sustainability: at the creamery and on the farm
August 13, 2014 // by FM Muñoz
Vermont Creamery recently sat down with fellow B Corp Strategic Sustainability Consulting to talk about issues of sustainability- including Creamery initiatives, life at Ayers Brook Goat Dairy and future initiatives. Here, we’ve re-shared the conversation.
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 think 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.
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 one
Five years from now, what sustainability goals do you hope will be accomplished?
Allison: Two come to mind:
- We hope to see the bio-digester actively offsetting our propane purchases.
- We also hope that 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 of 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.