The power couple, Jason and Kris Spaulding shared a vision to open a sustainable brewery that would inspire other businesses to think about the footprint they are making on their community and the environment. The core of Brewery Vivant includes a devotion to using local sources for ingredients and running the business according to the three pillars of sustainability: environmental integrity, social equity, and economic viability.
Western Michigan University
What makes Brewery Vivant different is the way the Spaulding's approach their craft and operate the business. Kris Spaulding, Owner and Sustainability Director of Brewery Vivant said, “My belief is that it is the responsibility of business leaders like me to push the expectations of those around us and to openly advocate for a better way of doing business, and I take every opportunity I can to do that.”
Jason started packaging his craft brew in aluminum cans as part of their business strategy in 2011. Brewery Vivant was 1 of only 4 breweries (out of 120) in the State of Michigan that canned in 2011. Aluminum cans have 70% recyclable material and a 60-day loop from being recycled to back on the shelf. Also, an empty beer can weighs about 1 ounce, while an empty beer bottle weighs six times as much making cans less costly on the environment to ship at all stages. Top it off, 96 cases of cans can be stacked on a pallet versus only 60 bottles on a pallet resulting in a lower footprint by supplying canned beer.
Brewery Vivant has been supporting clean energy since 2014 when all of the electricity purchased for the pub and brewery was Michigan-based renewable through Consumer’s Energy’s Green Generation program which uses a mix of wind energy and landfill gas recapture. Then in 2016, the Spaulding's installed 192 solar panels on the rooftop of the brewery that provided approximately 54,787 kWh of electricity from the sun annually. This equates to an annual average of 10.5% of their overall electricity used.
Kris and Jason are always looking for innovative ways to close the loop in production whenever possible. Many eco-friendly systems are not built for smaller businesses. For example, CO2 capturing systems are designed for larger companies like Anheuser-Busch. Brewery Vivant participated in a pilot program partnering with CASEQ Technologies, a carbon dioxide recapturing company in Holland, Michigan. Breweries produce as much as 5 barrels of CO2 for every barrel of beer brewed during the fermentation process. CASEQ’s technology captures the CO2 during fermentation, scrubs it clean and then liquefies and stores it in a tank for use in purging tanks and carbonating beer. This is an example of Brewery Vivant taking larger scale CO2 recapturing systems and testing how to incorporate the system into smaller scale businesses. Another pilot program was replacing peak electricity with on site batteries. Again, the challenge was this system was built for larger scale, Vivant being small scale did not use enough electricity to make the system work.
The Spaulding's were recognized in 2017 as leaders in the craft brewing industry by making the cover of The New Brewer, the journal of the Brewers Association. “We’ve always tended to be early adopters and this innovative spirit was noticed in a big way by our industry’s largest trade group,” Kris shared. “It’s in my DNA,” said Kris when asked about sustainability. Kris began her career at Herman Miller, working up to environmental project manager before she decided to partner with her husband Jason who had experience in the brewing world. In the late 1990's, Jason co-founded New Holland Brewing Company with a childhood friend. After Jason sold his share of New Holland he went to work for an economic development organization and quickly realized that working for someone else in a desk job was not for him.
Jason and Kris were looking into possibly buying an existing business (not a brewery), but "it wasn't feeling right," stated Kris. So she pointed out the obvious solution, opening up a brewery together. The desire to build a brewery based on an environmentally and socially conscious model became an integral part of the business plan.
An important focus has been partnering with other business in the community. Brewery Vivant uses local, sustainable grown meat for their steak fritters, sandwiches, and specials. Likewise, they purchase from a family-owned cattle farm for their high quality burgers. In the growing season, almost all of the produce comes from local farms. The percent of local spend started at 48.8% in 2011 and has increased over time to as much as 63.5%.
“The pandemic was such a movement to provide local support, shop local,” said Kris. There was such a level of commitment from employees and customers because of the connection with Brewery Vivant’s values. They had to be creative in 2020 due to the pandemic because Brewery Vivant was not able to give as much financially. So, they looked at what they did have to offer and the Pay it Forward Burger Delivery was born. Partnering with Inner City Christian Federation (ICCP), every Wednesday Brewery Vivant set out to deliver up to 20 burgers to fellow members of the community living in ICCF housing - Hamburgers for Hungry Homes.
