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The environmental impact of the cheese industry cannot be ignored. From dairy farming right through to the cheese counter, the industry is responsible for knock-on effects on carbon emissions, single-use plastics and food waste. While artisan cheesemakers and the cheesemongers that sell their products are already a large step ahead of industrial agriculture and large supermarkets, there is always more that can be done to be kinder to the planet.
“Right from the set up and refurbishment of the shop, we’ve tried to consider sustainability in every element of the business,” explains Chris Hallam, owner of Chorlton Cheesemongers, a shop that won the title of ‘eco warrior’ in Inspirational Cheese Retailers 2021. From using natural materials that are easier to maintain and last longer than ‘traditional’ shop fittings to opting for efficient coolers and refrigerators, he says sustainability is at the heart of the business. “It runs throughout, from our energy supplier, cleaning products and how we work in the shop, right through to the cheeses we source and how we serve the customer.”
Taking a holistic approach to sustainability in your shop may sound daunting, but if you’re not starting from scratch, Chris stresses that making environmentally friendly changes can start with simple steps forward. “It doesn’t have to be big, difficult or costly. There could be a number of small, incremental changes you could easily make throughout all parts of your business,” he explains. For example, changing to a green energy supplier, swapping out plastic bags for recycled paper versions and trying to reduce wastage of food and materials are all ways to begin making in-roads on in-store sustainability.
From here, retailers can go further by looking more closely at deliveries, suppliers and products used in their shop. For instance, Chorlton Cheesemongers had implemented a zero-carbon home delivery service for locals by pairing up with Chorlton Bike Deliveries, and delis and cheesemongers in other areas of the country may find that they too can take advantage of local, low-carbon delivery options.
Another way that Chris has realised he can reduce transport emissions is by turning the shop into a ‘hub’ in its suppliers’ delivery network. “Two cheesemakers deliver to us, and at the same time they drop off goods for others in our supply network, reducing fuel usage and the number of journeys taken,” he explains.
There are also ways to go further with reducing waste in your shop – beyond swapping out bags and using products like vegetable-based food wraps or cornstarch compostable deli pots on the counter. Why not try offering a deposit and return scheme for products in glass jars? By doing this and encouraging customers to bring their own bags and containers, Chris says you will also open up conversations about sustainability with customers, which is a great way to win loyalty. Plus, speaking with customers can open doors to other reuse and recycling initiatives. “We offer as much of our surplus wooden, plastic and cardboard packaging to locals for reuse or upcycling,” Chris says. “It’s very popular with artists, crafters and allotmenteers!”
The dairy industry has a considerable impact on the environment, and not all cheeses are created equally. According to the WWF, dairy cows add “substantial” amounts of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, and in some areas they contribute to water pollution and soil degradation. But here in the UK, there are many traditional dairy farmers who are pushing the boundaries of sustainability and regenerative agriculture. Working with those who make it their mission to be as eco friendly as possible can have an outsized impact. Chris advises searching for small producers who use low-impact, non-industrial farming methods or small artisan dairies who hand make their cheeses.
“Wherever possible, we look for single-source milk, either from the cheesemaker’s own herd or sourced from the smallest distance local to them. We consider how they maintain the grazing land, soil management, size of the herd and animal welfare,” Chris says. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but a commitment to working with the environment ethically and sustainably is key.”
If sustainable changes start to add up, start a conversation with your customers about the measures you’re implementing, the impact they have on the environment, and why this is reflected in your prices. “We’ve found that customers are very happy to know that although things might cost them more, they’re sourced sustainably and ethically, selected with care and are of great quality,” Chris says. “It’s about bringing that honesty into the conversation and engaging with the customer. And occasionally, you might save money, too – offering out our packaging has dropped the weight and frequency of our commercial waste removal!”
While many sustainability-minded changes are usually not difficult to implement, deciding to go eco-friendly takes commitment. But for the sake of creating a better planet, it’s worth it.
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