The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

The New Zealand brewery redefining ‘good’ business

Matakana-based Sawmill Brewery has become the first New Zealand brewery to achieve coveted B Corp status, an international certification recognising their commitment to social and environmental responsibility and transparency.

Sawmill joins more than 2500 businesses around the globe including leading household names like All Birds, Patagonia and New Belgium Brewery, who believe business can be a force for good.

“As a brewery, we have always been fiercely independent,” says Sawmill Brewery co-owner Kirsty McKay. “We do best when we think for ourselves, both about brewing and about the way we run our business.”

The premise of B Corp is that ‘good’ business is not just about profit, it’s about making a positive overall impact on the environment and the community and being accountable for that commitment.

“We know most people aren’t buying Sawmill because of our sustainability credentials. They buy it because it’s great beer and no matter what else we do, that is always the starting point. Getting B-corp certified isn’t a marketing objective. We worked for it because it’s the way we want to do business,” says McKay.

“Sustainability is not a compromise in running a successful business. From an operational perspective it requires a huge focus on efficiency which makes us a much stronger business. It also makes us a better employer and ultimately of more value to our community. And all of this is compounding – you become more resilient, more innovative. We want Sawmill to be around and relevant in 10 years so we need to be thinking about what business will look like then.”

To achieve B Corp status, businesses are assessed on policies and practices across five categories: governance, workforce, customers, community, and environment. It’s a rigorous certification process that challenges business leaders to reconsider many standard business practices. “B Corp appealed to us because it is so comprehensive. It challenges you to raise the bar in almost every aspect of the way you operate,” says McKay.

While environmental sustainability has long been a cornerstone of the Sawmill Brewery’s business model – it has the largest solar power system of any brewery in New Zealand, uses all its grey water for irrigation on-site, and produces less landfill than an average Kiwi household – McKay says that the B Corp process has had the greatest effect on their team. “It forces us to measure things we have done for a long time so we can accurately report on them,” she says. “That’s when you really see the impact you can have and that everyone here contributes to. Every decision we make goes through a filter: what option has the best environmental and social outcome? There are many ways for us to contribute – our time, using the place we have here, our beer.”

B Corp’s New Zealand ambassador, Tim Jones, says the global movement is experiencing exponential growth as consumers are more conscious of how businesses operate. “B Corp is about measuring what matters. Consumers want to know they can trust brands and having a third party verification of overall social and environmental footprint is massive.”

With a number of NZX-listed companies now showing interest in the certification, Jones believes that over the next five to ten years, companies will face increasing pressure to prove their impact. “Consumers, particularly the younger generation, are demanding transparency and there will be no hiding from the negative impact of your operations,” he says. “Employees also want to work in organisations which are truly values-driven. Once one major player in an industry gets certified, that puts the spotlight on its competitors’ operations too.”