Another Pandemic silver lining began shortly after the shutdown when one of their longtime farm partners dropped off a few boxes of greens for the staff. There were so much amazing greens and the Spaulding’s knew the farm had few accounts to sell to during this time. So, the pub started offering kale and lettuce boxes on their takeout menu with all sales going directly to the farm.
Sustainability was always part of Brewery Vivant’s core principles that extend beyond environment issues by also focusing on customers, employees, and the community. Employee attraction, retention and safety is a focus at Brewery Vivant. All new employees attend a Sustainability 101 class which covers terminology as well as details around their own sustainability goals. Also, during class each employee is asked what sustainability means to them. Proving when there is a shared passion from top down, employees become personally invested in the business resulting in a lower turnover rate, Brewery Vivant’s overall turnover rate has been as low as 46.3% vs national industry average of 72.1%. In 2019, 27% of the staff lived within one mile of the brewery and 62% of the staff lived within 5 miles making it easy for them to walk, bus or ride their bikes to work, cutting down on their CO2 emissions.
A few other initiatives include donating used fryer oil to a local guy that converts it to biodiesel and they installed a grain silo because the grain bags were one of the biggest packaging wastes from the brewery. In 2019 Brewery Vivant annual reduction in electricity was 430,719 kwh and the water to beer 3:1 ratio was 1.75 mm gallons of water used. The brewery's 2019 overall waste to landfill percentage was 1.2% - recycling 31,040 lbs., 8,424 cu ft of compost and sent 372,998 lbs. to local cattle farmers.
Every March, on St Patrick’s day, the brewery releases their Beer the Change report, highlighting their sustainability efforts since 2011. It's their version of Green Beer! The report is even published in the color black to discourage people from printing it.
“We make craft beer, but we also want to make a positive impact on our community” Spaulding said. The Spaulding’s went into this investment looking for a neighborhood space that could house a production brewery. The vision to find a residential location was so people could walk or bike to the brewery from their home. They embraced a dilapidated old funeral home chapel building that was once an eyesore and brought it back to life to become a viable part of a neighborhood. The 80+ year old renovated building required some creative designs to fit the brewery and give it some charm as well as incorporated reduce, reuse, and recycle for LEED certification. After installing high efficiency heating/cooling units with CO2 sensors, the brewery experienced an energy savings of up to 10%. Existing glycol cooling systems for the beer tanks were up-sized slightly so they could also cool the cooler that draft beer comes from. All rainwater runoff is recaptured in a giant cistern and is slowly released into the group to reduce the pressure on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Water-efficient landscaping has been installed around the building and within the beer garden. Toilets are all low flow, waterless urinals and sensor sinks in the bathrooms have resulted in a yearly later savings of nearly 50,000 gallons of water.
Nearly all of the cleaning products used at Brewery Vivant are produced by a fellow B Corp, EcoLogic Solutions. Their entire line of products are environmentally preferable and many are Green Seal certified. Their formulations are readily biodegradable and super-concentrated to reduce waste and packaging.
Given The Spaulding’s biggest influencers are their children, it is no surprise they have added education and hunger into their sustainability initiatives. Brewery Vivant partners with Grand Rapids Public Schools, supporting teachers with their “Amazon wish list” of supplying needs a big as two carts of Chromebooks as well as planting trees on campus, sports equipment needs and playground refresh projects. A large part of Brewery Vivant’s sales donation budget is designated to address hunger. They partner with neighborhood elementary schools through Kids’ Food Basket program where over 13,000 sack suppers are delivered throughout the school year.
Finally, Kris continues to be a strong advocate for creating more brand awareness for B Corps, “being transparent about our goals and outcomes is a way we can stay accountable to our customers." Kris believes we have to breakthrough the “humility issue” or perception and commented, “you’re not supposed to brag about the good things you’re doing because then it’s for the wrong reasons." Instead, businesses need to tell their story, provide inspiration so others have a desire to improve and grow.
Kris Spaulding, Owner and Sustainability Director
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Grand Rapids, MI, US
Business Website: https://www.breweryvivant.com/
Year Founded: 2010
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
Brewery Vivant is a distributing brewpub with a mission to promote living the good life by brewing farmhouse inspired beer, serving a from-scratch menu, and building a sustainable community for all, one beer at a time. It is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan in a refurbished historic funeral home embedded in a local neighborhood. Brewery Vivant was the first LEED certified microbrewery in 2012 and became the 4th certified B Corp in West Michigan in 2014.