In addition to the usual inclusion of links and references from the show, I want to highlight that James has an amazing podcast of his own - The Overview Effect, which you can listen to here.
James and I are also proudly part of the Climactic Collective Podcast Network, which features a range of shows that pledge to have open and challenging discussions around the climate crisis. You can read more about The Climactic Collective here.
One of the amazing things about hosting Producing with Purpose is that I’ve been able to justify spending hours online, researching so many companies who are doing awesome things for the planet and the community. I have to say, it was a bit of a surprise to me when I saw just how much Stone & Wood are doing, and how they’re really setting the bar for Producing with Purpose within the brewing industry.
It was a pleasure to speak to James, the sustainability manager of Stone & Wood, who has done incredible work in his five years with the company.
The lead up to the dream role
Before getting stuck into the details of how you go about landing a dream job as a sustainability manager at a brewery, we talk about James’ history that lead him down a path of environmentalism.
As is the case for many, it’s a long journey working towards the point where we become more connected with nature and the environment around us.
With a job at Holden and a career path in engineering paved ahead of him, James recognised that this didn’t fuel his new found passion for the environment and walked out of the job on a Friday, before taking a gig fundraising for the Australian Conservation Foundation the following Monday.
This set James on a path towards environmentalism, mixing in his engineering experience.
"Then when I was looking for a job, most of my peers and people in that industry were getting jobs in mining and oil and gas. It was this dilemma, do I try to influence these companies from the inside and be that environmental hero inside a big corporation, that’s potentially quite destructive or do something else. Fortunately for me, I got a job in the brewing industry at one of the big breweries in New Zealand."
Just days after deciding to make the move back to Australia, James serendipitously saw a job advertised for a Sustainability Manager at Stone & Wood, and now five years on, the rest is history… (History that we find out more about!)
A new life at Stone & Wood
“My role was very much about brewery production. How do we operate efficiently. Things like water usage, wastewater treatment, where is our spent grain growing, how do we not landfill our organic material”
Over time at Stone & Wood, James’ role has become more about improving the sustainability and the environmental impact of the supply chain, making incredible impact and positioning Stone & Wood at the forefront of independent brewers making a positive impact.
“We think of our approach to environmentalism as ‘what we do within our brewery walls, what we do in our supply chain and how we advocate and engage externally”
We talk about one of the first major changes James made during his time at Stone & Wood. With a focus on how to best dispose of the waste that results from the brewing process which results in a great story of a local farmer facilitating in composting the waste and eventually creating their own waste disposal business as a result of this arrangement.
The Ingrained foundation
We take a diversion from the work that Stone & Wood do in the brewing process and take a minute to focus on their work in the Ingrained Foundation of which James is a board member.
With heavy involvement in the community and various charitable contributions, Stone & Wood founded the foundation independently from the brewery to independently grant funds to social and environmental organisations.
With Stone & Wood covering all of the overheads of the Ingrained foundation, they are one of the few foundations who can genuinely allocate all of the funds into programs and make substantial impact on local communities, further solidifying their position as one of the most ethical players in the FMCG space.
James reflects how even in his five years with the company, he is impressed by the genuine overarching desire to make an impact, and the outcomes they have achieved.
James provides a really interesting insight into the Stone & Wood attitude towards being an ethical business, highlighting that part of their 10 year strategy revolves around the way that they give back to the community and the environment. Not only because it is a core facet of their reason for existing, but because they feel that in the coming years, it is a key requirement to surviving a rapidly evolving industry.
“One of the core pillars of our long term strategy is to continue to be a conscious business and to drive deeper into that area. Not just because it’s a nice thing to do, but because we see it as part of being a long term, viable, successful business.”
“It’s actually becoming a good business strategy to become a good business”
The future of marketing positive impact
Following James' insight into the Stone & Wood view that over the next ten years, becoming a good business is an integral part of the plan to thrive, we discuss if there will be a tipping point where brands can focus less on highlighting their ethical practices, because it becomes saturated messaging in the market.
In addition to being a good business, James gives his insight into the importance of targeting locally before expanding into wider markets, which has been a large driver of Stone & Wood’s success over the years.
Having seen a lot of breweries with a strong local presence expand too big, too soon, the companies have struggled as they lose their local markets as they are forced to sell to larger multi-nationals.
“At Stone & Wood, we’re very proudly independent. We see ourselves as multi-generational and we want to continue to own our future. We’re very cautious of going too far too soon. We still sell half of our beer within a 3 hour drive of our brewery in Byron.”
“We’re not growing by putting more beer in bottles and cans and selling further afield, we’re actually growing by selling more locally”
James advocates for the importance of focussing on local markets, allowing your local market to see what you do and feel connected to you, before branching out too far and losing that connection and authenticity, especially with the mindset shift in 2020 to think more locally.
Green washing in the brewing industry
With consumers becoming more and more aware of ‘green washing’ in company communications, it can be more easy to spot in certain industries, but maybe not as identifiable to the general consumer in the brewing industry. James talks us through some of the terms, such as carbon neutrality, which are thrown around a little too easily in his industry.
James takes us through the greenhouse gas analysis they’ve done on their supply chain, to identify where the real problem areas are, and where the biggest impact can be had.
The cost of sustainability
Something I’m always interested to discover when it comes to a company ‘producing with purpose’ is how this impacts the cost of production. We know that for items like the Noskin Japanese recycled selvedge denim, costs can be significantly higher to produce, and can often make doing the ‘right thing’ less profitable.
James takes us through the impact this has on the Stone & Wood bottom line, regarding the extra investment and investment of time that comes with the more sustainable methods of production.
We discuss the potential impact of Stone & Wood scaling to be a much larger business, and if the sustainable practices that have been implemented could scale with exponential growth.
“Close Facebook and go outside”
Prior to our chat today, and a question I will be asking all guests moving forward is, “If you had a blank slate to post a Facebook status, that would be seen at everyone’s news feed for the next 24 hours - what would you post?”
James gives us the great response that he would tell the world to ‘Close Facebook and go outside’ as a way to encourage people to reconnect with nature, and begin their own journey to a more environmentally conscious way of thinking.
For more information about what Stone & Wood are doing this year, and to listen to James’ podcast, ‘The Overview Effect’ make sure you check out the links at the top of this page and keep in the loop of all the great work James is doing.