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Green on Tap

If it can be greened, Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland plans to green it — and they're getting noticed for it, snagging a state Sustainability Award for 2007.

Although "zero net energy" (making or saving more energy than you use) is admittedly a long way off, says owner Alex Amarotico, it's sound business, and good for the planet, to take every step to shrink carbon output — whether it's big projects like the photo-voltaic roof panels being installed next month or just recycling spent beer yeast to gardeners as barnyard feed.

Amarotico, a former city councilman, started "The Stone" 11 years ago in the former Ashland Glass Co., a large, rustic concrete building that's considered historic enough that Amarotico was barred from installing rooftop PV panels. Instead, the 4.5-kilowatt panels went on the small, nearby bookstore he owns.

To cut down on indoor lighting, he installed long skylights on the building's peak, increasing natural light in two dining areas and the bar, but letting in enough heat in summer that he's had to put up a shade cloth to cut air-conditioning use.

Wherever possible, in offices and bathrooms, Amarotico uses compact fluorescent light bulbs, but they're too white for dining areas. There, he uses low-watt spots on wires to highlight the table, not the room.

Lights, refrigerators and everything else that uses electricty are governed by an energy management system that monitors electricity and gas, "thinking" when to turn them on and off for the most efficient use, he says.

Soon will come a heat recovery system that takes hot air normally exhausted by the walk-in refrigerator and uses it to heat water, eliminating the natural gas bill used for that purpose — a savings of $5,500 a year.

Pre-consumer food waste (carrot peelings and bread crusts, for example) is given to Ashland Sanitary and Recycling Service for transport to Dry Creek Landfill for mixing with other compost and resale to gardeners and landscapers.

Bathrooms have low-flow faucets, urinals and toilets with automatic shutoffs, and they use blowers, which dry hands with 80-percent less energy than cloth or paper.

Being a brewer, he jokes that it takes five pints of water to make one pint of beer, but no one counts the four pints it takes in a low-flow urinal to flush it down after the consumer is through with it.

The Stone brews its own beer in giant tanks visible above the main floor, yielding yeast slurry, hops leftovers, diatomaceous earth and spent barley, which are given to the woodsman who delivers the firewood. The wood, harvested locally, is used to cook pizza. These beer-waste products supplement the diet of his chickens and pigs in Jacksonville, so that's less food the woodsman has to buy and transport.

Up to 10 gallons of wood-fire ashes a week are given to local gardeners for mixing in soil.

Locally grown produce is bought and used in season — and more is vacuum packed and frozen for winter cooking, so produce doesn't have to be flown in. Local cheeses from Rogue Creamery and other local products are preferred over those from out-of-area.

The pattern to all this is "think locally" and avoid throwing anything out, says Amarotico. Why? Because if you're buying stuff from Chile or sending it to the dump to get rid of it, it's going to spew carbon and fill the atmosphere with the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Restaurants, says Amarotico, are the most intense energy users of any retail business, so when he was called to be on panels at the Oregon Restaurant Association's Leadership Conference in Sunriver, instead of finding them resistant and focused on the bottom line, "I was surprised how many questions they asked."

Restaurants have to be willing to learn the ropes of green business, he adds, in order to lessen the impact of rapidly rising energy costs — and also to build goodwill as a positive community member, thus increasing the customer base.

"It's a momentum I'm starting to see. Ten years ago people said, 'What's the difference?' Now it's becoming more mainstream and people think, 'Hey, this is real,' " says Amarotico. "It's also just good marketing. A lot of people in Ashland are more willing to support a business that's trying instead of keeping every dollar for the bottom line."

In the big picture — the global picture — Amarotico thinks "we're doing horribly, barely touching our potential, and it's a myth that you can't decrease your carbon footprint without decreasing your quality of life. I think we're going to figure it out, though."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

The cooking area of Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland features innovations that allow the resturant to operate and conserve energy. - Jim Craven