As nature intended
Siobhan Hewison speaks to Greg Pilley, founder of Stroud Brewery
Tuesday 19 May 2020
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People Like Us; beer for good
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When talking about ethical breweries, it would be impossible to leave out Stroud Brewery. This award-winning organic producer, nestled in the western part of the Cotswolds where the Five Valleys meet, has been making waves in the world of environmentally-conscious products since it opened in 2006. And Greg Pilley, Stroud Brewery’s founder, has no plans to slow down, with his mission being to continue to fuse admirable business ethics with environmental impact. After all, his professional background is heavily based around working with the connection between consumers and producers, including a stint at the Soil Association.
Speaking to Greg is an absolute joy, and his passion for running a socially and ecologically-mindful brewery really comes across when he talks. He says: “we are particularly pleased to be included in this Beer52 box and to get our beer in the hands of drinkers nation-wide. Since we began we’ve been trying to do the right thing as a business - our mission has always been to brew beer and demonstrate good practice - and in the last three years especially, we’ve really dedicated ourselves as a wholly organic brewery.”
‘Organic’ is a legally-defined term, and there is a set of standards that a company has to adhere to in order to be officially certified organic. Stroud Brewery has been certified by the Soil Association, and Greg notes the benefits of carrying that certification: “they hold us accountable to maintain our standards.” Primarily, the standards relate to the ingredients used in production - in Stroud Brewery’s case, the agricultural ingredients, like malts and hops - to make sure they’re not grown using pesticides or herbicides, and are GM-free.
Since we began we’ve been trying to do the right thing as a business
Running a planet-conscious company also has the added bonus of biodiversity - farms that don’t use herbicides and pesticides have much more varied and bountiful levels of wildlife. This is important as a method of regenerative agriculture, as it can aid in reversing climate change.
The Soil Association’s standards also relate to things like packaging (recyclable or environmentally-friendly packaging), and even the welfare of its personnel. At Stroud Brewery everything is taken equally into account, from the actual brewing process, to the staff (Stroud Brewery is a living wage employer), to the distributors it sells through. Greg explains: “sustainability touches every aspect of our business - not only about the hard, measurable stuff like water, power, and carbon footprint, but also the softer stuff like the social aspect of our business, and our trading relationships.”
Consequently, Stroud Brewery was certified as a B-Corp in 2018 - an accreditation given after assessment from B Labs (a global non-profit which measures the social and environmental performance of a business). Being recognised as an organic brand tends to bring focus to the product, whereas a B-Corp certification is a more holistic view of a business’ performance with regard to both the environmental and the social aspects of how the business runs. Greg comments: “what B-Corp provides to us is a benchmark, and a formal measuring and monitoring tool so that we can continue to make improvements, and ensure that our environment and our people don’t slip under the radar.”
Greg has an exhaustive list of things that the brewery does, to have earned recognition from the Soil Association and as a B-Corp: “we are ‘plastic-free champions’ [as endorsed by charity Surfers Against Sewage] and do as much as we can to reduce the use of plastic as a business. We capture rain water on our roof to use to flush the toilets. We have installed heat-recovery technology for our fermenters, which will allow us to use the heat we recover to warm our building and to produce warm water for cask-washing. Our spent grains go back to local farmers to feed their cows, and we keep some to go into flapjack to feed drinkers at our taproom. And our spent hops are composted and used in our local allotments.”
Stroud Brewery is a cask-led brewery, but as with a lot of traditional breweries, attention has shifted towards keg, cans and bottles in recent years. Greg explains: “we’re looking into canning all our beers, to replace the ones we bottle, since canning is so much more environmentally friendly. Plus, canned beers are so much easier to transport since they don’t have to be so protected - which is an area in which we are trying to reduce plastic. We just have to contend with public perception of cans vs bottles in such a traditional market!”
Just as important as being environmentally friendly, however, is the power of human connection - Greg believes that when we come together, we can enact social change. He tells me that the brewery raised a large sum of money through community bonds and investment from an ethical bank, which funded the brewery’s move around a year ago, increasing its capacity for beer production, but also allowing for development of the brewery’s taproom.
Greg believes that when we come together, we can enact social change
Greg says: “we love making beer - we love beer. But the thing that’s driving us and that we’re enjoying at the moment is our bar, which is a lovely new-age industrial-style space with lots of exposed steel.” It’s a popular spot in Stroud for food and drink, and holds events such as art exhibitions, music evenings, bingo, and even kids’ clubs.
Additionally, the Stroud Brewery team runs a community hop club. Locals who feel so inclined can come to the brewery in spring to collect a potted hop plant to grow and nurture in their gardens and allotments, and in autumn the fresh Fuggles and Goldings Cobb hops are harvested to brew Brewer’s Garden, a harvest celebration ale.
Thanks to all these tangible efforts to be ethically and ecologically conscious, Stroud Brewery was highly commended in the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) business awards this year, in the ‘green business’ category. Greg and his team were delighted by this, and he comments: “SIBA have been doing a great job of being industry champions, especially during the current [Coronavirus] crisis.”
Conversation inevitably turns to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Greg muses: “this is a very real crisis, and I think we are all questioning the way we do business, the way we relate to each other, and our impact on people and planet.”
However, he adds that we have been in the middle of a climate crisis for a while now, and we have been slow to react because it’s an invisible and innocuous threat. With the virus, we have risen to fight it immediately because it’s visible - it’s on our doorstep. But the climate crisis is affecting us in ways we could never imagine. So, he says, “what we’re going through right now is a great opportunity for us all to continue this momentum and make a difference to our planet. What we would like to see is people supporting businesses like ours who are actively trying to do good and enact change”.
Hopefully we can all learn something from Stroud Brewery, who are definitely leading by example. Even if we are in a completely different business, they can inspire us to do our bit to help shape societal and behavioural change. As Greg says, “think global while acting local”.
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