UIX: Kris Spaulding helps Brewery Vivant find a new way of making merry.

Brewery Vivant recently became a B Corporation, adding motivation to their constant search for improvement in the areas of people, profit, and planet. UIX editor Matthew Russell talks with Vivant's Kris Spaulding to find out why the beloved brewery is embracing its new status.
It’s not just the regular releases of always-popular beer that Brewery Vivant is now celebrated for, but a renewed commitment to its three tenets—people, profit, and planet—as bolstered by a recent B Corp certification. The certification, finalized by the B Corporation nonprofit organization B Labs in early June, has given co-owner Kris Spaulding, “Vivant Prophet” Brooks Twist, and the rest of the company a benchmark by which to measure their continued improvement.

It was actually over a year and a half ago when Spaulding first conceived of attaining B Corporation status for the company. She knew Vivant was on the right track, but there were certainly areas the company could improve upon. Add to that the fact that the Michigan state government does not recognize the legal status of B Corporations, so there is no tax benefit, and the idea was tabled for some time.

“I determined some things that we were doing well and things that we could improve on. For me, that was all I needed at the time,” Spaulding says. “I was looking to figure out what our next step would be. We qualified at that point but I just didn’t feel the need to pull the trigger. A year later I was talking to Twist in our office. He said we should look at the B Corp certification and I said, ‘That’s funny you should mention that because I already did that a year ago.’”

A B Corps event held by Local First at Grand Valley State University earlier this year helped answer many of the questions Spaulding still had about the certification.

“I wondered if it was just a feel good thing, but what I got out of talking to Chris Lampen-Crowell from Gazelle (http://www.rapidgrowthmedia.com/uix/people/LampenCrowell.aspx) at a later point was, the network side of it is really pretty beefy.”

All the B Corporations in West Michigan get together on a regular basis. The work that Local First is doing is aimed at increasing that number.

“I think that having a network of local businesses that may be totally different than ours but have a similar mindset about what a business should be doing outside of just making money would be pretty fantastic,” Spaulding says.

Outside of paying the certification fee, which Spaulding says is very modest, B Labs also offers language that could be incorporated into any business’ operating agreement.

“The end result is, if something were to happen to Jason and I and someone else took over the brewery, it’s now signed in our bylaws that they have to consider people, profit, and planet—our three tenets—and that a manager can’t be fired for making decisions that aren’t based purely on money,” Spaulding says. “I loved that.”

On larger level, B Labs reaches out to help connect certified businesses together, and offers different webinars and meetings. It was this networking opportunity that sealed the deal for Spaulding.

“There haven’t been any big events but the local certified B Corporations have met twice so far, so just being in a room on a regular basis with that group is awesome,” she says. “Maybe there’s not a tangible outcome that’s happened already but it gets your mind going and any time you talk to people about what they’re doing, you think about what you could be doing better. Those are companies that are so inspiring to sit with.”

The B Labs website offers a substantial tool in networking, which Spaulding says has come in very handy as a newly certified organization.

“You can search for a company and see their scorecard. Then, we look at where we’re doing well and what we need help on and I can search for other breweries or restaurants and see who else is on there and how they’re doing,” she says. “B Labs connects the other businesses together and you can be pretty direct in asking for some information on the best practices. A lot of what I believe they do is share the best practices through the webinars and then they have an annual retreat, too.”

While the brewery was already far ahead of the curve with its environmentally-focused work—being a zero waste facility, among other practices—Spaulding, who comes from an environmentally-focused educational background, admits there are other areas where the team is looking for more innovative approaches.

“There are 200 points possible and we have 86, so we have 114 points, in theory, that we could make up for to be a better business,” Spaulding says. “The way they break it down, our strongest area was our environmental work. We have good momentum, so we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. The main thing we’re focused on now is our safety program. We have people that are smart and know how to do their job. Our managers definitely have a safety mindset. That filters down to the staff but we don’t have a formal program.”

The points are awarded based on an audit of a company’s existing systems. B Labs asks for certain data to be collected from each applicant and then calls to go over the points.

“They’re either the most misunderstood issues or those people give themselves too much credit for,” Spaulding says.
Based on that conversation and the points received, B Labs asks for applicants to provide proof of completion on each of the other points. Spaulding say she was appreciative that the process was so thorough, that certification seems to only be attainable by those businesses that truly deserve it.

In comparison, Spaulding say, LEED Certification, which Brewery Vivant received in 2012, is a much more rigorous process, but only because a building is only built once, while a business grows and changes over time.

“Our staff is really proud of the LEED certification for the building but they aren’t exposed to the B Corp stuff as much, so we try to educate them. What’s cool about the B Certification is that you have to recertify every two years, so every two years you have to redo the assessment over all 200 points and they change it over time to reflect the increasing knowledge on their part,” Spaulding says. “And 10 percent of all certified companies will also get an on-site audit in between the two years. At some point, the longer you’re certified, the more likely someone will physically come and check.”

According to B Labs, B Corps are certified by the nonprofit to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today, there are more than 1,000 Certified B Corps from 33 countries and over 60 industries, a number which constantly grows.

While the state government in place right now does not recognize the legal status of B Corporations, Spaulding expects a large shift in attitude this coming November.

“I think there are 20 to 30 states that do recognize benefit corporations, and I think there will be a mass of states that start trending in that direction,” Spaulding says. “You’ll have to jump on board if you’re a late one to look like you’re on an even playing field. We can all hope that our state gets it. The more the merrier.”

And while the future of B Corps in Michigan will likely see change, the future of Brewery Vivant is looking better every day with this new certification, too, Spaulding says.

“It’s great to devote time to step outside your business and see where you could be better—how you could be best in your industry,” she says. “We want to be best for our size and now we have a good tool to help us get to best.”

For more information on B Corps, visit http://www.bcorporation.net/

For more information on Brewery Vivant, visit http://www.breweryvivant.com/

Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at [email protected] 

Photography by Steph Harding 
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