Featured B Corp of the Month: Vermont Creamery and Why Sustainability is a Necessity

©Tim Calabro, courtesy of Vermont Creamery

©Tim Calabro, courtesy of Vermont Creamery

We’re big supporters of the principles behind the B Corp movement, but we want to do more than just "spread the love" about it, we want to share the sustainability success stories from other B Corps!  Each month we’ll be publishing an interview with a sustainability champion of a B Corp – and this month we are featuring Vermont Creamery!

In 2014, Vermont Creamery, became B Corp Certified and joined over 1,000 companies that have met rigorous standards of transparency as well as social and environmental performance.  For 30 years, they have produced award-winning fresh and aged goat cheeses, crème fraîche and cultured butters in Websterville, Vermont.  We recently had the opportunity to talk with Creamery co-founders Allison Hooper and Bob Reese about their business and sustainability.

What made your company decide that sustainability was a priority?

Bob: Sustainability was never an option for us – it was a necessity. Without our farms, employees and community support from the very beginning, we would not be where we are today.

What is your company's greatest sustainability accomplishment to date?

Allison: As a business, we’ve been vocal about sustainability from the perspective of public policy – we speak out about the tensions between business interests and what’s good for employees, the environment and communities.  These viewpoints often differ from those of other businesses, but it’s important that our voice is heard.

How do you engage employees in sustainability issues? 

Bob: We have a long way to go to realize total employee engagement. While we have always tried to be a family-oriented, employee caring organization, it has taken a lot of work on part of the management team to empower our employees and provide opportunities for their continued engagement.  

Allison: I’d say we lead by example – if we seek to engage employees around issues of sustainability, we need to model responsible decision-making.  It may be as simple as riding a bike to work or carpooling, but these are the small things that offer our employees access to thinking about the larger concepts of sustainability and environmental stewardship. 

What is the biggest sustainability challenge facing your industry today?

Bob: Sourcing raw materials is one of the biggest challenges we face today. Farming is not a wildly profitable business, even when you are doing it well. We work with 15 independently-owned, family farms - we would like to help them lower costs, increase efficiency and promote sustainability - but we do not control these decisions, they do. We work everyday to lower our Creamery costs so that we can be in a position to pass these cost savings to our farmers as milk price increases.

Allison: I’d also add that most manufacturing has a high-environmental impact – as an industry, manufacturing businesses need to figure out ways to reduce this impact and to use natural resources in a sustainable and responsible way.

How are you addressing sustainability issues in your supply chain? 

Allison & Bob: A few things come to mind:

  • We have nearly completed the installation of a 572 panel solar array on the roof of the goat barn at Ayers Brook Goat Dairy.  This array will be the largest roof-mounted array in the state and will generate enough electricity to power the farm and a portion of our cheese making at the Creamery. 
  • We are planning for a bio-digester at the Creamery that will convert whey (a byproduct of cheesemaking) into energy.  We hope this will help us replace the propane we currently use for heating.
  •  We are actively researching non-GMO feed for our animals and hope to define a clear way forward on this particular issue.

How important is sustainability to your customers, and how do you tell them your sustainability story?

Allison: Our customers are highly educated and care about these issues – they are very concerned with climate change and the environment – if we were not operating with sustainability in mind, our customers would move on to brands that are. 

How do you stay on top of emerging sustainability issues?

Bob: Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, our demonstration farm, provides a venue for us to experiment and determine best practices. Currently, we are doing feed trials to lower costs while increasing milk protein and yield and focusing on improving our herd genetics down the road. We aim to pass our knowledge on to our other suppliers – in hopes of improving the quality of milk we have access to and improving the profitability of these family farms.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your sustainability journey?

Allison: If you make sustainability part of your mission, you will eventually get there.  We set big goals knowing that they will not happen overnight.  The small changes we make accumulate and, over time, we are able to turn these small changes into big ones.

Five years from now, what sustainability goals do you hope will be accomplished?

Allison: Two come to mind: 

  1. We would hope to see the bio-digester actively offsetting our propane purchases.
  2. Ayers Brook will be a viable goat dairy enterprise actively developing additional farms and preserving more working landscape in Vermont.

Who or what inspires your company in its sustainability journey? 

