Wicked Ideas

The Benefits of Beer – It’s a feel-good, do-good story for microbrewery Picaroons

 If you’re going to be social, beer should be on the menu.

“Our mission is to make the world a better place, one beer at a time.” So says Sean Dunbar, founder and brewmaster of Fredericton microbrewery Picaroons, who, for the past 20 years , has been producing award-winning beers with his team – and giving back to their community. “We try to work on a triple bottom line,” he says. “We’ve been operating with a ‘people, planet, profit’ outlook for some time.”

Dunbar is part of a growing number of business owners who have embraced the social enterprise movement by imbedding social and environmental responsibility in the operations of their for-profit businesses. That’s no easy feat for a brewery. Brewing beer in Canada is labour intensive, it doesn’t have particularly high profit margins and sales are heavily controlled by the government. Which makes Dunbar’s decision to get Picaroons certified as a benefit corporation, or B Corp, all that more impressive.

As it states on its website, B Corp certification is to business what Fair Trade is to coffee or Canada Organic is to food; a formal certification process that assesses for-profit corporations on standards of social and environmental responsibility, accountability and transparency. In the language of social enterprise, that’s known as the triple bottom line – an equal concern for people (labour practices and human rights), planet (environmental footprint, community outreach) and profit (making money doing it).

There are currently 990 B Corps in 32 countries, including high-profile brands such as ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, clothing company Patagonia and online marketplace Etsy. There aren’t, however, a lot of breweries and when Picaroons earns its certification it will become only the fifth brewery in the world, and second in Canada after Beau’s All-natural Brewing Co., located outside Ottawa, ON, to wear the B Corp label.

A portion of sales from these Picaroons' beers go to local non-profits. We'll drink to that! (photos: Michael Hawkins/Wicked Ideas ©2014)
A portion of sales from these Picaroons’ beers go to local non-profits. We’ll drink to that! (photos: Michael Hawkins/Wicked Ideas ©2014)

It is a time-consuming process because Picaroons must ensure both its operations and its supply chain meet B Corp standards, particularly around issues of energy use and sustainable agriculture. Considering that Picaroons is already known locally as a company with a good social conscience, why take this extra step? “Because we take our role in the community seriously and we need to measure and evaluate how we’re doing on that front,” says Dunbar. “We can’t just guess that we’re doing okay with that. It would be like trying to manage a business by just practicing what we think are sound financial principles. You need a way to allow you to measure that. We’re not seeking a ‘status,’ we’re entering a process of continuous improvement.”

As part of this effort, Dunbar created a position within the company for a ‘Greenie’, and the winning candidate was Kyle MacNevin, a young entrepreneur with several of his own side ventures, but also a cellar worker at the brewery. “Our B Corp initiative is to determine where our strengths and weaknesses are as a company,” says MacNevin. “Through a collaborative partnership with Conscious Brands [a Canadian sustainability consulting firm], we are able to identify and prioritize exactly where we can improve socially, environmentally, and economically.” For instance, Picaroons uses BullFrog Power, a Canadian green energy provider.

For Canadian companies the process begins via MaRS, the Toronto-based entrepreneur centre that is the hub for Canadian B Corp certification on behalf of B Labs, the non-profit behind the B Corp movement. According the MacNevin, it goes something like this:

  1. Online Assessment: Answer any questions pertaining to governance, workers, community, environment, impact business models and a disclosure questionnaire.
  2. Review Call: With B Lab experts to talk through Picaroons’ operations and mission.
  3. Documentation: Provide B Lab with written policy, operational procedure portfolios, etc. for review.
  4. Legal – the declaration of interdependence.

They haven’t added up how much time it’s going to take to get through the B Corp Process, nor have they identified specific changes to be made, yet. An example of Picaroon’s social responsibility is its financial contributions to local non-profit via the sale of specific beers, including:

  • Feels Good Imperial Pilsner – The Feels Good Crew
  • Simeon Jones River Valley Ale – Kings Landing Historical Settlement
  • Plaid to the Bone Heather Ale – Scottish Heritage Organizations
  • 104th Regiment Brown Ale – NB Military History Museum
  • Upstream Ale – Atlantic Salmon Conservation Foundation (Limited run, back in stores Sept. 2014)

“The important part is taking the initial benchmark and working on improving,” says Dunbar. “We’ll be using B Corp as a guide to improve our response to our societal obligations. The obligations come from within, not from any mandate or dictate from B Corp.”

Wicked Ideas writer Craig Pinhey is Atlantic Canada’s wine, beer and spirits guy. A certified sommelier and beer judge, Craig had his booze epiphany circa 1985 with his first pint of Ginger’s Best cask conditioned real ale at the original Ginger’s Tavern in Halifax. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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If you’re in the Fredericton area Wednesday April 23rd, join Sean Dunbar and the Picaroons crew for a free glass of Best Bitter and find out about B Corps at the New Brunswick screening of ‘Not Business As Usual’, a documentary about the B Corp movement. At Planet Hatch, in Fredericton’s Knowledge Park, at 7:30 p.m. Details here.

Craig Pinhey

Craig Pinhey is a food and beverage columnist for the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and KV Style, & writes for TAPS Beer Magazine, Palate Press, Halifax’s The Coast, Progress and East Coast Living magazine. He covered the Atlantic Canadian wine scene for Wine Access for 7 years, including writing the entire Atlantic section of their Canadian Wine Annual. He has also been CBC Radio’s Shift Sommelier for 5 years.

Craig had his booze epiphany circa 1985 with his first pint of Ginger’s Best cask conditioned real ale at the original Ginger’s Tavern in Halifax. This led him to a lifelong love of quality wine, beer and spirits.

A certified Sommelier and BJCP Judge, Craig has judged at the Canadian Wine Awards, International Value Wine Awards, All Canadian Wine Championships, Atlantic Wine Awards, Moncton’s World Wine Expo Awards, PEI’s Wine Show Awards and the Canadian Brewing Awards. He is part of the judging team for the 2013 Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada and International Wine Awards.

Craig designs wine lists, does restaurant service training, and conducts wine and food events.

An Engineer by education, Craig worked 12 years in the steel industry in Ontario – developing his love for local wine and craft beer during his time there – before moving back east to New Brunswick to start a writing career.

Craig graduated as a Certified Sommelier in Halifax in 2000, finishing with the top marks in Canada in the Canadian (now International) Sommelier Guild program, and is a member of CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers), for which he also teaches. He lives in Rothesay, New Brunswick with his wife and daughter, and travels regularly in the region, and around the world, hunting for great food & drink, and stories.

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