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Alvarado Street Bakery Gets Greener Every Year

Alvarado Street Bakery has been providing organic baked goods in Sonoma County for more than 30 years. The bakery has built its local and national reputation by not compromising taste or quality in its mission to provide its customers products that are healthful and nutritious. Though known by the name Alvarado Street Bakery, the corporate name of the worker cooperative is Semper Virens Bakery Food Cooperative Inc. In Latin, “Semper Virens” translates to “Ever Green,” and Alvarado Street Bakery has made it its business to live up to its real name.

Since its inception, one of the key parts of the bakery’s mission has been to support sustainable agricultural practices whenever possible. The bakery purchases well in excess of 25 million pounds of certified organic ingredients annually. This unwavering commitment to organics has meant that each year, thousands of acres are planted, tilled and harvested without the use of pesticides. The increasing demand for Alvarado Street Bakery baked goods has been instrumental in convincing wheat (and other crop) farmers to switch their farming practices from conventional to organic. Organic farming practices promote biodiversity and help rebuild local ecosystems. Alvarado Street Bakery is a founding member of the Organic Trade Association, which has been instrumental in promoting and protecting organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy.

Alvarado Street Bakery has an environmentally preferable purchasing policy. This means it tries to recycle everything it can from every department. Paper, metal, plastic—if it’s accepted into the local recycling program, it’s recycled. If it’s not recyclable, vendors are asked to change over to reusable or recyclable packaging. A growing number of suppliers are choosing reusable totes to eliminate waste streams of plastic, metal and paper before they begin. Because of what the bakery asks ingredient suppliers to do, of our total waste (garbage and recyclables combined), 90 percent is recyclables. Alvarado Street Bakery reuses resources, such as fixing used pallets, and, whenever possible, purchases packaging and supplies that are made from recycled material. The recently purchased bread plant in Petaluma was planned and built with lighting, energy efficiency and environmental impact in mind.

The bakery has fine-tuned minimizing its environmental impact through the years. There has always been great attention to the details that reduce its impact. Water used in its products is metered and has been for years. A wastewater interceptor was installed in the new plant to clean the water before it enters the water system. Emissions released into the air from baking are more than 97 percent destroyed through the catalytic converter installed for that purpose. The cooperative encourages carpooling and has had showers installed for those who ride bikes. All the trucks are on preventive maintenance schedules to ensure they operate at top efficiency. In a bakery, there’s a good deal of baked goods that become stale or are damaged. The cooperative donates more than 250,000 usable loaves that would have become solid waste to shelters and food banks.

The description of a “green business” or a “sustainable business” is usually thought to refer to businesses that meet the “triple bottom line” (people, planet, profit). Alvarado Street Bakery was a green business before there was such an expression.

Alvarado Street Bakery has been organized as a worker cooperative since 1980. This means it’s a workplace democracy where profits are shared exclusively among the workers. Workers are the shareholders, and they and they alone plot the course of the business. From wage policy to business plans, the worker members of the bakery make decisions about the large issues facing the business. Workers provide themselves with an excellent compensation package—currently, the average wages at Alvarado Street Bakery are $33 per hour. Each worker is allocated a portion of company profits per year. The bakery provides full medical, dental and vision coverage for worker members at a cost of $30 per month for the workers and their children. All workers have 401k accounts that are funded yearly with 14 percent of the cooperative’s profits. Fully paid vacation and sick time are also provided, with most workers being given a full six weeks of vacation per year.

In December 2010, the bakery completed installation of a solar power array that will supply close to 40 percent of its energy needs. The project, installed on the 1.5-acre roof of the bakery, uses 1,722 solar panels. The rooftop array will provide the bakery with 404 kilowatts of energy and is expected to help reduce carbon emissions by more than 390 metric tons annually; that’s equivalent to removing more than 75 cars from the road.  “As a worker-owned company that’s deeply committed to health and sustainability, we’re so pleased to be harnessing the sun to help power our day-to-day operations,” says Joseph Tuck, CEO of Alvarado Street Bakery.

The cooperative recently received recognition for its efforts in promoting sustainability by being touted as the “pioneer” winner at the Green Jobs award ceremony in New York City. The Green Jobs Award Program celebrates businesses that are making valuable contributions to both the economy and the environment. The bakery was also one of the first food processors in the greater Bay Area to be officially certified as a “Bay Area Green Business.”

“Being green is who we are and who we’ve always been ” says Michael Girkout, president of Alvarado Street Bakery. “We try not to exploit our customers, our planet or ourselves.

“We do prove that you can do well by doing good.”

Michelle Zimmerman is plant environmentalist at Alvarado Street Bakery. You can reach her at michelle@alvaradostreetbakery.com.

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