North Bruce Businesses Going Green Despite Added Costs

Marty Oblak (right), owner of Tacomory, and Kurtis Oblak (left) show off the compostable and recyclable products the company now uses.
By Sharon McComb, Bruce Peninsula Press

Most people are aware of the importance of reducing their carbon footprint and being environmentally conscious. Many area residents are actively taking steps to do what they can.
It’s exciting to see people aren’t just “going green” at home – MNBP business owners have started to implement this initiative into their businesses as well. Many retailers now use paper bags instead of plastic and most restaurants have changed from styrofoam takeout containers to a recyclable version. This may seem a small step; however, when you consider the number of tourists that visit our area and shop or eat out, that’s a lot of plastic bags and Styrofoam that would otherwise end up in our local landfills.
While many people on the peninsula have taken green measures, some have made it a goal to be as environmentally responsible as possible. However, an intentional switch to a reduced carbon footprint is a serious commitment for anyone, and especially so for businesses. It can be expensive.
Marty Oblak, owner of Tacomory, has committed to do everything possible to “Green” his business. Their take-out containers, cutlery, straws, even the garbage bags they use, are all compostable. They serve beverages that are in recyclable containers, including boxed water. But this comes at a cost to his bottom line.
“It costs a lot more – up to about eight times as much! Compostable garbage bags are $1.20/ea and we’re paying about $32 per 24-pack of boxed water rather than single-use plastic bottles that you can pick up for about $4/case,” says Marty. Many of these costs are related to purchase volume – buy more of it, get a better deal. Marty would like to see businesses in the town work more in cooperation next season to buy in bulk, stating hopefully “If more people jumped on board it would be more cost effective.”
He credited restaurants like Leeside, Ancient Cedars and Coconut Joe’s for leading the way to be more environmentally conscious, with the switch to paper straws last season; as well as Della Rocca Pizza with their recycling bins for pizza boxes along the Tobermory harbor.
MaryDale Ashcroft figures it doubled her cost to move to recyclable takeout containers and paper bags. The Lion’s Head business owner said even changing her recycling bin from cardboard only to single use recycling jumped her monthly costs. Her concern with recycling is the mixed messages out there. “We are doing the best we can (to recycle) but the information you get about it is very confusing – it’s hard to get real information on what you can and can’t do.” She sees the biggest opportunity of making a difference environmentally at MaryDale’s Restaurant but has also ensured that The Dandy Lion and Aunt Donkey’s retail stores are also involved. “We use paper bags but we fancy them up in a way that makes it seem like a gift bag – to encourage reuse.”
The Blue Heron Company in Tobermory has committed to reducing its footprint through a number of changes, including recyclable containers and packaging and not selling single use plastic products on their boats. They’ve switched to all LED lights and bulbs in their motel and cottages.
“Yes, these things cost more than what we used to use,” admitted Ashley Salen, spokesperson for the company. “And there was some initial outlay, particularly for the electric car charging station, which will cost us moving forward.”
Does it benefit businesses to spend money going green? These business owners all agree that the benefit has yet to be seen; however they are hopeful. “It’s about getting the word out there. Consumers these days are very informed. We need to ‘toot our own horns’ a bit and get what we’re doing out on social media,” says Salen, whose company has been certified Silver with Green Step Sustainable Tourism. There is reason to be hopeful — according to business experts ‘going green” can be a good thing for businesses. The Business Development Bank of Canada advises “that genuine efforts to reduce your company’s environmental impact can be an important competitive advantage and that sustainable practices are good business – enhancing the company’s image and reducing costs over the long term.”
Making a difference doesn’t mean a business needs to be completely sustainable, it just needs to show commitment to process. AndRod Contracting is currently building a net zero house on the peninsula and are often called to do energy saving modifications on homes. As a company they do what they can: carpooling to job sites, sorting all their waste from jobs, doing paperless billing and having staff bring reusable coffee/water bottles. Peacock’s Foodland has replaced their cooler lights with LEDs, they reuse or recycle their cardboard boxes and they are currently phasing out plastic grocery bags in favour of paper or reusable ones. They also sell boxed water, which is locally sourced in Bruce County.
Megan Myles runs the Fitz Hostel in Lion’s Head. Her efforts to run her business with a minimal carbon footprint have already been beneficial. Many of her guests are young Europeans who are looking for sustainability in anything they support. The Fitz has also been certified Silver by Sustainable Tourism, which has not only given credibility to her “green” practices but has helped her to create a Green Action Plan. Megan tracks her water and hydro usage and garbage output yearly so she can look for ways to cut it back. It’s helped her to implement practices such as collecting rainwater for gardening to cut back on water usage. In an effort to reduce carbon output on the peninsula the Fitz offers complimentary bicycles and travel tips for guests to encourage them to explore carbon-free. It’s also a stop for ParkBus – a bus that brings tourists to our area so they don’t have to drive their cars here.

Guests of the Fitz Hostel can explore the area carbon-free thanks to the complimentary bicycles provided to guests.

“Sustainability has to become an awareness for everyone on the Peninsula,” she says, “looking at Sustainable Tourism is a good step for businesses to take.” We have tourism here because of the environment around us – we live in a World Biosphere Reserve, surrounded by natural beauty and National Parks. Myles feels it’s important to support the message that this implies to travellers. She would like to see the Peninsula eventually be certified as a Sustainable Destination by Biosphere Tourism. Businesses here can adopt and promote the message of sustainability in regards to the whole peninsula by satisfying the current needs of customers/users without compromising future generations.
And that’s the vision that makes sustainability a rewarding business model: “We live here, it’s our home,” shares Oblak, “we want it to be here for a long time, so we need to do what we can to preserve it. It’s worth it.” And Salen agrees, explaining, “We want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” The reward is less about bottom line and more about following convictions. “It’s just the right thing to do.” MaryDale points out. “It’s what we need to model for the kids.”