Brewery leads on environmental impact but seeks to do more
Posted at 10:00am Tuesday 06 Apr, 2021
Members of the Sawmill brewing team in front of the grain silos that eliminate the need for 12,000 plastic sacks each year.
Sawmill Brewery's dedication to taking care of the environment has already won it international recognition, but for owner Kirsty McKay the journey does not stop there.
Two years ago, the Matakana brewer became a Certified B Corporation, demonstrating that it had reached the highest standards in terms of environmental impact, transparency and accountability.
That meant it became one of a small number of New Zealand companies to be certified and the only New Zealand brewer to do so.
Major international brands enjoying B Corp certification include Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Allbirds shoes, Eileen Fisher clothing and New Belgium Brewing.
Sawmill's environmental work has included installing 54 solar panels on its roof, which provides the bulk of its daytime energy needs. The roof also collects more than a million litres of rainwater for brewing. Incoming plastic shrink wrap is recycled into tiles, which provide a non-slip surface for use in sheep yards and stock trucks.
Spent grains used in the brewing process are turned into flour for breadmaking and crackers. Kitchen waste from Sawmill's Smoko Room restaurant is composted on site. The Sawmill's grey water irrigates local farmland and grain silos outside the building replace the use of 12,000 plastic sacks each year. Sawmill estimates its various efforts have reduced the amount of waste it sends to landfill by 85 per cent.
Kirsty says securing certification took 18 months and required answering 180 detailed questions covering all aspects of the business. Points are awarded according to how well the business meets certification requirements. The maximum possible score is 200 points, and the minimum required for certification is 80.
Sawmill scored 82, which Kirsty is happy with as a starting point.
She says it's an especially tough standard for manufacturing businesses, which are using a lot of water, power and freight, to become certified compared to, say, an IT business that has a comparatively tiny environmental impact.
Even so, Sawmill is not prepared to rest on its laurels. Despite the arduous process, the company plans to submit for re-certification next year and boost its score. Kirsty says the beauty of B Corp is that it allows you to see where you can make the most meaningful changes to your business to improve.
“We will make more effort to measure our carbon footprint over the next year and set some targets around that,” she says.
Kirsty is also eager to share what Sawmill has learned with other businesses – even direct competitors.
She's alerted other brewers to plastic recycling options and has talked to other firms about the suitability of solar power for a large factory and what Sawmill's experience has taught them.
“We don't want these initiatives to be a competitive advantage for us. There's a bigger issue here – our collective impact on the environment,” Kirsty says.
“You can't profess that you are doing all these things for the environment, if you don't want to see this information shared.”