Most employers could care less about how much carbon emissions their employees spew by getting to work, as long as they get there on time.
But not Alex Amarotico.
As the co-owner of the Standing Stone Brewing Co. in Ashland, Ore., Amarotico is constantly looking for ways to make his business more sustainable, so when his environmental sustainability coordinator found that the business could get a tax credit for buying its employees new bikes as long as they biked to work for 45 days in the next year, he jumped on the opportunity.
"We decided to ask the employees about it and they all went crazy over the idea," he says. "In fact, I think if we had decided not to do the program we would have had a lot of disappointed people!"
Soon after, the company invested about $7,000 in 17 new hybrid bikes, nimble enough for faster commutes but strong enough to handle the occasional rough terrain. Each bike comes with "Standing Stone Commuter" emblazoned in yellow and black across the steel blue background and hops blossoms along the stem of the bike.
Ashley Nunes, the design guru for Standing Stone, was part of the first group of employees to receive a bike in August by having worked at the brewery for at least 1,000 hours. So far, she's logged about nine round trips from her neighborhood to the brewery, about a mile and a half from her house.
"It's the coolest bike I've ever had," says Nunes, adding that she'll be able to ride more often once she buys a messenger bag to tote along her laptop.
History of green moves
Amarotico's bike purchase is just the latest in a long line of green undertakings he's headed up over the past 10 years. A former construction worker, Amarotico was greening his business long before the term became hip amongst the eco-conscious crowd.
But Standing Stone is more than just a restaurant and brewpub that happens to be green. It's also a testament to the ability of small business owners to lessen their carbon footprint while providing a service to a local economy, all while making a decent profit.
In 1997, Amarotico and his brother opened the restaurant after renovating a building that was built in 1925, a feat that garnered the site a historic preservation designation and gave the owners a pass on property taxes for 15 years and tax credits on construction.
Energy efficiency conserves dollars
"Early on, the tax credits and financial incentives of making the business more sustainable was definitely a key motivator," Amarotico says.
In 2000, the brothers started doing more research and realized there was so much more they could do in terms of energy usage, and that's when they really started taking advantage of opportunities to save the company tremendous amounts of energy.
For example, in 2002, they installed an energy-saving variable-speed hood control system in the kitchen, reducing natural gas and electricity use by 22 percent.
In 2003, they invested in an innovative energy management system to coordinate operation and increase the efficiency of Standing Stone's heating, cooling and lighting systems.
And in 2006, they installed a high-temperature dishwasher to reduce the amount of water and chemicals needed for rinsing and sanitation. It was around this time that Amarotico really started taking chances in terms of his commitment to sustainability.
"I knew that it was the right thing to do regardless of the financial impact," he says. "The more we do and the more we support our community either through social things or sustainably green things, the more that the community supports us, so it's just a win-win situation. And the world benefits too, hopefully."
In recognition of the company's sustainable business practices, Standing Stone was given the Oregon Sustainability Award in 2007.
Today, Standing Stone's ever-growing list of energy and waste management feats continue to impress even the greenest connoisseurs.
For example, the company composts about 3,300 gallons of vegetable waste each year and provides about 50 gallons of used vegetable oil to local biodiesel producers every month. Eventually, Amarotico plans to add some refining steps so that he can reuse the vegetable oil onsite for space heating in the winter.
To top it all off, Amarotico is in the process of fitting a structure that houses a heat-recovery system that will turn waste heat into hot water, which will save the company about $10,000 worth of natural gas per year.
Food, beer get green seal of approval
Even Standing Stone's food and brew are eco-conscious. A number of the menu offerings are locally or regionally sourced, such as meat from Country Natural Beef, a Northwest co-op of ranchers who raise their cattle on a 100 percent vegetarian, antibiotic- and hormone-free diet in a sustainable manner. As for the beer, more than 90 percent of the grains are organic and local farmers are provided with all the spent grains to use for chicken and cattle feed.
Ever the eco-entrepreneur, Amarotico hopes to purchase an 800-acre parcel from the city to set up a farm so he can breed his own livestock and grow his own vegetables and grain to supply the restaurant’s needs.
"Until we are able to source everything locally and not have shipping from other parts of the country or world, we'd have a hard time achieving the goal of zero net energy," says Amarotico, who hopes to accomplish that goal. “With the farm we would have that full circle.”