From a New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. Racial reckoning that began two months ago in America's streets is now reaching into many of the country's biggest and best known companies as workers demand greater diversity, empowerment and accountability.
Today, a conversation with one of those workers, Julian Bond, about her journey from employee to protester inside her own office. It's Friday, August 14th. Julia, what is your first memory of Adidas? So I remember being very young and being like at the community pool as a kid. I remember being drawn to my uncle swimming trunks. They were like this electric blue, like really vibrant color. And of course, they have three stripes on them.
I remember being like, oh, I really love the color. Your shorts films are awesome. I remember you looked at me. He was like, hey, maybe one day you might make them. Hmm.
It gave me a little bit of like my first interaction with, like this brand where it was like, wow, okay.
Maybe maybe one day I could maybe one day I can have that kind of dream.
So how do you fall into fashion, why that world?
So as a kid, I put a lot of work into some pretty stupid and crazy outfits. I was always obsessed about the feeling of a fit. Early and mid 2000s, I'm in high school, so big belt, boot cut jeans, I mean, I can just tell you a high school Julia right. I would dream about those. This is going to be black. And so Air Force One, white, crispy, clean air.
And I remember just being like, I just don't play on my clothes every day was like a new day to, like, play on my clothes.
What are you doing? My mom, she's a dancer and a creative.
And my dad, who's retired now, he was a policeman. No one in my family had ever done the college thing, really. So I was kind of like the first. So I made a lot of mistakes. I applied to a lot of schools outside of state and got into a lot of them. But I had the very realistic bill that came through. So I ended up having to go to the University of Cincinnati in my backyard and I got into the fashion school.
So once you're in fashion school, how did you make your way to Adidas the way my school program was set up unturn every other semester after your first year. So like everybody else in school, I was applying for the design job and I applied for Under Armour and they told me, OK, you can get over here, there's an internship waiting for you, blah, blah, blah. And I was so excited. It was like, oh my gosh, it's like my foot and some door.
And while I was at Under Armour, my boss at the time, she encouraged me. She's like, you should apply for the Adidas internship. And like to put it in perspective, I'm a black girl from Ohio who discovered fashion school. So, like, for her to tell me that it was very much like, are you serious? I mean, this is a dream, right? And I'm living in this. That's like shooting for the stars, like a little too much.
So she's saying armour is great. We make great athletic clothing, but you you should aim even higher.
Yeah. And she's like, nah, I think you could get in. I think you should apply and get your portfolio together. Look at it for you. And I applied and I kind of forgot about it. I was like, well, they probably won't call me back, but at least I applied. And so I get a call the following April and it's Adidas and they're like, hey, we'd like to interview you for our internship program. And when I get that call, I was literally like running around school, like, oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.
Like, it was one of the biggest wins I had had in my career at the time. And it was I mean, who doesn't want to work at Adidas? It was one of those like, oh my God. Like I'm starting to get into rooms I was dreaming about. Right.
Because this is not just you getting an internship. It sounds like you're saying this is a door opening to an actually feasible career in this industry.
Exactly. And I remember pinching myself when I was in orientation. I remember being like, oh, my God, I'm in the room. I'm at Adidas.
Exactly. And what did you think it was probably one of my most creative moments. I'm working alongside people that come from all these different walks of life, all these different spaces. It was literally everything I could have dreamed of. Huh. And, you know, I got busy. I was like, what do y'all need for me as the intern? Mm. So cool. Y'all need me to draw. Cool. So I was working all of these, these muscles that I never truly worked out before and it was truly an amazing experience for me.
And what were you most proud of doing during this internship that season?
We were really this was our fall when our 19 season everything had the visual language is like asymmetric block kind of style. So I ended up winning a pair of asymmetric pants because it was the one thing in the line that was not right. We all kind of knew it. Every other designer, like, I can't draw another thing. I just can't. And I was like, I'll take a stab at it. So I ended up being late one day and like, drawing some things out, trying to take some things off so I could see it on a form and it ended up getting signed off on.
So it landed, huh?
And then I remember my director looked at me and he was like, they're going to make thousands of like, oh my God. Well, yeah, that season, quite honestly, like, changed my life being on this team. It taught me that process of visualizing and then creating, visualizing and then create. And it also let me know that anything is possible.
So shortly after that, I went back to school and I got the call my senior year of February for a full time role on that team. And I was just ecstatic. I was like, here we go now. It's the start of my career. And then my mom, she cried when I told her, because she realized she was like, you're about to do things that I never did. And she made me have a really ugly cry at my graduation because she told me she's like, you've had to navigate a system that I've never navigated and you are operating and succeeding in systems that I've never found myself in.
