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Burrowing Owl Estate Winery: Conservation-minded with earth-friendly practices but no certified organic wines

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Jim Wyse, founder of Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, with endangered burrowing owl


When most people ask for a splash of red, they don’t expect it to wind up on the wall. Jim Wyse, founder and owner of Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, remembers his early attempts to make wine at home for personal use: “We had sixteen bottles on a rack in the dining room. My wife and I heard a loud ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ The bottles were exploding.”


Thankfully for B.C. wine-lovers, Wyse has honed his technique considerably since decades past, when anyone, he says, with “a kit and a paper-lined wastepaper basket” could make wine. And he’s added a lot more green, so to speak, to his commercial reds: his environmental initiatives range from solar heating and biodiesel fuel to mulching all organic waste and recycling grape skins and seeds as compost.


Today, Wyse is the patriarch of a family-run winery in Oliver, BC, which produces 11 varieties of wines from vineyards in Osoyoos and Keremeos. He started growing grapes in the Okanagan 20 years ago as part of a mid-life career change. Since then, the former engineer and real-estate developer has maintained earth-friendly policies as core principles of the company, which currently employs 135 people. (Wyse now calls himself “the ambassador and odd-job guy”; for the past five years, son Chris has served as president.)


Vineyard reflects eco-friendly practices

The vineyard and farming practices most visibly reflect the company’s environmental awareness. An upgraded irrigation system, which converted all sprinklers to drip irrigation, includes fertilizer in the drip, which eliminates the use of tractors for this purpose, Wyse says. It also promotes water conservation and energy efficiency. The company’s six tractors run on biodiesel fuel, which burns more cleanly than fossil fuels.


Solar-powered water probes, using wireless technology, test soil and report the vines’ watering needs, ensuring that water usage is provided only as needed.

grapes and hands photo low-resBurrowing Owl’s alternative pest-control systems use natural predators against harmful insects. For example, the company protects spider habitat by not regularly cutting cover crops between the vine rows. Barriers protect the ground nests of birds such as meadowlarks to avoid their inadvertent destruction by farm machinery or vineyard workers. Bluebird boxes and bat nursery boxes are used to attract these insect-eaters.


Burrowing Owl’s website states that “environmentally safe, biodegradable fertilizers and chemicals” are used as sprays. When asked which ones they are, Wyse said he didn’t know.

Burrowing Owl won’t go certified organic

A company competitor, Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, was the first winery in British Columbia to make wine from certified B.C. organic grapes. Ezra Cipes, Summerhill’s CEO, has said he would like to see every winery in the Okanagan Valley convert to a certified organic operation. Will Burrowing Owl make the change?


“It’s not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” Wyse says. “We certainly respect the goals and philosophy of the organic movement. We ascribe to, and do, a large percentage of the organic viticultural procedures and methods, but feel there are still some challenges in the vineyard that are best dealt with inorganically. But who knows? Maybe one day, if the resulting wines are at least the same or perhaps improved, we will make the change.”


Burrowing Owl’s wines have won gold medals and best-of-class recognition in global competitions; most recently, their 2011 Syrah picked up a gold and best of class at the L.A. International Wine Competition.


The company name reflects Wyse’s conservation concerns. For years, he has supported the endangered burrowing owl in British Columbia and the captive breeding program that has tried to re-establish these birds in the Okanagan. The birds, once bred, are now released in both the South Okanagan and the Nicola Valley. Yet, despite a volunteer effort to dig more burrows each year for these small birds, their growth has not remained sustainable, Wyse says.


To help ensure the future of these birds, Wyse’s winery sends all monies, earned through its three-dollar tasting fee in the tasting room, to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C. for its captive release program and to the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO). Every year, the wine shop alone raises almost $80,000 for these two organizations.

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Burrowing Owl’s winery, guest house and restaurant


Sustainable principles guide building and restaurant operation

Burrowing Owl’s restaurant is a member of Ocean Wise, a conservation program run by the Vancouver Aquarium that promotes sustainable seafood. The chef uses custom-grown produce from organic growers in the winery’s immediate area, including five colours of tomatoes. “It’s fabulous,” Wyse says.


Wyse’s eco-vision for Burrowing Owl started with the winery building, which sits on 78 hectares (192 acres) with a guest house and restaurant. Most of the production and storage facilities were built underground to reduce the building’s carbon footprint. (Wyse does not calculate the business’s carbon footprint as a whole.) The design incorporated a steeply sloping hillside, poorly suited for farming, to maximize the land for wine-related uses. This multi-level plan allows for gravity-flow winemaking, which avoids the use of pumps to move wine through its various stages.


The wine is aged in barrels in underground cellars, which require no heating or cooling. Instead, they use ground temperature in the summer and natural warmth during the winter. “We’ve had people copy what we’re doing with underground barrels,” says Wyse. “We were one of the first to use barrels [for wine-making] in the Okanagan Valley.”


Eco-friendly building features range from solar panels, low-flush toilets, and low-energy light bulbs to heat exchangers and a geothermal system. The guest house is said to meet or exceed LEED standards. Wyse’s wife Midge runs the guest house and tasting room while daughter Kerri handles product development.


Burrowing Owl wines have expanded into Ontario, Wyse says, but there are no plans yet to import or plant any of the new Negroamara grapes he discovered while in southeastern Italy in May. “We are all constantly trying other varieties and investigating new techniques that might be applicable here in the Okanagan. That is a never-ending process in a relatively new industry and wine region.”

