In 1992 there were approximately 200 craft breweries nationally. Lenny Kolada (aka “Brewdood”) was the eighth craft brewer in Ohio. He went on to open Smokehouse Brewing Company in Columbus, marrying American, pit-style barbecue with craft beer under one roof. When Lenny was approached to start distributing, he was resistant to the idea. It’s a different business than a brew pub, which is all on-premise production.
Fast forward to early 2015, when Lenny started tinkering with the notion of starting this new distribution venture. His friends were starting to retire, so whatever the venture entailed, it would have to be born out of a very personal motivating force. During this same timeframe, Lenny took notice of what increasingly resembled one massive Hatfields versus McCoys environment—locally, nationally and even globally.
The binary dichotomy—a prevailing notion of “I’m right, therefore you’re wrong”—was inundating Lenny from every direction. This fueled his desire to create meaningful change.
“I’ve always believed, if you want something, you put forth the effort and there’s some reward. I don’t believe in handouts, but there are so many who just undeniably didn’t get a fair shake.”
Lenny started to ponder: What if private enterprise were to do more than just consider their bottom lines? Put an end to unproductive finger-pointing, and do it ourselves—simply because it’s the right thing to do?
Forging B Corp-to-B Corp Bonds
As the concept for Commonhouse Ales took shape, Lenny discovered that Fulcrum Creatives, a branding and design agency in Columbus, was (at the time) one of eight Certified B Corporations in Ohio. Lenny and Fulcrum founder Jason Moore began to collaborate. Jason shared his own personal motivation behind becoming a B Corp, as well as his experiences and lessons learned from the certification process. Lenny was all in.
“If your worldview is already oriented around empathy, then it’s all mapped out for you,” said Lenny. He and Jason started crafting his new brand to articulate this worldview. Jason also helped mentor and guide Lenny through the certification process.
What resulted was Commonhouse Ales, along with its flagship brew, Six.One For Good Ale (614 is Columbus’ telephone area code). A portion of sales from Six.One For Good Ale are contributed to a community fund, Commonhouse Shares. The fund will provide grants to nonprofit organizations throughout Central Ohio.
“There are many great, notable nonprofit organizations doing amazing things that are well-funded, and have healthy mechanisms in place to get funded,” said Lenny. “Many other nonprofits don’t necessarily have these sorts of opportunities. Commonhouse will help shine a light on organizations that normally don’t get recognized for the important impact they have in the community.”
Internalizing the Triple Bottom Line
Lenny was impressed by the level of detail that B Lab’s B Corp guide provided because it wasn’t prescriptive, but listed suggestions that he wouldn’t have otherwise considered. For example, to integrate more environmentally conscious business practices, he bought used kegs instead of new ones.
What Lenny continues to wrestle with and has the most trepidation about is how he will quantify the impact that Commonhouse has on the community. He admits that he didn’t go through the B Corp certification process for marketing reasons—he didn’t approach the questionnaire and decide to do any item simply because it would boost his score. Instead, he approached everything with a “time to walk the walk” attitude.
“There’s a fine line between bragging about your philanthropic intentions and being silent. I am constantly checking myself, in terms of my motives, to make sure my actions and decisions are authentic and truly philanthropic. I’m very cautious about leading anything related to marketing with the B Corp stamp. But at the same time, for the first time in my life, if my actions are going to be copied and people are going to be inspired by me to do something similar, all the better.”
Lenny urges people to consider how most big businesses, including macro beer companies aren’t going to have an interest in becoming B Corps. “Their aim isn’t to add to the tapestry of life. They are accountants. Let’s see what craft beer can do.”
Craft beer easily lends itself to the community. The social impact component is genuinely a part of his formula, and Lenny considers community as another ingredient in his beer. It’s incorporated into the cost of making a quality product with community spirit at its core.
Intentionally Planning for Positive Consequences
“If you’re looking to create positive change—if you’re in business to make your corner of the world a better place—you are probably already of the mindset that automatically takes doing good into consideration. And if you’re also not willing to sacrifice quality or your reputation, then you’re ready to consider becoming a B Corp. You’re just expanding the definition of the quality of your product, and B Lab helps guide you in quantifying and verifying this.”
Lenny recently attended Cause Collaborative, an annual event presented by Fulcrum Creatives, where he learned about three emerging social enterprises in Columbus. He’s always believed that Columbus harbors bohemian, crazy-smart, world-changing types, but that spirit hasn’t been fully harnessed yet.
“When it comes to creativity, people often believe they are stealing ideas, but they are really re-synthesizing ideas. I take what ideas I can and rearrange them to solve challenges I’m facing. Today the social enterprise panel included three nonprofits, developing products and services using a for-profit model. Here we are, a for-profit, trying to become more like a nonprofit. We’re all citizens of this world, bonded by our humanity.”
Ultimately, Lenny wants to see his fund enable Columbus nonprofits to thrive. “Nonprofits have an opportunity to control their own destiny through social enterprise, while for-profits can help the social sector through obtaining their B Corp status, among other means. Both are looking to make a difference—just remove all of the labels, and these organizations are collectively trying to do what’s right for everyone.”