And she was like, as a mother, it's encouraging that I did something right with you because of the spaces that I see you going to. So go over there and show them what the. So, Julie, what was it like when you began working full time at Adidas? So as an intern, I didn't really, like, look around me and I guess see that there weren't as many black women in design there. I was just happy to be in the room.
And I was just like, oh, my God, this is so cool. But I noticed once I came here for my full time role that I like the diversity on my team that kind of left me. Do you mean a lot can happen in a year? And some of my friends, I would call them, be like, hey, like I know you love. And they shared with me a little bit of their experience leaving, and they were like extremely difficult to be in that space and they kind of want me to watch my back and the kind of tread carefully.
At the same time, I do my best work. And how did you feel when you had these conversations, how did that make you feel? I mean, they were disheartening a little bit, but, you know, sometimes you don't believe it until you live it kind of thing, and I know I'm that way where I'm like, I can't be that bad or oh, it's not really like that, is it? Let me try it out.
Right. So I kind of I wasn't disbelief because I believe my friends experiences and the way they describe them. But it was a little bit of hesitancy because as an intern, you only get four or five months of that experience. So you don't really understand the politics of the space you're walking in. But then I really thought about it and I looked and I started to see in meetings and I would be like, oh, my God. Like, I am the only one in the room.
And like maybe these experiences that I'm having now, maybe they are the reasons why people.
Is there a story that sticks out in your mind? As you're looking around the company, seeing that you're quite alone and being. A black person on this team, so essentially there were two experiences that were very like. I would call them overt forms of racism. So the first example I was on Instagram scrolling through. And I see that my senior director has put an image, you know, on LinkedIn, you get those little like so-and-so wants to join your network or whatever, and then it's their picture and their name.
He essentially took a screenshot of it and it was obviously someone who was Asian and their name was Bruce Lee, and he posted that screenshot on his public Instagram and it said, Enter the Dragon. People were commenting on it. People said, haha, this is so funny. And it didn't sit well with me because I have some friends who are Asian on the team and they were like, that image made me feel as if I can't even speak to my director.
And they were like, I have a hard time like being in meetings with him because obviously he has a caricature version of what Asian people are. And so I went to H.R. with my team, we were like, let's go to H.R. about it, because that's not right. And people are being silent about the fact that they feel that on the team because of it. And I expressed to them and I said be something like taking a screenshot of a black guy and it says Will Smith.
And then the caption, you put get jiggy with it, huh? I was like, that's not OK. It's not OK to, like, mock people publicly like that. Our high representative, she she sat and listened to us, and then after we were finished speaking, she said, you know, I hear you all, obviously, I appreciate you guys bringing this up, but he's a nice guy. And do you think that his intent was malicious in any way?
I do think that he meant for this to be like it seems like he meant for this to be a joke. And I remember sitting in that meeting and I didn't have the words for it, but I was sitting there like. It doesn't matter what his intentions were, his behavior has proven destructive. He's probably a very nice guy. He probably is very polite and says thank you and is amazing. Our conversation with. But his actions have repercussions and they're trickling on the team.
And I think that our I really miss that. The post, of course, was taken down, but it let me know that, oh, wow, H.R. has some bias as well, huh? And my second example, and this is also just to give you context into how I'm feeling at this time, like. And two months into my job and the Confederate flag image landed on our design wall, what do you mean? So Adidas decided to create basically little bundles of imagery for this particular season that had different moods, essentially.
So this is like this is like an inspiration, Walter. It's an inspirational deck. So they essentially were like, you know, this is what we want you to go after. We want you to be inspired by these images for the season. All the images were put up in this really big, beautiful, like mural on the wall so that all the designers, we could just be constantly thinking about it and they would be in the back of our heads.
We have an intern at the time and our intern came up to us and she was like, hey, have you guys seen the Confederate flag image on the wall? And I like just last because I was like what I was like, there's no way like I was in such utter disbelief and I Googled it. I looked at a shoulder. I was like, Are you sure this? She's like, yeah. She's like, come look. It's on the wall.
But we all get up and we go walk over to the wall and sure enough, posted on the wall. Is a picture of a Asian man skating with a Confederate flag on his teacher.
