B Corp at Persephone Brewery

With a very strong performance in B Corp Score is Gibson BC based Persephone Brewing Company. I spoke with Matt McGibbon about Persephone's experience with B Corp and the efforts and motivations behind the farm-to-beer business model. 'While They're On Mars' is proud to have such a leader in sustainability join us in our #SustySuds series. Below is my conversation with Matt.

I’m a customer that just came in for a tour, “What is B Corp?” and “Why did you choose to become involved?

B Corp is to business as 'Fair Trade' is to coffee, or 'Organic' is to produce. The ‘B’ is an all-encompassing standard issued by a non-profit organization called B Lab, based on 4 core assessment criteria - Community, Environment, Workers, and Governance. As a certified B Corporation we take a ‘triple-bottom-line’ approach to our business model, and incorporate both social and environmental sustainability into our operating principles and core values as a company.

We are committed to using the power of business to help solve social and ecological problems. The goal of B Corps are to be better companies – better for workers, better for communities, and better for the environment. As a social venture from the outset, much of the 'B Corp Criteria' was already in our company DNA, but the certification serves as both a benchmark from which to try and improve our operations, as well as a legitimization of our values of our employees and our company.

Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, is considered the “Queen of Spring”, a time of year that I imagine the farm is pretty busy.  

Yes. To begin, farming is hard work. From the outset, our co-founders Brian Smith and Mark Brand didn't know much about farming, but the desire to connect the brewery business model, to an agricultural model, and add-value to both our business, our land, and the community was there from the start. Part of what brought the founders together was a sincere connection to the idea of local food and food security. On the farm, we currently grow hops and honey for beer; we've also got about 45 chickens and an array of produce to support our food truck and local community. Oh, and there are a few hundred apple trees going in the ground this spring!

Farming is definitely a labour of love, and the benefits include the beauty and fulfillment of growing something yourself. Seeing the hop bines strung up in spring and summer provides a hyper-local experience for our customers, who are able to actually see the ingredients in their beer being grown. As I mentioned, we're growing food as well - last summer we set up our first farm-gate market at the brewery, in partnership with other local farmers, and were able to offer fresh local produce to our customers alongside their growler fills. We're also working on providing our staff with subsidized access to organic veggie-boxes from our food crops this coming season.

The concept of Farm-To-Beer sounds fantastic but I can imagine it comes with its own unique complications.

Yes, farming definitely has its challenges. We've battled aphids in the existing hop-yard, and some failed rhizomes in our first couple years; and there's also the challenge of keeping bears away from our apiary. But overall The Beer Farm has been a great success and we continue to learn each year. Its passionate staff, and a desire to set an example for a dynamic and sustainable agricultural model that adds value to both our brewery business and community that keeps us going.

As the B Corp Certification is broad in terms of how you achieve its criteria, what industry specific programs or resources have you used in your operations?

We've got a pretty great team that's been able to navigate us through the certification process. A lot of the values and criteria within the B impact assessment were loosely built into our model, and the type of business that we wanted to be. So its really been about building on the assessment, using it as a benchmark, and striving to be the type of organization that we want to see in the world. That being said, I'm currently in the process of working on our recertification, and man is it thorough. We definitely look to industry leaders and other companies that are out there doing great things in setting our targets. New Belgium, Hopworks and Beau's being huge inspirations in the beer-world; and Patagonia has to be up there as inspiring as well.

According to the Brewers Association, many craft brewers are around 7 barrels of water for one barrel of beer, do you measure this ratio at your brewery and if so what is your current performance at? Do you consider this an important performance indicator? How does this guide your investments into future equipment/infrastructure?

Being the Canadian brewers that we are, we don't measure in barrels. We're Litre-types. I believe a standard brewery operation uses a ratio of about 6-10 litres of water to a 1 litre of beer. Same idea. We do measure this ratio and are very conscious of it, particularly given the importance of water to our farm. We currently use approximately 2-3 litres water to 1 litre of beer.

We've got a 'waste'-water diversion system that captures brewery runoff, pumps it through an on-site treatment system and into an irrigation pond (the lagoon), where it is then used for irrigation of our crops. The system is pretty basic as it stands, but definitely ahead of the curve, and our unique location on farmland gives us room to work on issues such as the resource intensity of the brewing process.

We're always working on ways to better treat and manage our brewery waste, and close the loop on production. We're also able to compost all of our spent ingredients (grain + hops) right on-site, rather than have it trucked away for animal feed or to distant composting facilities.

Your “Community” category score is the highest of all the B Corp Certified Breweries, what are the efforts in this category that provide the most value both for the brewery and those that you aim to reach?

Community is huge for us. From the outset, the company was formed as a social enterprise. We partner with the non-profit Sunshine Coast Association for Community Living (SCACL) - an organization that provides myriad of services and housing to persons with developmental disabilities, and their families. SCACL is part owner in Persephone Brewing Co. and takes on the lion's share of farming operations, SCACL clients look after the chickens, plant veggies and really keep farming operations up to snuff.

We host a bunch of community-focused fundraisers and events throughout the year, including the Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Festival, and Tough Kegger - a charity relay race held on our anniversary each year, where brewery and 'civilian' teams run a 7km relay race carrying a 20L keg! All of the proceeds of which go to SCACL.

We put on Hop-farming and bee-keeping workshops at the farm, and the tasting room is extremely family friendly and community-oriented - we're about the responsible enjoyment of our beers, and good times spent with friends and family. On any given day you'll see kids chasing ducks around the farm while their parents enjoy a beer and wood-fired pizza from our partner food truck - Farm2Feast - outside in our picnic areas.

Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace are concepts that are built in to our company identity and a large portion of our mandate is to advance citizenship for persons with disabilities, as well as build social capital in our community. We promote local art and culture as much as possible, and our community support network is the basis for any and all success we've had.

Big ideas for next 5-10 years?

Always looking to improve. While our B Corp scores in terms of environment and community are good and healthy, we're definitely taking the next year to look at how we can improve internally, and really engage, inspire, educate, and in any way assist our staff in growing personally and professionally.

We're also currently working on projects to improve our waste-water treatment, irrigation, and compost operations - including the feasibility of heat-energy capture from our compost! We're committed to working with other B Corps in leading the charge on being 'better' business and holding each other accountable. We're embarking on a "brew the change" series of beers, in conjunction with other B Corps from across industries - so keep an eye out!

More info about Peresphone Brewery:

Website: www.persephonebrewing.com
B Corp Profile
B Corp Reports: 2015