“Create better beer for a better world.” That’s the philosophy that Karbon Brewing Co. CEO Stephen Tyson and COO Yves St. Amand subscribe to. With an overarching goal of initiating impactful change and helping the planet, they’re successfully doing this with beer. In the thick of a devastating global pandemic, the duo were guided by their passion for hospitality, beer, and sustainability and founded Karbon Brewing Co. with sustainability at the heart of every initiative. These passionate principles are also emphasized in every facet of the business, including championing diversity, ensuring equal pay, vetting for an ethical supply chain, and supporting LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.
While Karbon is aware of launching in a fiercely competitive market, the company’s fresh approach is fueling noticeable change. Within a short time frame, it’s become a force to be reckoned with: Karbon is now Canada’s first carbon-negative brewery.
Karbon Brewing Co. is deeply committed to removing GHGs (greenhouse gases) from the atmosphere rather than generating more of them. This is accomplished through measured consumption of natural resources, water, heat, and energy. It is bolstered with minimal, recycled packaging, and advocating for conscious consumption within its consumer base. According to the company, with conventional brews, it would take approximately two months to offset the carbon emissions caused by a regular 6-pack of beer.
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While the drain on planetary resources is palpable to environmentalists, the company remains realistically optimistic and intent on tackling these issues. And it’s not alone. By aligning forces with industry partners, local farmers, and suppliers, Karbon is making a small yet mighty shift in its strategic efforts to reverse our collective carbon footprint.
In the following interview, Tyson describes his and St. Amand’s aims to lead the “Green Revolution in Brewing” with Karbon’s technological innovations, human ingenuity, and compassion, and, in doing so, change our perceptions of what the alcohol/drinks industry can achieve.
1. Talk about your company and how it came to be.
The Karbon story started with a simple idea: create beverages that taste great and help our planet. We are seeking real world change. Based in Toronto, Ontario, sustainability and becoming carbon negative is the foundation of our business — so much so that we called ourselves Karbon Brewing to draw a line in the sand. Our team (which includes Bernardo Zamora, our brewmaster; and Teddy Fedoryn, our VP sales) started to look at the solutions that were needed to impact climate change and combined that perspective with our background in hospitality/brewing. As a result, everything became aligned to start us on our journey. We feel that a lot of communities are built through conversations enjoyed over a few beers — so, if we can get people talking about some of these hard topics as well, that is what is most important to us.
2. What is the vision of your company and how are you achieving it?
We want to lead the green revolution in brewing. Karbon Brewing is looking at sustainability and brewing from an alternative perspective: We are viewing things from an emissions standpoint. As a result, we’re creating the technological innovations needed to build a truly sustainable brewery and business.
Currently, we are classified as scope 1 carbon negative, which means we’re offsetting the emissions created by our company. To become fully scope 3 carbon negative, we have a long way to go, as it involves everything from agriculture, transportation, and end of lifecycle. Ultimately, this is our goal. There are also no current certifications for this status, but we are working with our partners to measure and track all of our emissions. Other breweries may be working on carbon neutral, but we are attempting to take it even farther to scope 3 carbon negative.
For example, we’re spearheading a circular economy brewing system which reuses spent grain as fuel, anaerobic digesters, treating wastewater, and reusing heat and steam while recapturing CO2 and using it in the products. Additionally, we’re planting trees for carbon offsetting initiatives. We’ve planted over 2,000 trees this year in Sudbury, Ontario, as part of Tree Canada’s National Greening Program. We want to truly get to the root of every problem and find solutions.
We also want to show that you can build a successful business while caring about social and environmental causes, and that a small business can truly have an impact. In fact, this outlook should be the future of business and brewing; and we are trying to push that boundary. Furthermore, it is important to note that marginalized communities are generally much more (negatively) affected by climate change. So we also need to care about the social impacts as well. As a result, we have some exciting projects in the work around the issues of clean drinking water, equity, diversity, etc. This includes working with various organizations such as indigenous communities to help build the first indigenous-owned arts center in Canada. Other projects include working with an NGO called Project Canoe, which brings children in urban communities to experience the outdoors and camping.
3. In light of the effects of the pandemic, what’s a significant shift your business has made in the last six months that you had never considered before?
We first had to ask ourselves, “What does the future of the alcohol industry look like?” Like many other breweries, we had to consider that the normal channels of on-premise service, bars and restaurants, had been affected by Covid-19. We recognized that the traditional methods were no longer reliable, and with the changing legislation from the government due to the pandemic, it opened up new avenues of direct delivery, e-commerce, and bottle shop services, etc. It’s how we’ve managed to reach and market to consumers, especially now that the majority of them are working remotely.
