Here at Piedmont Environmental Alliance, we value individuals and businesses that commit to protecting our environment and improving local sustainability. To aid businesses in Winston-Salem who embark on a journey of sustainability, we created the Green Business Network as a roadmap of sustainable practices for local businesses. The program also helps Winston-Salem citizens identify environmentally-friendly businesses in their community.
How Does it Work?
Local business owners sign-up to complete a scorecard of sustainability action items ranging from creating short term goals to making long-term green investments. For each task they accomplish, they receive points towards their overall total. Those who reach the required threshold of points become a certified Green Business Member, and PEA celebrates their accomplishments with our members. Today, we're highlighting the journey of one of amazing members, Village Juice Company
Village Juice Company
Village Juice Company is a locally owned business devoted to bringing clean food and raw juice to the city of Winston-Salem. They began in 2014 selling cold-pressed juices out of a tent at the local farmers’ market, expanded to a “juice trailer,” and today occupy two brick-and-mortar locations in Winston-Salem and an additional location in Charlotte, NC. I sat down with Nathan Atkinson, the company’s Business Director regarding their Green Business journey. Here's what they had to say:
Why did Village Juice Company join PEA’s Green Business Network?
Atkinson: "It has always been important to us to be a good corporate and environmental citizen. I have spent the last 17 years on the Forsyth County Environmental Affairs Board of Directors, and working with local environmental groups has always been very important to me. Finding a way to do as little damage as possible to our environment has always been important to the company; So, striving to find ways to do that is important, but it’s hard. Having the assistance of a group like PEA to help instruct and assist on some of those more difficult decisions is always crucial.
We do a lot in the community related to food insecurity, and I have always thought there to be a significant overlap in food insecurity and food justice related to environmental issues. Trying to be a good steward of food and social justice has always been important to us, especially in trying to marry those efforts with being as positive of an environmental citizen as possible."
How does Village Juice’s clean food mission relate to PEA’s mission of a more just, resilient, and sustainable community in Winston-Salem?
Atkinson: "For us, having food that you can trust has always been one of our core principles, and I think there is a transparency required for our customers to trust the food that they get from us. We have always tried to be as open as possible about where the food we get comes from. That commitment contributes to a more resilient and sustainable community.
There is so much to be gained from just having access to healthy nutritious whole foods. So, we are a part of a number of different pilot programs here in Winston-Salem. Even as a minor player, we can support our mission of honest food that people can trust and be supportive of other community missions or programs that expand that same mission to others in the community that may not have the ability to eat at our restaurant. We understand that not everyone can afford to come eat at our restaurant, but that does not mean they should not have access to the high quality nutritious foods. So finding creative ways to do that has always been really important to us. For example, we funded a community garden this year along with some wonderful partners like Hope of Winston-Salem and were able to produce hundreds of pounds of produce in East Winston community garden that all stayed within that community. People had access to food grown within the community that was nutritious and accessible that was provided to folks who might not otherwise have access to it."
What has been the biggest challenge in becoming more sustainable in 2020?
Atkinson: "As a company, the biggest challenge was attempting to adjust to COVID and its unexpected ramifications against our sustainable plans. One weird example is that we had a lot more to to-go packaging. We would prefer to eliminate to-go packaging, but we go to a point where even when dining was open, we were forced to utilize to-go packaging for the safety of our employees and customers. Well, we did not want to send out a bunch of PET, and we tried to limit the amount of plastic. So, we are doing compostable to-go packaging which, of course, costs about five or six times as much. All that to say, we just had to reevaluate the ways we could stay as true as possible to our sustainability mission, but do it in a way which can still be economically viable. It can be very difficult sometimes, and you have to make hard decisions."
What steps were you most excited to take as you completed your scorecard this year?
Atkinson: "For us, just having an objective measure of where we were and being able to build upon it to become a more environmentally-friendly company was nice. It allowed us to identify some deficiencies and then start to pick out which deficiencies would make the most impact and which we could tackle immediately that may not have an economic impact. Being able to score our steps and being honest with ourselves about what work we still had left to do was beneficial. The quantifiable aspect of the scorecard was most valuable for us as a company, so that makes me excited."
If you could share any tips for businesses thinking of going green, what would you tell them?
Atkinson: "Start where you are. You do not have to go from zero to a hundred in a short period of time. Start to identify those areas that you can tackle which will have the most meaningful impact, and just start to build upon it."