Uh. I looked at that image. And it just it really, really hurt to be told as a designer. A young black designer, our highest design aspiration is a Confederate flag, which is one of the most hateful symbols that I can think of towards black people. And I just remember sitting there and I was like, I can't believe that this is there. And then I began to think about how many hands it had to pass through, how many I saw it and nobody caught it.
No one caught it, that's really hard to fathom. It alarmed me so much because I'm an assistant designer, I'm a black assistant designer, and the majority of people that we work with as a brand are black people, black athletes, black physicians, Kanye West, Beyonce, Pharrell and our consumer base. Right. But there's a huge disconnect when it comes to how we are on the inside versus what people associate with us on the outside. Mm hmm.
And as a black female designer, I feel that disconnect Daly when I'm working. So I was like, I need to go to H.R. so I went with my team. We met with a woman in charge and we expressed her what happened and she asked me what I wanted. She's like, what? What would give you resolution? Like what? What is it that you need? And I told I was like, I need an apology from leadership and I need them to say it won't happen again.
She's like, this is a global issue. And she was like, it will be discussed. So I left that meeting feeling really. Hopeful because I was like, OK, wow, this is going to get escalated. This is actually going to maybe have some change and we can have a better way of working, huh?
And so what happened? When did you next hear back? So about a month later, there was a meeting put on everyone's calendar and it was very vague and it was like next going to address the design. And next, our big boss writes, When the big boss shows up, there's a bunch of, like, commotion. So I'm in the meeting and then Nick starts to speak and he starts talking about the image. He's talking about like symbols and like how there was a mess and I'm really listening for an apology anywhere in what he's saying.
He then goes on to say, like, and I'm paraphrasing, he's like, these kind of things can't really be prevented. We can just have an open discussion when they do happen. I think my mouth was wide open because it was a deflection and it seemed like a very hands off approach to coming up with actual systems to better protect black people and people of color.
Uh. I sat with that and I kind of just decided to get really, really small. I decided to just be really good at my job. I realized that nothing was going to change and that I should just kind of sit down and just shut up and quit being so loud about it and just. Kind of get the job done at that point. So your response to this is to kind of hunker down and to become a little bit less of yourself.
Yeah. But I don't want that story. To become the noise of the depth of the struggle that black people face in their workspace there, because, yes, there are really big moments where a Confederate flag shows up at the wall, but it's deeper than that. It is small things that happen daily, like, for example, I've been called because I am so fair skinned all Julia, like you're so light, you're basically white. And it's like a joke that negates my black experience.
Right. And there's been things about my hair and it's like, oh, it's so fluffy. You even need to sleep on a pillow. And it's like, well, yes, I'm not an alien, right? Like, I sleep on a pillow, like a normal person. It's small things like that that are daily reminders of your blackness in that space. Is there a moment when you decide? Actually, no, I'm not going to make myself small and I'm not just going to accept that this is how it's going to be.
I think that's the moment I watched the George Floyd video. Adidas posted an image that had the word racism on it and then in a red outline crossed it out. And I remember sitting, looking at that post and realizing how tone deaf it was for my company to just cross out racism and then put a whole bunch of empty statements about togetherness, but not really. Talk about its own hand in being complicit with it, and I remember being on Instagram and kind of seeing all these people post about justice and how we can't be silent anymore and all these things.
And I remember having the come to terms with the fact that, you know, I'm sitting here posting on my social, but I'm participating as a silent black voice to the daily systematic oppression that is happening at the brand. I was like, so I, I, I'm a hypocrite, right. Because I'm holding a lot of stories and I'm holding my experience because. Why? And so I decided to write a letter to my Portland leadership and I decided that I was going to find my name at the bottom.
It wasn't going to be anonymous. I was just going to say exactly where we find ourselves now and why we can't operate business as usual. And you know, my mom, she I told her I was going to send it and she's like, don't do that, why would you do that? You've made it. People like us don't get jobs like that. Just pipe down, be quiet and be good at your job and don't cause a fuss.
Like my mom said something that kind of hurt me. She's like, what are you doing? So you might never design clothes again after this, like you might be blacklisted. And the thing you fought so hard to get to and discovered you might never get to do it again, might never put your pen on paper. And I told her I was like, Mom, even if I even if I never got to be like an Adidas again or in this kind of space, it's more important for me to be able to sleep at night with myself.
And sorry if I start crying, but. I remember telling her, if I told you every day something that happened to me at this brand, some off kilter comment about color or things like that, that will be all we talk about as a family. Sometimes I just want to leave that. Because I just want to talk about normal things like how was your day, mom, and how's my cousin doing back home or things like that, I don't want to always be entrenched in.
