Rob and Tania O’Toole are passionate about helping the environment through their business. Photo SPIN

On day one of taking over as owners of Vertical Café at the beginning of February, Rob and Tania O’Toole knew they wanted to make changes to their new business to reduce their environmental footprint. They started with a simple recycling program, and their green initiatives have only grown from there. 

“If you’ve got an opportunity to do things better than before, why not do that,” said Rob. “We taught our kids to be very environmentally friendly wherever possible and recycle and reuse.” 

When the couple took over their new business they were shocked to find their was no recycling system in place. They immediately  added two blue recycling bins the café has grown to sorting their recyclables and taking them to the transfer station twice a week.Unlike businesses in larger communities that have garbage and recycling collection the family breaks down the recyclables and stores them in their garage at home before taking them to the station. In doing so, Rob calculated that after a year they will have kept 1,000 pounds of waste out of the landfill. 

“For us it was looking at the place we live where we get to make our living. It’s important if you’re going to make your living here you might want to make a little bit of effort. People come here for the outdoor experience so try and protect that,” he said. 

According to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment,  as of 2018 nearly ninety per cent of Canada’s plastic waste is not recycled or recovered which results in  1.82 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. 

Comfortable in their role as owners, the O’Tooles are also working to reduce their emissions and have introduced earth-friendly takeaway containers and recently brought in biodegradable cutlery made with a cornstarch base.

“We switched to biodegradable, disposable cutlery, which is step one. We eventually don’t even want to have biodegradable. I’d like to go to something that’s like a renewable resource.”

Investing in products that are more efficient, the café has had some much needed upgrades to their appliances as they look to cut down energy waste wherever possible. They have already replaced the sandwich station and an old fridge; their next purchase will be a new convection oven which is 50 per cent larger than the current one but operates off almost the same amount of kilowatts.

“That’s our next step we’re looking to switch to a new, still electric, but new convection oven that will hold double the volume and use the same amount of energy. So the oven doesn’t have to run as much, we can shut it off,” said Rob. 

The commitment to being environmentally conscious can be seen across all aspects of their cafe, even in their supplier decisions to support local when possible. However working with small local business can be challenging when it comes to shipping to a rural community the couple is working hard to source local. From bread made in Kamloops at Craig’s Bakery to oasts from Rogers Foods in Armstrong B.C. and Haskap jam from just down the road in Heffley Creek. 

“Overall, every time we make a decision whether it’s a product we’re going to cook and serve or a change of equipment or any of those things, is how something is going to come into the business and what’s the impact and effect on the environment.”

While the cafe has been working hard to reduce their effect on the environment, Rob said he thinks there’s still room to improve throughout the community. 

“I think we still need to work on that. There’s a handful of people that are hardcore travel mug users but there’s a lot of people who don’t, hence the fact that we go through a lot of cups.”

He noted the cafe does offer a discount for people who bring in their own mugs as an incentive and confirmed their currently working on creating Vertical Cafe to go mugs. 

As a family owned and operated business, the O’Toole’s commitment to the environment and to give back to the community is a driving force behind their environmental focus. 

“When you’re bringing up the next generation it’s what are you leaving behind for them? What’s the legacy going to be.”