Kimberly Jordan, CEO, NEW BELGIUM BREWING CO., FORT COLLINS, COLO. To create award-winning beer, start with environmental passion, then add ideas to clean up the brewing process.
By Suzanne Koudsi

(FORTUNE Small Business) – When engineer Jeff Lebesch and his wife, Kim Jordan, a social worker, quit their jobs in 1992 to start a brewery, they had several goals. Chief among them were to make great beer and to become leaders in protecting the environment. They've succeeded at both. New Belgium Brewing Co., based in Fort Collins, Colo., was named the mid-sized brewery and brewmaster of the year in 2000 and 2001 at the Great American Beer Festival, and the company has won awards for its innovative approach to reducing the waste inherent in the brewing process.

Beer has always been a part of the couple's life. "If I drank wine coolers, he probably wouldn't have married me," jokes Jordan, 44, who took over as CEO after Lebesch, 45, retired to a spot on the board of directors (he still consults on the technical aspects of the business). And they've always been passionate about the environment too. Lebesch once designed a pump to use the excess energy from his home refrigerator to power his special beer cooler.

That approach is now followed on a much bigger scale, and so far New Belgium has saved a vat of money. Take water. On average a brewery uses about seven barrels of water--a barrel is 31 gallons--to make just one barrel of beer, but New Belgium uses less than five. The 175-person company has fully automated all its manufacturing to reduce water usage and recycles more than 85% of its cleaning fluids. (Cleaning is a major source of water consumption in most breweries.) In addition, the company spent $4 million to build a wastewater-treatment facility. Jordan thinks it should pay for itself in five years and save $10,000 a month in operating costs after that. "They're pretty impeccable," says brewmaster Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery, which also has an environmentally friendly operation. "They're the people the rest of us look up to."

Perhaps the most striking example is this: In 1999 it became the first brewery to use wind power, bought from the local utility, rather than electricity from coal plants. It costs about a third more, but the brewery's employees (who own 32% of the company) voted for the switch, even though the difference comes out of their yearly bonuses. As of mid-2002 the brewery had saved eight million pounds of coal and prevented 15 million pounds of CO2 emissions from being dumped into the atmosphere.

Don't be fooled by the crunchy image, though. "We're very clear that the first thing that we have to be here is profitable," says Jordan. The company doesn't release financials, but it posted $45 million in sales last year and says it operates solidly in the black. Its 255,000 barrels of beer are a sliver of the total industry (205 million barrels), but get this: It's the fastest-growing craft brewer in the U.S. over the past five years. Less waste and better sales--we'll drink to that.