Consuming Consciously

Quartiermeister Beer and their mission to do some good with every bottle

Alison RhoadesSoheil Moradianboroujeni

Do you ever wish that the products you bought helped to impact society in some way? Well, David Griedelbach and Peter Eckert of Quartiermeister are trying to change the way consumers think, one beer at a time.

Quartiermeister functions as both a social enterprise and an association: The sales of Quartiermeister beer finance four €1000 grants every quarter whose winners are decided on via a public voting cycle. Thus, for every beer you drink, you support a great cause, plus you can help decide which project is funded or even apply yourself! We talked to David and Peter about how the company got started, how the programme works, and why Berlin is an optimal place for a company who wants to give something back.

The idea of financing social projects through selling beer is a novel idea. How did you come up with it?
David: Our founder Sebastian had the idea six years ago. He was looking for a concept that made social engagement as easy as possible. He wanted to combine the consumption of a product with added social value, a value that would be visible immediately at the place of consumption. After a bar night with friends he came across the product: beer. Beer is often consumed with friends, it’s a social product, everybody likes to talk about it and it’s got a lot of emotion attached to it. Drinking beer, having fun and doing something good with it – how much easier could it be? Therefore, Sebastian looked for a brewery and started to distribute it in Berlin. In the beginning, Quartiermeister was just a volunteer project for friends. After two years, the brewery went bankrupt and Peter and me made a fresh start as a professional social business. We found another brewery in Wittichenau, that continues to produce our beer.

A Selection of the Projects Quartiermeister has Funded
  • Volksentscheid Fahrrad: a Initiative that wants to provoke a political referendum in Berlin about bicycle-friendly streets and traffic
  • Hubus: A project that builds up compost and educates children about natural recycling
  • Between us: A multilingual library in Kreuzberg
  • Berliner Büchertisch: Sends donated books to children from low-income households
  • Kreuzberg hilft: A voluntary initiative that helps to give refugees a good, welcoming start in Berlin

What’s your background? Did you have experience with brewing beer before?
Peter: I studied Nonprofit Management and David studied Political Science. Before Quartiermeister we didn’t have any experience with beer. I mean, we both liked drinking it… [Laughs]

David: I’d already worked in economics before, but I was always interested in social entrepreneurship. Neither of us are brewers. It has always been mostly about the idea. It took us some time to value the product equally.

Peter: For two years, we’ve had Matheo on our team, who is a brewing engineer. He developed the recipe for our ecological beer and is now sharing his knowledge about the production processes with us.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Peter: There are still more than enough challenges, they don’t decrease with time! Today a lot of people in Berlin know about our beer, but that took some time without any advertisement. Because of the funding, we don’t have a big marketing budget; growth, sales, customer awareness at the point of sale, basically everything you need money for is a challenge for us. But since we want to stay independent and without investors, we need to find creative solutions for all this. Until now we’ve done quite a good job.

Where is the beer produced?
David: It’s produced in the Wittichenauer Stadtbrauerei at the border of Brandenburg and Saxony. We couldn’t find any brewery that fit into our claims and principles around Berlin. The brewery is regional and independently owned by a family.

Where can we buy it?
Peter: In Berlin we have around 300 stores, bars, restaurants and Spätis that sell our beer. You can also buy Quartiermeister in Dresden or Leipzig. You always drink for your neighbourhood, so we also fund projects in those cities.

You describe your beer as ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable. Can you describe how Quartiermeister’s beer fits this profile?  
Peter: We try to be as ethical as possible, on the inside and outside of our company. For this, we do business within the framework of our Quartiermeister principles. We fund social projects and work regionally, for example our beer is only delivered within 300km of the brewery. We’re independent from corporations, but we are also running a business that needs to cover its costs. So in order for everybody to trust us with that, we are transparent and publish our financial reports quarterly.

David: We also did an economy of the common goods matrix two years ago as an external audit. The matrix is an instrument which describes and evaluates the social and ecological actions of a company. The highest goal is to establish an economy that takes care of the welfare of human beings and nature. We were the first beer company that did this matrix, and we had a pretty good result.

David
In Berlin we’ve supported nearly 70 projects. Every one of them is different and does good and innovative work.

Quartiermeister is both a company and an association. Can you explain how your business works?
Peter: The whole Quartiermeister idea started with a group of people who formed an association. Friends distributed the beer with their bicycles in Neukölln and Kreuzberg. Since the company became more professional, the association has become responsible for the funding process. The members decide which projects go online for the community poll. At the same time, the association is the independent controlling authority of the company. The company itself is responsible for sales, production, expansion and communication. Everyone can be part of our association and can create events and develop strategies. In the association there are around 15 active members, our company includes seven full-time staff.

You offer a grant of €1000 to four social projects every quarter that are chosen by the public. Why did you decide to open the selection process to the community?
David: Because that is how we want companies to work nowadays. The value chain is not completed after sales. We want our customers to decide what happens with the money they spend and to engage in local activities.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve supported?
Peter: In Berlin we’ve supported nearly 70 projects. Every one of them is different and does good and innovative work. It’s hard to say which one would be our favourite. But for us the development of the projects after couple of years has been quite interesting. We have had many success stories, where our €1000 in the beginning made a huge difference, and now the projects are established institutions.

David: Like Kulturleben Berlin e.V! The association distributes free leftover tickets for cultural institutions to enable cultural access for people with a low income. In 2010, we financed a one-year contract for a phone flatrate. Today Kulturleben uses more than one telephone to provide an evening in the theatre or at a concert for around 29,000 Berliners. Another project gives free German courses to refugees and people in need. We provided funding for some of the material needed and a monthly rent at Bethanien.

Why do you think Berlin is a good city for a project like this?
Peter: I think there are two reasons. First of all, the social entrepreneurship movement here is quite common and connected, many people think about their everyday choices in consuming. They know that their choice makes a difference and influences the economy system. At the same time, Berlin is a city that never rests. It always inspires you to do something new. So many people are engaged in social or cultural projects, have innovative ideas and know how to connect to each other.

What do you see for the future of the company?
David: Our goal is to expand to other German regions and work together with more local breweries. We also want to offer more products, non-alcoholic beer, for example, or a Radler. We’re growing slowly, but with values. We want to inspire other companies to do business in a different way and hope that our current consumerism model and economy are changing step by step.

If you want to learn more about Quartiermeister, visit their website at http://www.quartiermeister.org. Plus, check out their funding page to vote on a social project, or to submit yours for consideration!