On March 22, 2000, Steam Whistle Brewing’s first bottles of Pilsner rattled along the production line.

“Since that time, we’ve just worked on building a culture of respect here,” says Greg Taylor, who co-founded the brewery along with Cam Heaps. “Individuals can come to work and feel they can make a contribution. It’s a fairly open communication environment—less of a hierarchy.”

That open communication spills over into the Toronto-based craft brewer’s environmental policy, which was established more to motivate its staff than to send a message to its customers. “Young urban staff today have expectations of their employers,” says Greg, adding that environmental stewardship is among those expectations. Indeed, according to the 2010 OXYGENZ report by Johnson Controls, 96% of surveyed 18- to 25-year-olds and 98% of surveyed 26-to 35-year-olds want to work in a greener office. “It makes sense to do your best to meet those expectations.”

Meet and green
Steam Whistle’s very first green initiative was to use green glass bottles made with 30% more glass, allowing the same bottle to be washed, inspected and refilled up to 45 times—about three times the industry standard brown bottle. Steam Whistle—which employs about 130 full-time, part-time and casual employees—was also the first brewery in Canada to use biodegradable beer cups (made of cornstarch resin that’s 100% compostable within 50 days) for its social events.

In 2007, the brewery set up an environmental committee. The group meets every two months, and any employee who wants to volunteer his or her time can join. “We come up with ideas, research options, find suppliers and supplier proposals, communicate activities and successes, and train staff
on any new policies,” says Sybil Taylor, Steam Whistle’s communications director. For example, the committee initiated a waste diversion program at the brewery that involved new sorting receptacles, hanging signage and training staff. The result? An astounding 94.3% of waste/by-products from operations are diverted from landfill through reuse, composting or recycling.

And the sales manager in Vancouver had the idea of converting one of the brewery’s vintage vehicles into an electric car (which runs on a high-efficiency AC electric motor and 24 lithium ion phosphate batteries, giving a 150-kilometre range of driving before recharging). The car, named Retro Electro, was launched during Earth Month (April) this year at the Green Living Show in Toronto and then returned to Vancouver for the EPIC Sustainable Living Expo. “The concept that somebody could come forward with kind of a crazy idea like that—and Cam and Greg would be interested and would invest in it—demonstrates our employee engagement and culture,” says Sybil.

Steam Whistle has also partnered with a master’s student from Ryerson University who is investigating how the brewery’s environmental decisions are made. “She’s looking at making recommendations to help us develop a more formal environmental management system, because some of the world’s [environmental] standards like ISO 14000 are way too onerous/bureacratic for small business and wouldn’t fit with our culture,” Sybil explains.

Similarly, students from the University of Toronto are setting up a spreadsheet that Steam Whistle can use to more consistently and formally measure its activities. “Right now, [our tracking] is fairly ad hoc, like most small and medium-size businesses,” says Sybil.

It’s not easy being green
Addressing environmental concerns in the workplace does come at a price. For example, Steam Whistle has a biodiesel truck come to the brewery three times a week to fuel the trucks before they go out on delivery. This saves the drivers time, and it’s also environmentally friendly (the fuel is made of soya and recycled restaurant oil). But there’s a 10% premium for that versus filling up
at the pumps.

The brewery also uses Bullfrog Power (electricity from low-impact wind and hydro facilities) but spends an extra $25,000 a year on its power bill above and beyond the cost of just hydro. “It starts right from the top, from Cam and Greg,” says Sybil. “If they didn’t believe in it, they wouldn’t have invested in some of these [initiatives].”

And employees are excited by the company’s green ethos. Dan Beare, a 24-year-old part-time employee—currently halfway through a full-time master’s program in environmental applied science and management at Ryerson—says the brewery is a leading example of how to integrate environmental concerns into a business. “It’s been great to go through school and read all of the theory and now to see it in practice,” he says. “Even though the environmental program may be a little bit informal, it seems to be really effective, and everybody really believes in it—which is key for having it work.”

Young urban staff today have expectations of their employers. It makes sense to do your best to meet those expectations.

About a year and a half ago, Steam Whistle formalized its seriousness about the environment with a formal statement in every job description. During performance reviews, employees are graded on their environmental commitment. At the manager level, says Sybil, it’s more about keeping abreast of the opportunities and moving the agenda forward.

“People won’t necessarily remember that every day, but it made a general statement from the top down about the company’s commitment,” she explains. “Not that there are harsh repercussions, but we wanted to send a signal to everybody about how serious we are.”

Pass it on
If a small business with an informal environmental policy can be serious about being green, Greg says, so can other employers. Waste diversion policies and promoting the use of greener transportation to work are some simple solutions that employers can undertake to help make an impact on the environment. “We’ve invested quite a bit of money here to provide facilities [showers, towel service and covered bicycle racks] for people to ride their bikes,” he adds.

Greg also suggests looking at office lighting. “It takes some money to invest in changing to long-term low-power light bulbs, but, in the end, you’re going to get the money back over a period of time. And right upfront, the environment’s going to benefit.”

Greg says beer producers, specifically, should think about their environmental impact in terms of production—right up to the point where their bottles hit the shelves. “This is where we feel we’re making a difference when the staff comes in on Monday morning. We’re trying to do our best to make sure we’re lowering the effect on the environment.”

And, he continues, when it comes to environmental consciousness, the company needs to be a leader. “We have visitors coming in here, and it’s all new to them. They’re learning from us, and we’re learning from our own staff, who are coming in as leaders and putting up ideas,” he says. “Businesses in our community have a responsibility, though they might not all recognize it and might not feel it’s a priority.”

Steam Whistle, fortunately, recognizes that responsibility. Kind of gives a new meaning to green beer.

Brooke Smith is managing editor of Benefits Canada. brooke.smith@rci.rogers.com

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Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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