Now 75, how long does Wyse plan to stay involved in the company? “Forever,” he says. “It’s fun.”

Wyse will be one of the entrepreneurs to appear Sept. 29 as a panelist at INSPIRE, an event at Vancouver’s TELUS World of Science sponsored by Small Business BC.


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September 27, 2014 at 9:25 am Comment (1)

Inside B.C.’s Top Employer: 1-800-Got-Junk

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Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk



In the world of junk removal, it’s easy to think of Brian Scudamore as the Rumpelstiltskin of rubbish. Sure, he’s not hunched over with a long beard, like the fairy tale hero who spun straw into gold (no, he’s 44 and clean-shaven), but the founder and CEO of 1-800-Got-Junk has transformed more than two decades’ worth of commercial and residential debris into a multi-million-dollar international empire.


And since he began as a two-man operation in 1989, this humble leader has created the world’s largest junk removal company, operating in North America and Australia, without resorting to greenwashing. Instead, his attitude of environmental responsibility and commitment to employment best practices has earned 1-800-Got-Junk countless business awards, including this year’s Top B.C. Employer.


While some major trash haulers in Metro Vancouver faced tens of thousands of fines last year for dumping recyclable items, 1-800-Got-Junk confirms that 61.3 per cent of its collected junk gets reused or donated. And within five years, Scudamore hopes to boost that figure to 75 per cent. To date, the company has diverted more than 2.2 billion pounds of waste from landfills.


During a telephone interview, Scudamore readily admits that he doesn’t strive to position his Vancouver-based company as a top eco-leader. After all, his operation doesn’t calculate its carbon footprint and roughly half of his fleet of 1,100 trucks runs on gas, the other on diesel.


But he has investigated electric trucks, deciding against them so far because the sizeable network of servicing required is not yet available. Scudamore believes that since electric vehicle technology has still not progressed far enough, a switch right now would be too risky business-wise. And experiments on 10 vehicles with alternate fuels, such as biodiesel, have proven too difficult to maintain, he says. The company is currently trying out propane, which burns more cleanly than gasoline. 


“We’re not trying to lead by being a green-aware business,” he says. “We’re running a business by being environmentally responsible.”


1-800-Got-Junk works with national charities, such as Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill and the Salvation Army, as sources of re-use for its junk. The company’s 200+ franchises track whether local junk is recycled, reclaimed, reused, converted to energy or winds up in the landfill. An external environmental audit, conducted every two years, helps the company follow its impact on the environment and adjust procedures accordingly.


“We’re the only company that rigorously measures what happens to its junk,” says Scudamore. “We’re incredibly metrics [business statistics] driven.”

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Who says the junk business is no fun?

His company is a customer of Richmond, BC-based Urban Impact, a leading recycling company that strives to divert as many materials as possible from landfill. It provides services such as on- and off-site shredding and zero-waste solutions.


But 1-800-Got-Junk needs to do a better job of communicating to residential customers, who comprise three-quarters of its business, where their junk is going, Scudamore says.

When people see his trucks carting off large furniture or other materials, for instance, they might wrongly assume that these items are destined for the landfill.


Instead, they often end up at places like Urban Waste, where people hand-sort everything for potential recycling, and to Urban Wood Waste Recyclers, Canada’s largest recycler of construction and demolition debris, located in Vancouver and New Westminster.


“Urban Wood Waste has the highest [landfill] diversion level in Vancouver and one of the highest in the country,” Scudamore says. “About 99 per cent is reused and recycled.”


Similarly, large items that 1-800-Got-Junk obtains, such as refrigerators or mattresses, are recycled; the metal is melted down and re-used. The freon in fridges is removed so that it won’t pose environmental hazards while BC Hydro’s buy-back program recycles old, working fridges for payment.


By the end of 2016, Scudamore hopes to be running a paperless operation. On a personal level, the father of three has traded in one of the family SUVs for a more compact, fuel-efficient option, a Fiat 500.


Beyond 1-800-Got-Junk’s environmental record, it’s the people side of the business that sets his company apart, says Scudamore. When hiring, he looks for genuine passion about his company’s vision and goals; it’s one of the company’s core values besides integrity, professionalism and empathy.


“Peoples’ values are to their core,” he says. “We are a people company. We live by it.” He adds: “I love seeing people develop and grow in the company. That’s what fires me up the most.”


After winning top-employer status in B.C., Scudamore instructed a committee of people from six company departments to identify an area that made the company less than the best. Their answer? The three-week paid vacation. After looking this over with his finance team, the CEO decided to replace it with a five-week paid vacation.


1-800-Got-Junk has received accolades for its profit-sharing plan, available to all employees, and its support of new mothers, who receive maternity leave top-up payments (to 75 per cent of their salary for 19 weeks) and flexible work arrangements, including telecommuting and flex time, once they return to work.


Scudamore has received recognition as one of the Globe and Mail’s Top 40 under 40, and a Small Business Best Bosses Award from Fortune magazine. In 2012, he became a CEO Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Inductee with Chicago-based Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.


The founder of 1-800-Got-Junk will be one of the high-profile entrepreneurs to appear Sept. 29 as a panelist at INSPIRE, an event at Vancouver’s TELUS World of Science sponsored by Small Business BC.

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September 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm Comments (0)