Great Food, Great Beer, and Sustainability

Brewery Vivant is the apex of sustainability and good business. Sustainability is a core value built into the company’s philosophy from the ground up—from when their doors first opened nearly six years ago.

It took patience, ambitious goals, and several rounds of trial and error to get to where they are today – and they are still learning, improving, and setting the bar higher. Brewery Vivant was the first ever LEED certified brewery in the United States, earning a silver certification in 2012. Leadership in Energy and Sustainable Design (LEED) is the most widely used third party verification system for green buildings, and has a point system and certification method for the recognition of buildings that use less water, less energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Brewery Vivant publishes an annual “Beer the Change…” sustainability report that keeps them accountable to the community and to themselves. The report outlines all of the target goals for the brewery, and what they are presently achieving toward those goals. Here are only a few examples: Currently, 100 percent of the electricity purchased for the brewery, pub, and warehouse comes from Michigan-based renewables through Consumers Energy’s Green Generation Program. Brewery Vivant also strives for 10 percent onsite renewable energy, but they estimate with the new solar array installed on their roof this past year that they will produce up to 20 percent onsite renewable energy. They send only .88 percent of their waste to the incinerator, the rest being recycled, composted, or used somewhere else along the line. The list goes on and on, click here to read the “Beer the Change…” report in its entirety.

The principle of sustainability goes beyond endeavors beneficial to the environment, but also encompasses supporting the local community. A perfect example of this is that nearly 40 percent of the staff lives within one mile of their workplace. That means that 40 percent of their staff can easily walk or bike to work, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This also keeps money within the local economy by giving work to people who live and spend money in the community.

“Spending local dollars is a big way of staying in a sustainable local economy,” said Kris Spaulding, co-owner of Brewery Vivant.

The brewery strives for 90 percent of all purchases to come from within 250 miles and 75 percent of all purchases to come from Michigan; they are currently achieving 63.5 percent and 58.6 percent respectively. For years, the restaurant bought their beef from Gordon Foods, and it was difficult, if not impossible to know exactly where that meat was coming from and what practices were used in producing it. In more recent years, they started buying beef from a local farmer, keeping dollars within the community while also knowing that beef was raised sustainably.

“There is a slightly higher cost for local beef,” Spaulding said, “but we are willing to absorb that if it is better across the board.”

Spending money within the community goes beyond building a sustainable local economy, but will also inherently lead to an environmentally sustainable community. Buying local reduces the cost, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions associated with long distance shipping.

The sustainable practices demonstrated by Brewery Vivant not only rub off on other local businesses and the community, but also trickle down into the personal lives of the staff.

“We put out a staff survey that posed the questions: ‘Do you feel you’re a part of something bigger?’ 100 percent of the staff answered yes,” Spaulding said.  “‘Have you made changes in your personal life because of the practices at the business?’ The vast majority answered yes.”

The owners of Brewery Vivant have implemented an incentive program for their staff to move towards sustainability in their personal lives. If they make sustainable changes and document it, they will receive a gift card to a local business.

“It is our duty to talk about this stuff,” Spaulding said. “If you’re impacting your footprint, that’s awesome, but you’ll have such a bigger impact if you get out there and show why it’s beneficial to the health of the business in addition to the health of the planet.”

The health of the business—this is a central issue that is raised when discussing business and sustainability. It is no secret that sustainability is not necessarily an inexpensive endeavor, but it’s all about perspective and patience. Sustainable practices don’t always make sense for businesses focused on short-term payback, but for those who can see the big picture, it is the only thing that makes sense. A picturesque example of sustainability, good business, and patience, is the commencement of the solar array.

“The solar array will take about ten years before it is paid off, but it is warranted for twenty-five years,” Spaulding said. “We will get fifteen years of free energy, so who cares if it will take ten years to pay back the initial investment.”

The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum rightly awarded Brewery Vivant the Sustainable Business of the Year in 2015. They are a leader in sustainable practices and good business, and a perfect example of how one organization can have an impact on the greater community. Brewery Vivant has entirely fulfilled their core philosophy, built into the company from day one—Great Food, Great Beer, and Sustainability.

For more information about Brewery Vivant and all the awesome things they do, visit their webpage at www.breweryvivant.com.

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