Essence Restaurant Group,
owners of Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well Gastro Pub and Grove, recently announced that the company has become the first restaurant group in the nation to be certified B Corporation through the nonprofit organization B Lab.
This distinguished designation is awarded to companies — about 1,400 in 42 countries across the globe — that use the power of business to creatively solve social and environmental problems. In doing so, B Corp companies consistently demonstrate and meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. In other words, a B Corp certification is to business what the Fair Trade certification is to coffee or the USDA Organic certification is to milk: it lets the public, both customers and employees, know what kind of business they’re supporting.
So, what does that translate to at Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well Gastro Pub and Grove?
Lauren Jaenicke, marketing and sustainability director, says it’s a focus on both the local and the global: there’s an emphasis on sourcing the majority of the group’s products from Michigan businesses (80 percent, to be specific), which both helps to grow the city and state’s economy and significantly slashes the restaurants’ carbon footprint by not importing goods from across the country or overseas, composting, internal programs on sustainability, decreasing kilowatt usage, and more.
It is, Jaenicke says, a recognition that the private sector has a social and environmental obligation to its community — and world.
"It is not just a government’s and non-profit’s responsibility,” she says. “Businesses have an unique opportunity to contribute. It is in our DNA to work with local suppliers."
First approached by Local First
, a Grand Rapids group focused on developing and supporting a local economy, about applying for the B Corp certification — a long and in-depth process that requires extensive documentation and proof that a business is as socially and environmentally conscious as they say — Essence immediately jumped at the chance to become certified.
“Businesses can be this incredible force for change,” says Jaenicke, who graduated from Aquinas College’s Sustainable Business program and became Essence’s marketing and sustainability director in 2014. “It’s taking this new approach; businesses have a responsibility and the resources to make significant change.”
A big part of that change is a shift to a business that almost entirely offers Michigan products, and Essence partners with 39 companies in the state for their food, including Visser Farms, Grassfields Cheese, S&S Lamb, Ingraberg Farms, Ham Family Farm, and many others.
In addition to making their business more environmentally conscious, the restaurant group has advocated for change on a policy level. For example, Jaenicke has met with state Rep. Winnie Brinks, who represents Grand Rapids, about how small businesses can be a voice for renewable energy.
All of this adds up to a company that far more easily retains employees in an industry that often faces a high turnover rate.
“Over 70 percent of millennials want to work for a company that stands for something,” Jaenicke says, citing a recent Harvard study
Essence Restaurant Group has several policies in place that focus the organization on supporting local independent suppliers and supplier diversity
In two years, Essence will have to reapply for B Corp certification — something which Jaenicke says will help to inspire them to continue to evolve for the better. Going forward, she says the company will encourage their employees to volunteer more in the community, as well as further educate the farmers with whom they work on sustainability issues.
“It’s not a question of if we get it again, but how we can get better,” Jaenicke says.
Essence joins nine other Michigan companies
that have received the B Corp certification, including Grand Rapids’ Brewery Vivant, Cascade Engineering, Bazzani Building Company, Gazelle Sports, Catalyst Partners, and The GFB, as well as Zeeland’s Better Way Imports and Monroe’s Buy The Change.
To learn more about Essence Restaurant Group you can visit their site here.
To learn more about B Corporation, visit its site here.
Writer: John Rumery, Innovation and Jobs News Editor, with additional reporting by Anna Gustafson