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Text by Elizabeth Guthrie, Video by HyoJung Kim
Medill Reports, April 9, 2018

Sacred Serve calls itself a “conscious creamery,” producing vegan gelato in delicious flavors such as Salted Coconut Caramel and Matcha Mint Chip with organic and non-GMO ingredients.

Tucked away in the Back of the Yards, a neighborhood still named for the long-gone Union Stockyards, the business opened in a former meatpacking building. It joined a baker, a coffee maker, a brewery and other businesses in a  sustainability mission of the not-for-profit Plant Chicago. Here, Sacred Serve aligned its recipe for creating a tasty, nutritious product while minimizing its environmental footprint. Welcome to The Plant, the building where Plant Chicago and the collaborating businesses turn waste into resources. Plant Chicago and the businesses call this a circular economy.

To Kailey Donewald, co-founder of Sacred Serve, joining the circular economy at The Plant made sense for a vegan product that she considers already better for the environment. She sees Plant Chicago’s mission as a continuous effort to answer questions about sustainability. “How do you conserve energy? How do you recycle materials, and how do you reduce your impact?” she said. “It was attractive to us because it feels like it aligns with our mission of just overall environmental sustainability.”

At all of Sacred Serve’s events, everything used is compostable – dishware, cutlery, napkins. They produce little food waste, which is both beneficial for the environment and efficient from a cost-perspective. “We’ve refined our processes down to the point where there really isn’t any extra, so everything we use goes directly into our product,” Donewald said.

They take advantage of their location in The Plant by teaming up with other tenants to conserve energy. “We try and be as minimal as possible, so we have freezers and some really heavy-duty equipment that is using up some electricity, but we try and only run them on certain production days,” Donewald said. “And we try and share freezer space and fridge space with some other tenants in The Plant.”

The business works to improve its sustainability efforts by participating in Plant Chicago’s research. “We had a sustainability team come through yesterday to monitor our process and see where we could be a little bit more efficient, where we can reduce some of our waste, where we can potentially buy things in larger bulk so that we limit even the waste that is the packaging for some of our ingredients,” Donewald said. She is also working with another team from The Plant to find affordable, recyclable packaging for their product, since ice cream packaging is not currently recyclable due to its plastic lining.

Despite common fears that sustainability efforts are not economically feasible, Donewald believes that customers see the value in their mission. “We’re seeing more and more people voting with their dollars and supporting small startups that have really strong core missions,” she said. “I think it’s really to a company’s advantage in the market that we’re in right now to stand strong for their values and project that out to the customers.”

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