Righteous Gelato, Calgary’s frozen dessert darling, has seen an explosive 1,500% increase in production over the past five years. As James Oliphant, their Operations Lead, puts it, “We’ve grown from a small scoop shop to a cross-Canada grocery chain. Five years ago we produced 400 litres of gelato a day; now we make 6,000 litres daily.”
At Bullfrog Power’s Sustainability Snapshot event in Calgary, James spoke about how Righteous Gelato made sustainability a priority throughout this growth period. He offered their use of milk jugs as an example of why sustainability is crucial to a rapidly expanding operation.
“We used to fill everything with milk jugs,” he said. “If we tried to scale that, we’d be using 1,100 milk jugs. That’s not a sustainable practice, so we now have everything in larger formats. In growing, we’ve had to make sure we’re aware of how we’re growing sustainably—both environmentally and as a business.”
James advises people at other burgeoning companies to consider what’s important to them—both personally and as a business—and to focus on that. For Righteous, that was sustainability and social governance.
“We do profit sharing for employees, we give our employees first rights to buy shares, and we’re a living wage leader here in Canada,” James said. “We’ve been really focused on involving our employees as much as possible to make changes as we’ve grown.”
James shared that the expectations from Righteous’ community and partners have changed since their expansion. “We’re no longer the small guy on the block,” he said. “We’re now shipping all the way to Newfoundland, and they don’t think we’re a small company in St. John’s. We have to be able to back up our sustainability and governance claims.”
Righteous Gelato had to find a way to validate the impact they were making. They were also searching for a community of sustainability-minded companies to support their efforts. They found both with B Corp.
“We’ve been a B Corp since 2015,” James said. “We first got a score of 86, which is just above the mark. Two years later we were audited—they actually sent someone over to check on what we were doing. We got a score of 111, which we’re pretty proud of.”
Having B Corp’s seal of approval has helped Righteous Gelato back up their sustainability claims, but that’s not the only benefit. “The best part about B Corp is finding a community of our peers,” James continued. “We’re rarely the first one to do an initiative, so finding someone who’s done it before, who we can learn from or collaborate with, has been the biggest thing.”
Righteous Gelato has been working with Method, a Chicago-based soap company. As growing manufacturing companies, they’ve encountered similar issues while trying to find sustainable packaging.
“The issue is that typical ice cream containers are paper and wax, and they’re bound for the landfill,” James explained. “There’s no chance of recycling it. And it’s a tricky proposition to bring glass into the facility, as we’re now Canadian Food Inspection Agency certified. No one wants a mouthful of glass while they’re enjoying their gelato.”
After consulting with Method, Righteous chose 100% post-consumer recycled PET plastic for their gelato jars. They believe that’s the most sustainable choice because the jar’s screw-top design encourages upcycling, and 94% of North American households have access to PET recycling.
While Righteous is making great sustainability progress, they’ve scored highest in B Corp’s governance criteria. “We incorporate our employees in basically every facet of the company,” James said. “Some of our biggest improvements have been made by people who work on the floor—these are the people who really see where we can make improvements because they handle it every day.”
“The biggest thing I’ve learned in terms of being a leader is really listening to the people who do the work,” James shared. “Not that I don’t do work,” he chuckled.
James chalks up much of Righteous’ success to the great team of employees. “We’re really lucky to have profit sharing, so everyone is really committed to pointing in the right direction,” he said. “And about 18 people own shares out of a 50-person company, which I think is incredible. We really have a stake in what we’re making, and that makes all the difference.”
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