A Once Lifeless Building Now Vibrant: The Brewery Vivant and Sustainability

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The recently-opened Brewery Vivant shows its unique character upon walking in the front doors. The chapel-like restaurant has a buttressed roof with long wooden community tables down the center and stained glass behind the bar.

What it doesn’t show on first look is its high standard for sustainability and commitment to the local community.

Most people searching for a brewery are not looking for sustainability. When Jason and Kris Spaulding opened the Brewery Vivant they had a lot of unprecedented ideas for small breweries in Michigan. They decided it was important to focus on building a business that was environmentally-friendly, community-based, and economically-wise.

Jason was a part of the original team that started the New Holland Brewery in Holland. Kris works with Herman Miller on their Design for Environment team. Jason eventually left New Holland for Germany where he took brewing classes. He and Kris took time to tour French and Belgium breweries. They fell in love with the small, community brewers that seemed to be important parts of the towns.

“Towns took pride in the fact that there was a brewery there. The owners were important people in the town and had a big role in their community,” Jason said.

They decided to follow the example with the brewery they were looking to start.

“When Jason saw this building, that was it,” Kris said.

The Brewery Vivant is located at 925 Cherry Street. The building has a long history, once housing a funeral home chapel, and had to go through major renovations before it could house the brewery.

The food served is one of the most important sustainable practices at the brewery, Jason said. The goal for the brewery is to work with local farmers as much as possible. They plan to use the nearby farmer’s market when available. Using local food means the menu will closely reflect Michigan’s changing seasons. The long-term food goal is to be able to get 50 percent of their food from within a 250-mile radius.

Kris was most excited about the Brewery’s waste goals. They are working with a local composting company to take organic leftover products and using the city’s recycling program. Kris realized before the brewery even opened that her ideal vision of waste management was not realistic immediately upon opening, but she hopes to improve their practices in time and eventually reach her zero-waste goal.

“You have to start somewhere and then you can start improving on it,” she said.

Breweries run into some sustainability issues that other business don’t. Beer-making takes high volumes of water and uses ingredients that are not always easy to get locally. There are many grain producers in the Midwest but few in Michigan. Since they are also committed to using high quality products they realize they will need to find a balance between only using local products and using quality products form further away. They hope to get 25 percent of beer ingredients from within 250 miles.

One of the biggest water consuming tasks is cleaning brewing tanks, which means using chemicals or large amounts of hot water, another issue of balance that will be tweaked as they continue to move forward.

Education and training will play a major role in reducing water waste, as well as other types of waste. Teaching employees to use water efficiently and always being aware of how water is being used will significantly reduce waste.

“The biggest challenge in running a sustainable business is the cost and the training that is required. We hope that training our employees to use sustainable practices will teach them something and will be able to spread to their lives beyond the brewery,” Kris explained.

Some of their plans, like composting and organic food input, are going to involve increased costs. The building itself was a high cost investment that cost more than the alternative might have.

“The tables are made from reclaimed barn wood and crates. They probably cost more than something out of the box, but they have a lot more character,” said Kris.

There are, however, several examples of sustainable practices that will save money. Instead of tiling the floor of the restaurant, the original cement was left and polished, adding to the unique look. Savings will also be made as a result of wise energy use and environmentally-friendly technology like energy efficient light bulbs and a bicycle powered television.

Community involvement is another area the Spauldings believe is essential to running a sustainable business.

Any usable leftover food will be brought to the local food bank. Local staff will be hired who live close by and can walk or ride a bike to work. Other goals include donating 10 percent of their profits to local charities and paying employees for time spent volunteering. These goals will help in the continuing revival of the East Hills Neighborhood.

The main goal for the Brewery Vivant is to serve the community. They plan to distribute beer in cans, because it is a more environmental, cost saving and quality preserving container. They will keep their distribution area small so that they are able to continue to serve their local customers fully.

To get more information on the brewery, their beers, foods, events, and their sustainability goals, visit their website.

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