The systematic oppression that is racism in the way that it shows its face, both overtly and covertly. That's kind of what led me up to this letter is it's not this big giant moment of Confederate flags or things like that, it's it's the culmination in the compounding of all these small areas that I find myself being squashed into.
And so I wrote that letter and then I sent it. Overpack. But you can use a snack right about now, how about a toasty grilled cheese sandwich? Just be warned, if you happen to achieve gooey, cheesy perfection, you may be inspired to upgrade your tiny, drab kitchen. Only you won't be able to do it alone. In this moment of newfound passion, the people of U.S. bank want to help. No matter what you're cooking up there, dedicated to turning your new inspiration into your next pursuit.
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So what happened, what was the response to this letter? So initially, certain leaders reached out immediately and just like through time on my calendar with no agenda, like wanted to just sit with me and like this let's just talk. Let's just talk. But I knew that any conversation that I would jump into a room with leadership with would be unfruitful and cyclical nature.
So what do you mean? Why did you feel that way? I felt that way because it mimicked a lot of what I had seen in our going into a room, you having experienced one reality and they do not recognize your reality, and then afterwards you kind of expect something to change and then nothing happens and it kind of just gets swept under the rug and you just kind of have to go about your business as usual. So I didn't respond. And then I decided every day at noon I was going to even if it was just me on the campus with a sign that says expose racism, I was going to be on the campus protesting the fact that Adidas has not delivered on this acknowledgment and apology to begin anti-racism work.
So just a couple of days after you sent this letter, you decide you're going to you're going to protest your employer. Yes, it's a big step. Frightening, very frightening stuff. I've never participated in a protest before this, and I never organized a protest before this, so I knew nothing of what I was doing.
So I had gone on the campus and I walked up and to my amazement, there were already like 20 people there. So I was like, oh, my God. I was like, all right. Well, we are. And more and more people started flooding in. They brought their own signs. They brought their friends, their family, like it just became this giant group of people.
Wow. How many people do you think or were there had to be at least one hundred people. And it was very overwhelming to me because I just thought it was just me sitting here like alone in my experience. But it seems as if my words have resonated with more employees at the company.
Mm hmm. So this other black woman who works at the brand came up to me and she was like, are you going to say anything or address the crowd at all? Mm hmm. And I was like, oh, I hadn't planned on it. And she was like, I think you might want to address the crowd. And so I decided to read my letter because it hadn't been released in its entirety yet. So I got up there and was shaking and all.
I thanked the crowd and then I read my letter.
I wonder if you could read from the letter as a black woman who works at Adidas. My experiences have never been business as usual.
In fact. I can no longer stand for Adidas consistent complacency in taking active steps against the racist work environment. This is not business as usual.
When was the last time you saw the murder of the White House? I cannot operate business as usual any longer without the catalyst for substantial and sweeping change, that catalyst is as follows. I need this brand not only to admonish racism, but to actively be anti-racist. The ask is the Adidas issue, a public apology for the racism and discrimination that they have openly enabled and perpetuated across the brand. The brand is not equitable.
The brand is, and anti-racism starts with this acceptance. Without this acceptance and apology, there's no possibility for change. I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to be here every day at. And the crowd was clapping and giving signs of approval and saying, you know, keep going and giving all this encouragement. And maybe like 20 minutes after that, the crowd started to disperse. So, Julie, what were the next couple of days like at work?
So I'm not working. You stopped working.
Yeah, so we want to make sure I understand the first from the first day you start protesting, that's your that's your day. You're not you're not stopping and going back into the office at the end of the protest.
Yeah, I'm effectively on strike, I guess. And when you say strike at this point, you mean you're striking over the company's failure to do the things you've asked for in the letter? Acknowledge. This. Behavior, acknowledge the situation and apologize for it. Yes, so. Right now, it's an uphill battle to try to change within because leadership has not acknowledged that systemic racism is at play. Right. And so they would much rather just kind of like move ahead instead of addressing kind of what it is that we're actually talking about.
Once the leadership at our brand says, yes, systemic racism exists here, it lets me know that I can walk into the space and have that conversation with them on what it looks like to change it. I want to talk about what happened once your protests get underway a few days after I think it was your first protest, Adidas. Announces that it's taking some steps in the Times reported on it. And so I have a bit of a sense of it.
