Founders of Gore Bay’s Split Rail Brewery talk social

As part of its commitment to social conciousness, Split Rail Brewery offers a variety of non-alcoholic beverages in addition to traditional brewery fair.

GORE BAY – Split Rail Brewery is one of a new breed of socially conscious enterprises that looks beyond the bottom line toward helping to create a better world.

As previously reported, Split Rail Brewery was the recipient of a $26,117 funding grant through the Government of Canada’s Investment Readiness Program (IRP) to assist its development as a social purpose business and its move toward gaining B Corp certification. But even though The Expositor chatted with Split Rail Brewery co-founder Andrea Smith (who started the business along with Eleanor Charlton in 2012—officially launched following a kickstarter campaign in 2015) and board chair Susan Snelling about the “social” part of founding and operating a brewery and what the IRP funding means to furthering the company’s community and environmentally conscious goals.

“Split Rail is using the IRP funding to bring in expertise in business optimization, to ensure that every aspect of our business is moving us toward increased sustainability and reducing our environmental impact, while still building and growing our business,” said Ms. Smith. “As a women-owned brewery, we were different from the norm in this industry when we started in 2012, although we are increasingly seeing women in every aspect of brewing. We’re continuing to look for new ways of doing things that put our values first, by working with local suppliers when we can, creating year-round jobs here on the Island, and engaging with Manitoulin communities.”

“The IRP recognizes that businesses can contribute to the social and environmental well-being of a community,” added Ms. Snelling. “We’re thrilled and grateful that the program recognized Split Rail as a business that exists to make a difference. The funding will allow us to develop our social purpose even further, and pursue B Corp certification as a standard for our values-based business.”

What that means in practical terms is more about continuing the trajectory that has been part of the Split Rail Brewery story from its inception. “The IRP funding will accentuate the things we have been doing all along,” said Ms. Smith. Largely, that means paying close attention to how the business impacts the environment, its employees and the customers the brewery serves.

“The environment is especially important,” noted Ms. Smith, referencing the water. “Brewing involves a lot of water and it is important that we respect how we interact with water.”

The alignment of the focus of the IRP funding with Split Rail’s own approach to the value the brewery places on social responsibility was fundamental to their application.

“We are constantly reviewing how we can do better,” said Ms. Smith, who noted that the company employs local residents and provides a truly made-on-Manitoulin suite of products with a strong focus on lowering environmental impacts, even as the production facility expands.

“Social responsibility might seem like something of a paradox,” said Ms. Smith, “but there are many ways of being socially responsible.” Those include respect for employees, providing living wages and removing systemic barriers to employment.

On the production side of things, the company strives to improve its environmental systems, including the addition of a canning line, with a close eye to its greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of hiring an outside entity to do the canning of its products, Split Rail is bringing that production into its own facility. “Having it brought in-house allows us to reduce our carbon footprint and provide local employment,” pointed out Ms. Snelling. “We are always looking for ways to be more efficient—it’s an ongoing process.”

Important in the process going forward is to not do anything that would reverse the steps they have already taken, such as providing living wages and reduced impacts on the environment, noted the duo. “We have to be really clear on what we want to accomplish,” said Ms. Smith. 

Part of that process is ensuring that everyone in the company understands those goals and what needs to be done to accomplish them. The IRP funding will assist the company in clearly defining and enhancing those goals.

The other aspect of social responsibility is awareness of the community and the brewery’s place within that matrix. “In Europe the pub is a public space, a community hub,” said Ms. Snelling. “We are not so much a business as a part of the community.”

Another unique aspect of Split Rail Brewery is that it is 100 percent owned by women and 100 percent run by women. “That is very different than most of the industry,” said Ms. Smith. “We bring a different perspective than has been the norm.”

Part of that responsibility to the community is to provide a safe and responsible environment in their food and beverage patio. The atmosphere encouraged in that part of the business includes children, with non-alcoholic beverages on hand and overconsumption strongly discouraged.