4. What’s a significant shift your business has made in the last six months that you never thought possible?
We never thought it would be possible to get international support so quickly. But due to the globalization of the world and our collective desire to eradicate Covid-19, resources and information have never been shared more rapidly. With channels of communication more open than ever before, despite being a localized business model, the issues of climate change, emissions tracking, circular economies, and social justice are problems everyone around the world is racing to solve. With such a collective understanding and resulting support, we now have a larger community to tap into and to share information with. It is our hope that with more brain power, solutions will be developed sooner and applied internationally.
5. The pandemic also acted as a catalyst to bringing issues of racial inequity to the forefront of concern and actionable change for our society at large. With this in mind, how are you using your position to push forward on racial equity in the industry?
Brewing is a traditionally European and white male dominated industry. As with many other industries right now, there is and should be a large push to diversify and do better. The barriers and roadblocks in place for diverse applicants have been too large or subconsciously “swept under the rug.” We have an obligation to use our position to open as many doors as possible and amplify the voices of those traditionally underrepresented. This includes racial equity, sexual orientation, gender, indigenous communities, and people of all ability levels. None of us can choose to be born, but we can choose to try to make a positive impact with our lives.
At Karbon, we believe you can’t have a healthy planet without healthy people, and this is the core of everything we do. From small things like posting jobs in non-traditional networks and job sites to listening to and supporting the communities around us, to larger things like naming our beers after our values. We decided it was time these conversations should be had within our industry; and in fact, we named one of our flagship beers Justice. Equity. Diversity. Inclusion — a.k.a. J.E.D.I. — so that there is no mistaking what we stand for as a company. Every day we try to learn and improve our practices from professionals like Ren Navarro of Beer Diversity and others who are fighting every day for these issues. We owe a lot to those before us who have trailblazed on all these environmental and social justice issues.
6. In your opinion, what is the best and worst thing that has come out of the pandemic for your business?
The best thing to come out of this pandemic for us has been the opportunity that arises from struggle. The position that each one of us was put in during the past year has forced us to consider what is important to us and act with immediacy — for us, it led to the founding of Karbon. Who knows where we would all be without the immense pressure and situation we were put in this past year. Karbon Brewing would not exist without the pandemic. Sometimes, there can be a silver lining in such a horrible situation.
And for the industry as a whole?
Similarly, I feel like the whole world has had to do a lot of soul searching this past year. Our industry is no different. Hopefully, this pandemic has been the catalyst and push for positive change that we have all been waiting for. Historically, the best ideas and companies have been built on the backs of struggle and/or recessions, so hopefully Covid-19 is no different.
7. In looking toward the future, what opportunities are there for up-and-coming talent in your area of the industry?
The beer/beverage industry has been growing for years now, which is extremely exciting for up-and-coming talent, meaning lots of opportunities. There are so many amazing companies, breweries, innovation of all forms — flavor, styles, sustainability, tech — and as mentioned previously, a push for diversity. As with most industries, having a skill set [that has] to do with technology, engineering, and sustainability is my guess for what opportunities are looking the best. Navigating the changes that are happening in this industry will be important to every brewery. Hopefully, a green push is coming — and it will if we have anything to do with it — and with that comes new opportunities.
8. What exciting elements are you working on next in terms of moving the overall industry forward and innovating?
Our plans are to build out a fully carbon-negative facility in the next few years, and convince consumers that “Green Beer” (a.k.a. an eco-friendly, socially conscious product; we are not talking about St. Patrick’s Day food coloring!) is important. And, continue to find innovative solutions to the problems every brewery is facing in packaging, transportation, supply chain, etc. We are currently working on our circular economy and zero emissions facility planning, and the technology that is involved in every step of the manufacturing process.
We also plan to work with the other industry leaders such as Beau’s, Cowbell, Avling, and Half Hours on Earth to share and allocate resources to make Ontario and Canada the leader in sustainable brewing. We will continue to work with our partners such as One Percent for the Planet, Tree Canada, Bullfrog Power, Persefoni and many others to track and offset energy consumption, donate for impact, and plant trees.
Meanwhile, on the consumer-facing side, we did a bunch of virtual events during the lockdowns and we will continue to do so both from a tasting and an educational perspective. We are trying to publish content that is fun and educational, and related to our goals. When lockdown ends, we plan to do fun outdoor events, such as cleanups, treks, nature walks, and tree planting.
9. What is your long-term vision for your company?
Our long-term vision doesn’t stop at our facility or local brewing industry. We want to be around for the next hundred years, leading the world in sustainability. With challenges like climate change and social justice, we can always improve, learn, and innovate. This is just the beginning, focusing on the immediate problems we need to solve. To be truly sustainable, we also need to build a sustainable business that will last. We hope to show others, not only in brewing, that small businesses and their respective ideas can make an impact. Our vision includes being part of this conversation for other industries as we grow as well. Our globalized world is not as siloed as it used to be. All industries, people, and solutions need to work together.