BY ANDREW COPPOLINO | APRIL 2022
In an era with a wide range of possible choices, many consumers of goods and services have started to get serious about patronizing businesses dedicated to sustainability. That can include environmental sustainability as well as social, human and economic sustainability – all of which can determine where customers will spend their money.
Simply, a sustainable or so-called “green” business strives to reduce the impact they have on both local and global environments, economies and communities. Some businesses are more progressive than others, but any little bit can help. When it comes to such sustainability, many Waterloo Region businesses have introduced sustainability principles to their operations, have sourced “green” products and strategies, and have committed to making their businesses as sustainable and as responsible as possible.
That’s goes from Waterloo’s Zero Waste Bulk and its “Earth Points” and shopping style that sends less packaging waste to landfill to Thompson Tran’s Wooden Boat Food Company, which operates as a plastic wrap-, aluminum foil- and parchment paper-free kitchen in Kitchener.
In between, there are many other local initiatives, both big and small, that are part of a new sense of urgency to reduce carbon footprints and the waste we all create. Here are just a few of such businesses looking ahead to the demands of future generations in our communities.
Little Mushroom Catering, Stephanie Soulis
Cambridge-based Little Mushroom Catering has widened its reach throughout Waterloo Region as it provides food and beverage operations at a number of venues from a micro-brewery to a golf course. In those operations, owner Stephanie Soulis has also widened the company’s use of sustainable products and thinking at the same as helping those businesses widen their sustainability reach as well.
“We’re using a lot of bamboo products for takeout at all of our locations,” Soulis says. “And we’re really focusing on composting and recycling in spaces that didn’t have that in place before.”
Borealis Grille, Bob Desautels
A designated “B Corp,” the Neighbourhood Group of Companies, which includes Borealis Grille & Bar in Kitchener’s south end, boasts of a keen desire to be local – in fact, it’s an all-encompassing principle. According to their website, a “B Corporation” (or B Lab or B Corp) is a private certification of for-profit companies of their “social and environmental performance.”
In that capacity, Borealis Grille sources local ingredients whenever possible simply because the environmental impact is much lower than from food that travels thousands of kilometres. And it tastes better too. The restaurants of the Neighbourhood Group have been dedicated to reducing waste – such as implementing reusable takeout containers across its brands – and mitigating its carbon footprint.
Neighbourhood company chair Bob Desautels says that achieving B Corporation certification is a validation of the ways that Borealis and its several sister restaurants engages with the people of Waterloo Region.
“The impact will be felt by all of our key stakeholders including our employees, suppliers, customers, the local community and the environment,” says Desautels on the Borealis website.
As a sidebar, as of March 2022, there are only 4,856 certified B Corporations across 153 industries in 79 countries.
S.W.A.T.: Sandwiches With a Twist food truck, Paul McGough
Food trucks also look to be sustainable, reduce their impact on the planet and “maximize the customer experience,” according to S.W.A.T. owner Paul McGough.
“We look to purchase from suppliers who take sustainability seriously,” he says. “We frown on excessive packaging and long-distance supply chains. Instead, we look for farm-to-table opportunities wherever possible by buying locally and reducing the carbon footprint related to shipping and processing foods.”
McGough says they also recycle materials used inside the truck and wherever possible use only recyclable packaging materials or materials made from recycled goods. All used fryer oil is recycled into biodiesel.
“We revisited some menu items to ensure that we were maximizing the entire item purchased in food preparation. For example, we use leaf lettuce and often cut the bottom four inches of the head off to reduce the size of the leaf when washing the heads. Previously, that meant a sizeable portion of perfectly good lettuce was thrown in the food-waste bin. We have changed that to add some menu items and include a diced and shredded lettuce as an optional topping,” he says.
S.W.A.T. customers receive their orders in food-safe recycled wrap. “There’s no clamshell packaging, or we’ve reduced the use of clamshells by using recycled bolts as opposed to the full-size clamshell containers.”
At day’s end, perishable food items are delivered and donated to the St. John’s Kitchen, House of Friendship or Salvation Army, he adds.
“Those perfectly good food items don’t end up wasted in landfill. The obvious benefit is that people who need a good meal have something good to eat. That’s important to us.”
Relish Cooking Studio, Donna-Marie Pye
Relish sources sustainable and environmentally-responsible products such as reusable and durable dish clothes, reusable bees-wax wraps, produce storage bags and E-cloths.
