How to become a carbon negative business

06 October 2021, 09:54 AM
  • Making strides in sustainability is the goal of many fine food businesses today, but how does one achieve the gold standard of net zero – and what does that really mean?
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How to become a carbon negative business

For small businesses with fewer resources than huge multi-national brands or sprawling chain retailers, achieving net zero carbon emissions may appear to be an impossible task, yet there are a growing number of businesses who have achieved this feat. We discover how speciality food and drink SMEs can tackle carbon neutrality.

Tracking emissions from cradle to grave

Greenypeeps is a newly launched, carbon negative tea brand that emerged from a simple question: How do you make a product that will leave a positive impact on the planet? 

“What we set out to do was to try and create the most ethical product that we possibly could,” co-founder Subramaniam Eassuwaren told Speciality Food. “That involves making sure that the tea is organic, it’s sourced from vetted plantations, most of the tea is Fairtrade, it’s all completely plastic free, the packaging is all biodegradable, the paper is from sustainable sources and the inks are from vegetable oils or soy. We really tried to take it as far as we could.” 

As well as sourcing ethical and eco-friendly ingredients and materials, Subramaniam, who runs a tea company in Sri Lanka, and co-founder Ed Green, who runs a design and distribution business in the UK, worked closely with the Carbon Consulting Company to run a detailed carbon impact analysis on each of its products. And instead of stopping at carbon neutrality, Greenypeeps pushed further to ensure its products were leaving a positive impact on the world. The carbon footprint of the tea was calculated from cradle to grave – including everything from the embodied carbon in the packaging, the transportation, the storage in warehouses, and even the kettle of water boiled by the end consumer, and the emissions that would come from the degradation of the tea bag itself. 

“We can’t leave it up to governments and the powers that be to somehow solve the problem,” Subramaniam said. “Most of the emissions are caused by consumption, and it is companies like us and consumers who are the main partners in this. Our hope is that we inspire consumers to start talking about this and also help them make more sustainable choices.”

Taking stock and finding solutions

Many established businesses are also keen to cut their emissions. Fast-growing condiment brand Sauce Shop was inspired to reduce its impact on the environment after doubling in size year-on-year since 2015. This summer, the brand worked with carbon offsetting partner Ecologi to offset twice this size of its carbon emissions, equal to 1,262 tonnes of CO2. 

“This is just the first step in a massive effort to really zero in on our supply chain and operations to reduce the impact we make,” said co-founder James Digva. “We’re not going to say anything as ridiculous as we’re saving the planet by making ketchup, but for our peace of mind, this little something is better than nothing”.

Plant-based restaurant Stem & Glory has also made strides towards achieving carbon negative status by the end of the year, with the help of West London Business’ Better Futures+ programme, which is supported by the London Mayor’s office to help SMEs reach net zero by 2030.

As part of this, the business worked with Climate Essentials, an online tool to measure emissions across the business. “Literally everything from direct energy consumption, procurement and buildings, to staff commute and vehicles was calculated,” said founder Louise Palmer-Masterton. From this, Stem & Glory discovered its main emissions culprits, one of which was procurement. “Within our procurement we drilled down into different categories to see the impact that small changes would have. For us by far the greatest changes will be making even more in-house than we do already, as anything processed externally has a much, much bigger footprint.”

The drive to use more UK-made food has introduced the brand to more UK producers and organic farmers. “We not only want to win hearts and minds by serving delicious plant-based food, we also want to win hearts and minds to UK produce which is so, so tasty and nutritious, and low emissions.”

How to get started

Businesses looking to take the next step with their carbon emissions might wonder where is the best place to start? “The simplest and most significant thing you can do is switch to 100% renewable energy and stop cooking on gas,” Louise said. “We believe it is small, individual actions that will gain the most traction with this movement, so question every small thing you do, and how you can make it more sustainable. Make increasingly more sustainable actions and aim to instil that in everyone around you. It is by example that we lead and create change.”

For Subramaniam, it is all about understanding your supply chains. “We were quite surprised by some of the things we found.” Transport plays a huge part of Greenypeeps’ costs, so Subramaniam said it’s important to understand and rationalise where and why you’re bringing certain ingredients in. Then, find the right partner to help guide you through the offsetting process.

Crucially, you must also figure out how to make your carbon cutting journey part of your story. “It shouldn’t just be, ‘we’re sticking a label on and then we’re sending the product out’. We’re in the process of trying to figure out how to communicate that to our end consumers so that it becomes easier for them to make more sustainable choices. How are you going to let your customers know that you’ve done all this hard work?”

From the first steps of measuring your carbon emissions to finalising your strategy of how to get the word out, retailers, brands, wholesalers and every food business in between can make a start on sustainability. With ambitious net zero goals in the pipeline for the industry, fine food businesses are already leading the charge.

Want to learn more about becoming a sustainable business? Don’t miss our free webinar taking place on 13th October: The Sustainable Pound: Why & How To Boost Your Eco Credentials.

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