Allison: I have always been conscious of the fact that we are a manufacturer and believe we have a responsibility to be a good example, for our employees and the public at large.  I don’t think it’s right for corporations to use resources without consideration for the impact.  Producers need to do so in a responsible and thoughtful way. Bob and I have always pursued this ideal for Vermont Creamery and know it’s a journey, not a destination.

You can read June's "Featured B Corp" interview here.

The Best Sustainability Reporting Tips from Around the Internet

Since it's the season for publishing sustainability reports, we thought this 2012 blog post would come in handy again. Here are some tips, mistakes, and misconceptions about sustainability reporting from a wide variety of resources.. We've compiled the best of those lists right here for easy reference. Enjoy!

 

From Greenbiz, Are Companies Missing Out on a Sustainability Goldmine? (tips for mining that "gold")

  1. Keep your company's mission and strategy at the top of mind. 
  2. Find points of intersection: Which factors might impact your financials significantly in the short term or long term?
  3. Consider the ripple effect throughout your company's supply chain.
  4. Ponder which international standards or agreements might hold sway.
  5. Pay attention to what outside expert communities are telling you.
  6. Ask this question: Is there a social impact?

From BSR, Top Five Reporting Mistakes (an unofficial list) 

  1. Starting too late
  2. Following an ad hoc signoff process
  3. Using the tactical over the strategic
  4. Failing to connect the quantitative indicators and qualitative narrative
  5. Focusing on internal audiences at the expense of external readers

From Sustainable Business Forum, 7 Material Issues for the GRI to Consider

  1. The impact of sustainability reporting - how many companies report?
  2. The outcome of sustainability reporting - does it make a difference?
  3. The quality of sustainability reporting
  4. Use of the Application Levels
  5. The role of assurance
  6. The GRI relationships with financial services stakeholders
  7. The GRI's management of its operations in a social and environmentally responsible manner

From AccountAbility, Top Five Misconceptions About GRI Reporting

  1. A GRI “A” level means leadership.
    A GRI “plus” (+) signifies a rigorous assurance process
  2. Reporting on as many indicators as possible is the main goal of GRI reporting
  3. GRI presents a full framework for sustainability communications
  4. GRI is the best tool for measuring impact

From Sustainable Business Forum, Selling a CSR Report: How to Craft the Perfect Pitch

  1. Pitch it as a Starting Point
  2. Pitch it as a Learning Exercise
  3. Pitch it as an Engagement Tool
  4. Pitch it as a Competitive Edge
  5. Pitch it is a Celebratory Exercise

And don’t forget that Strategic Sustainability Consulting offers a wealth of information on topics just like this through our website resources.

4 Tips for Getting Closer to Zero Waste

Here is a 2012 blog post from when we attended the 2degrees webinar “Beyond the Bin: From recycling to zero waste.” We think that the advice is worth sharing a second time around! Check out the tips and add your own suggestions in the comments below:

1.  Choose “single stream” – by allowing employees to sort recyclable material into a single receptacle, you can expect to see an increase in recycling of up to 50%. Make it easy for employees, and they’re more likely to participate!

2.  When crafting a zero-landfill strategy, don’t just focus on recycling. Be sure to include options like: closed loop solutions (reuse), composting, and supply chain management.  Remaining materials that can’t be recycled or reused can be converted to energy through conversion technologies: waste to energy, plasma gasification, and anaerobic digestion.

3.  When designing new facilities, be sure to think about waste conveyance design. Make sure you consider the following:

  • Internal areas for collection, storage, and separation of materials
  • External space for multiple container sizes and service areas
  • Design for ease of use

4.  To improve recycling in existing buildings, review the following items to make sure you’ve covered your bases:

    • Signage
    • Bin size
    • Bin type
    • Tenant education, key component to gain buy-in maybe have a kick-off meeting and continuous reminders with metrics and goals
    • Space constraints
    • Service area

      If your organization wants to get a better handle on its waste, a great first step is conducting a waste audit. We’ve developed a toolkit (webinar, guidance, and templates) all around How to Conduct a Waste Audit. If you find that your team doesn’t have the gumption to sort through all that trash, contact us to arrange a waste audit done by sustainability professionals!