“We’ve had classes on making a roasted rainbow carrot tart where we demonstrate how to make a plant-based cheese filling,” says Pye. “We also have the Soup Sisters events in the studio that are fundraising to support women, youth and children in the community.”
Bailey’s Local Foods, Maryrose Ivanco
An “online farmers’ market,” Bailey’s Local Foods has the concept baked right in beneath their company name: “fresh, sustainable, important.” For local food, that’s the trifecta.
Controlling inventory is critical to Bailey’s and the formula, at first, sounds paradoxically like putting the cart before the horse. But it’s not.
“The main thing is that we only buy what we sell. That’s different from other retail businesses,” according to Bailey’s owner Maryrose Ivanco. “We work on a pre-order basis and know exactly what farmers need to get out of their fields.”
It’s the obverse of bringing everything to market and hoping it sells – that often results in food waste. “That’s a big sustainability factor for us. We’re very conscious of that,” she says, adding that any leftover food is donated to organizations that help feed people experiencing food insecurity in the region.
While Covid-19 threw an unsustainable monkey wrench into the entire works in the region, Bailey’s has started to return to normal practices. “We focus on our customers bringing back their baskets, boxes, containers and jars. These are sent on to farmers for re-use in food production or other uses,” Ivanco says.
The strategy, according to Ivanco, is to make commerce “as circular as possible.” That serves people in their everyday needs for healthy and local food while keeping environmental factors and waste under control.
“It’s recently been reported that Waterloo Region is one of the few regions that is becoming ‘less grey’ in terms of the countryside,” says Ivanco. “”We operate out of a building that already exists for another purpose. That in its own way is a part of sustainability.”
AURA-LA Pastries & Provisions, Aura Hertzog
First and foremost, Aura Hertzog of AURA-LA Pastries & Provisions has taken steps to support and help her employees: and caring customers appreciate that initiative.
“We are a living wage employer, but that’s just the wage we start at. It’s really important to me that staff is happy and being paid a fair wage for living in Waterloo Region,” she says.
Composting is another step that AURA-LA is dedicated to in terms of reducing waste that goes to regional landfill. “That’s important to us too,” she says. Uniquely, the bakery has also investigated more sustainable operations and infrastructure when it comes to producing food too. “Our ice cream is air-chilled rather than water-chilled. That’s a huge thing. A lot of ice cream is made with water-chilled machines and that means a lot of water is then wasted. “It’s enormous,” she notes of the water use. “We’re not wasting any water there.”
Looking ahead, Hertzog is investigating a reusable coffee cup program for her takeout coffee customers. “It’s being done with food boxes, but it’s starting to be done with coffee cups, which create significant waste. We’re looking at that so we’re not using as much paper.”
Crafty Ramen, Jared Ferrall
“Finding ways to mitigate our environmental footprint is incredibly important to us, and we’re implementing and exploring a lot of different opportunities to do this across our business,” says Jared Ferrall, co-owner of Crafty Ramen in Kitchener.
The restaurant, along with its Guelph location and its commissary, is committed to up-cycling and reusing ingredients wherever possible, including using vegetable broth ingredients to create flavourful powders and pickles.
“We also use meticulous cutting techniques to decrease cut-off waste and make our chicken broth using spent hens – chickens used for their meat whose leftovers would otherwise have gone completely to waste – to ensure that we’re getting the most out of every ingredient that we use,” he says.
Crafty is also moving toward recyclable, biodegradable and more sustainable packaging alternatives at every step for both meal-kit delivery and in the restaurants journey, according to Ferrall. “Our restaurants have switched over to almost entirely biodegradable and recyclable packaging for takeout, and we have a new partnership that’s supporting us in this initiative.”
The business is also working with a reuse organization called Circulr, which collects used product packaging like jars, sanitizes them and prepares them for reuse. They’ve also partnered with Friendlier, who provide a closed-loop system for zero waste takeout packaging. “Both partnerships offer a convenient and accessible sustainability option through our restaurants, and we’re proud to be able to offer this to our customers and community,” says Ferrall.
In its start-up and through the course of the pandemic, Crafty Ramen has continued to evolve and be innovative – including when it comes to sustainability, Ferrall adds. It’s an approach he says they are proud of.
“We’re constantly looking for new ways and new partners to help make our sustainability program the best it can be, and we look forward to integrating new initiatives in the coming months and years.”
Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.