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Brewery Vivant has tracked its social entrepreneurism since launching four years ago by publishing an annual report that quantifies the business’ sustainability efforts — from supporting the local economy to its treatment of employees.
Last year, the popular Grand Rapids brewery and restaurant at 925 Cherry St. SE, donated 11 percent of its profits to charities, shared a portion of profits with employees and bought nearly 58 percent of its purchases from Michigan companies. Employees volunteered 130 hours in the community, with Brewery Vivant compensating employees for some of those hours.
Co-owner Kris Spaulding says it isn’t a financial hardship for a small business to make contributing to the wellbeing of its staff and the community a priority.
“I don’t think there is really a cost,” Spaulding said. “I think there is a time commitment of doing things. But the more you hone in on information, the smarter you are.”
Brewery Vivant recently took the commitment up a notch when it qualified as a B Corporation. The certification process requires companies to quantify their environmental, social and economic impact.
Nationwide, there are about 1,000 B Corporation companies, and four in West Michigan. The other local companies are Grand Rapids-based sports retailer Gazelle Sports, Zeeland-based wholesale distributor of imported goods Better Way Imports and Cascade Township manufacturer Cascade Engineering.
“We would like to see that increase because we believe that business has the power to create positive change in the community. So the more we can measure the impact and help businesses improve, the better our community will be,” said Elissa Hillary, Local First’s executive director.
Local First will try raise those numbers with expanded social entrepreneurship programming over the next three years, underwritten with a $200,000 grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.
Chris Lampen-Crowell, Gazelle Sports co-owner, believes the programming will provide a venue for sharing innovative best practices. He knows it works because he picked up two new approaches from fellow West Michigan B Corp businesses.
“We have implemented an employee incentive program that supports individual change toward sustainability that was shared from Brewery Vivant, and an employee training on diversity and culture from Cascade Engineering,” Lampen-Crowell said.
Local First plans to provide a forum for entrepreneurs and business leaders to discuss best business practices related to B Corporation implementation.
This kind of collaboration could have a big impact on the community, which is why the Grand Rapids Community Foundation provided the grant, said Laurie Craft, the foundation’s program director.
“By adopting best practices around social equity and the environment within their business structures, B Corporations are leading significant change in our community,” Craft said. “In addition to the social impact of B Corporations, we also look forward to the possibilities that await our community as B Corporations collaborate with the nonprofit sector. There is great potential for expanding local social enterprise.”
As part of a national pilot program, Local First recently launched a shortened assessment tool in conjunction with B Lab, the nonprofit behind B Corporation, which allows businesses to assess their practices and compare themselves to other businesses across the nation. The free tool is a modified version of the assessment that businesses can take to become certified B Corps.
Spaulding has found that her brewery’s commitment to sustainability not only inspires other companies, as motivates her employees to focus on that mission in their personal lives.
“It feels good to a be an active member of the community,” Spaulding said. “It’s also really good for staff morale. When you work together, I think it makes our staff a tighter family, and we see less turnover.”
Kate Avery, Vivant’s abbess of beer who is responsible for marketing the brewery, appreciates the company’s efforts to bring employees together beyond the work day to ride bikes or paint houses for a nonprofit.
“It’s cool when you go to the things and there are other Brewery Vivant coworkers, and they want to do good for the community," Avery said.
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Photo courtesy Brewery Vivant.