Yeah, the company said that 30 percent of its new hires would be black or Latino. They say they're going to be funding scholarships for black students and give a hundred and twenty million dollars to programs working towards racial equity. And they post a statement on social media. And I want to I want to read a part of it. It says, quote, First, we need to give credit where it's long overdue. The success of Adidas would be nothing without black athletes, black artists, black employees and black consumers.
Period. Remaining silent is not a neutral position when the people we should be standing with live in fear of police brutality due to systematic racism.
With that in mind, it's our people who we owe this to the most, by which it means employees are black co-workers. Our black co-workers have shown us through their words and actions what leadership looks like and the changes Adidas can make. They've led the response that we will continue to implement together. This isn't the final step. This is just the first. What did you think of that response? In some ways, it sounds a bit like what you are seeking, but I don't know if it feels like what you were seeking.
It's not. It fell very short from where they needed to be. Why did they fall short so. Nowhere in the Black Lives Matter that they say that they would stop exploiting the black tower, that they would not be the brand they are without. And nowhere in that Black Lives Matter post did it say that they would apologize and acknowledge the fact that they are doing that. So you process this, you decide that it's insufficient and you decide to keep protesting, right?
Yeah. And how long have you been out there? Day after day now, since this all started, many can't actually look at my calendar and think we're gearing up on 50, 60 days.
Wow. And they sent an email to our whole team that said. We're entering phase two of the protest, and if you want to protest, we completely want you to do that. But if you do protest past the lunch hour, you have to take paid time off. And effectively, when you're paid time off is run out, you will enter phase three of protesting, which means you need to take an unpaid leave of absence if you're choosing to protest, not work.
So they were making people choose between. Standing up for what's right and their livelihood, and I was met with an email and two other black and Mexican employees were met with verbal calls from their managers expressing the same message. That is retaliation, so obviously the protest is making leadership uncomfortable, so they're trying to find ways and use systems to effectively silence it. I hear you saying that the company's rules. About you protesting. May feel retaliatory to you.
On the other hand. So far, they have let you protest and paid you during the time for for about two months. So how are you reconciling those two things?
I have an email from my manager. When I told him I wasn't coming into work, he said, take as much time as you need. So that's coming from my director. And I also have an email from my H.R. representative where she says everybody should be able to come work feeling safe, valued and connected to their workplace. So I told him, I said, I'm not taking you. We're in this weird standoff at the moment where it's like they don't want to deliver on what they don't feel like they should, they don't feel like it's necessary for them to.
And I'm saying you have to do that in order to be the thing that you're saying that you are right.
And I'm and I'm going to guess that there are people who hear you. Telling the story and think nobody at the end of the day. Can be paid in perpetuity to protest your salary. Employee. You've got to come back to work or you need to leave, and I wonder what you say when I say that until that space is set up for black people and people of color to succeed.
It's not going to work. The system is broken, so in me walking into the space, I'm participating in perpetuating and building even when a broken system. Is there any part of you that wakes up in the morning these days? And asks yourself, you know, I've been here for about a year as an employee.
Maybe I should go back inside and do the work I'm doing outside the building, inside the building, Person-To-Person, superior to superior, convince people inside of the change.
And go back to work. And see what this looks like over time, that this change is always going to be slow, it's going to take time, and at the end of the day, even an acknowledgement and an apology may not give me what I want because they're just words.
But the hard work is what needs to happen inside that building by being inside that building and being an employee. And trying to make the change happen through those doors, not outside them. So in going public with what it looks like in the brand, there has been more movement than I've seen in the past two months, in the past year that I have been working there full time.
So so far, you think it's been more effective to be on the outside than it would be to be on the inside? Absolutely, people have been on the inside since the brand started. Why all of a sudden are things different? Just because someone chose to come out but somebody went outside. Head over to my forecast, guys, I can't be late.
So you are about to leave home and head to Adidas. Yep, we've been protesting every day at noon until they deliver on what's in the.
Julia, thank you very much. We really appreciate it. Thank you. We'll be right back. The following message is brought to you by Tracker Smith. Hi, I'm Malcolm Gladwell, host of Revisionist History. I'm also a lifelong runner, which is why I'm here to tell you about my favorite running brand tracks. They make the most functional and beautiful product on the market. The secret is in their fabrics from odor, resisting merino wool to soft and stretchy Italian blends.
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On Thursday, Israel said it had struck an agreement with the United Arab Emirates to establish the full normalization of relations between the two countries, a historic development in a region where many Arab countries still refuse to engage in diplomacy with Israel.
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