BrewDog bars around the planet. Our hotel in the US, DogHouse has a Punk IPA on tap in every room, has a shower beer fridge in every shower so you can crack open a beer when you're in the shower. And last year, it was voted in Time Magazine's top 100 places to visit on Earth. So for a group of guys from the north east of Scotland to absolutely zero idea how to open a hotel, we all find that very surreal. So there's more of those to come. The next one opens in Manchester later on in the summer and we just secured a site to open one in Edinburgh as well. So really the motivation for building these spaces is to create environments where people can really enjoy our product at its best and be immersed in all the things that we believe in.
Holly: I think you'll have quite a few more bookings for your hotels after you've told us it's on tap and you can have half a BrewDog in the shower. We know with real estate though, it comes with quite a large carbon footprint and what we're trying to get to on these podcasts is really understand how, and obviously really sought after occupy such as ourselves, will work with landlords to align with your own sustainability goals. For example, you know, are there any absolute non-negotiables when you're acquiring new space or how are you working with your landlords to help with that?
David: I don't think the non-negotiable is determined necessarily by the space. And you know, we enjoy working in really kind of older buildings where we can redevelop. And we've been involved in many larger projects that have been kind of ground up and greenfield sites. However, the non-negotiable is more likely to be the relationship between us and the landlord. And we view our landlords as real partners. We want them to believe in the things that we believe in, so being a progressive organisation, taking care of their team, taking care of the communities in which they operate. And we want them to take a long-term view in the way that we do as well.
So for us, the real non-negotiable is finding, and even you know 100 odd sites down the line in 15 countries, down the line is still spending the time with our landlord to know that we're starting to work with someone where we can hopefully build a really progressive long-lasting relationship that is focussed on doing the right thing in the spaces that we occupy.
Holly: That's it. I think it's that partnership approach which is really going to secure how our industry with the real estate industry in particular actually makes an impact. And I think it does take both parties to come to the table to make sure that you're equally doing what you need to, to meet those goals, so I think you're doing it completely the right way.
So David, we are coming to the end of the podcast, it goes quick, and so it is time for the quick fire question round?
David: Right, sure.
Holly: As I said, I did actually have to change my questions because BrewDog are already growing forests and you already have wind turbines, so hope you're ready for these?
David: Yeah let's go for it.
Holly: Right. Would you rather switch 100 homes or 100 vehicles to clean energy?
David: Great question. And I think that in terms of long-term impact, then I think I would probably rather switch 100 homes. But yeah, super tough choice, and the first thing that we did here was move all of the energy that powers our sites and our brewing facilities to renewable energy, and so that was very early on in the journey and feels like a progressive thing for anyone to do who's starting out in that process.
Holly: Definitely, so you've already done that one as well, then brilliant. Would you rather be stuck in a dry desert or a frozen tundra forever?
David: I’m from Glasgow, so it's not too far off being a frozen tundra, to be honest. I think my metabolism and makeup is probably more suited for that.
Holly: Excellent idea. Right, if you could choose one part of the world to save from global warming, where would you save?
David: Yeah, I think the answer really is let's make sure that it doesn't come to that. But as a passionate, passionate Scotsman and in the era of staycations as well, I would encourage everyone to spend some time touring around the kind of gorgeous scenery of Scotland.
Holly: I had a feeling you might say that. Okay, final one. If you could only have one BrewDog drink for the rest of your life, which one would it be? I know that's a tough one.
David: That's the hardest, right. But for me, my go-to kind of fridge filler go-to is a drink called Dead Pony Club which is our 3.8 session Pale Ale, really flavour packed Pale Ale, really sessionable, tons of citrus, tons of lemongrass, highly resinous flavor. So if I think about what's always in my fridge, it's probably that. So that's my go-to BrewDog beer.
Holly: Brilliant. Well, you've done very well for the quick fire round. Well done David, thank you so, so much for being on the podcast. All of our listeners will be so impressed at how much more your business is doing than just sort of the bars and the breweries. And I’m very, very excited for your journey to come and I’m equally excited to come and visit you in Manchester to get all those drinks on tap. Thank you so much again.
David: Thank you, Holly. Thanks for having me.
Holly: For those listening, thank you very much for joining us. To hear more episodes of the Take 10 with Colliers podcast, you can find us on Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, and YouTube. And to find out who our next guest is, please follow us on all of our social channels, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Thank you for listening.