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Ice River Sustainable Solutions employees separating materials on a recycling sorting line.Provided

Having grown up in farm families, Jamie and Sandy Gott learned early in life that “if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you,” as Sandy puts it. That lesson has guided the couple in building Ice River Sustainable Solutions of Shelburne, Ont., into a diversified and innovative bottled water company that is committed to producing only the most environmentally appropriate products and packaging.

“We urge people to do things in the most sustainable way possible,” says Gott, who is executive vice-president, while her husband is CEO. “Our team is focused on looking for opportunities to make what we do simpler and track and remove carbon from everything we do.”

The Gotts launched Ice River in 1995 and began by shipping tankers of water to other bottled water companies, drawn from a spring near the village of Feversham, Ont. True entrepreneurs at heart, they started to bottle the water themselves and integrated other parts of the process in order to control and minimize the environmental impact of manufacturing.

“We started very small, with a 5,000-square-foot facility,” she says. “We were filling four-litre bottles and we had seven people on the production line – most of them named Gott.”

Today, Ice River has seven divisions and produces bottled water, recycled plastic furniture and flexible shrink wrap, which contains a minimum of 20 per cent recycled plastic and is used to secure cases of bottled water. The company operates six bottled water plants, three in Ontario and one each in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.

“We found it made more sense to put the plants where the water is consumed rather than shipping across the country, because water is very heavy,” says Crystal Howe, director of sustainability and a daughter of the founders. “Sustainability is top down throughout the entire company. It’s what differentiates us from other organizations.”

With the federally mandated ban on single-use plastics such as straws, cutlery and difficult-to-recycle take-out containers coming into effect, the Gotts are launching a new line of compostible pulp products. They’ve recently completed building a plant in Dundalk, 125 kilometres north of Toronto, and are purchasing equipment.

“We’re focused on producing these products from plant-based material like straw and other farming products rather than cutting down trees,” Gott says. “We want to use products from our own 3,500-acre farm in order to have a very small carbon footprint from transportation.”

That sort of innovative thinking has driven the company from the start. Gott says they were initially told that producing bottles from 100 per cent recycled plastic couldn’t be done. They not only proved the industry wrong, their closed-loop recycling measures have kept over 500 million pounds of plastic in the value chain and out of the environment.

“We were buying from municipal recycling centres and each batch of plastics was slightly different,” says Gott. “We weren’t able to get to a 100 per cent recycled bottle. My husband said ‘we’re going to build our own recycling plant. We’ll sort the material so we can make a lightweight bottle that has integrity and can be recycled again and again.’”

Ice River relies on its team of engineers and highly skilled tradespeople like millwrights to modify equipment and tweak processes in order to push the boundaries of sustainability.

“As owners we want to show that manufacturing can be done in sustainable ways and be successful,” says Gott. “It doesn’t have to cost more to do the right thing for the planet.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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