Jan Cabvelle chatted to three business owners about the dreams and realities of trying to be eco-friendly.
They may have been nudged into the 21st century but, nowadays, more and more business owners are dipping their toes into the lake of sustainability. Some are aware that legislation is tightening around them all the time, and have been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. Others understand that their customers are a savvy group of people keen to support businesses which want to ‘do their bit for the environment’.
Business owners are generally passionate about wanting to run a sustainable operation. Sadly, the reality is far from simple as I discovered when I talked to three different business owners about the subject. They all want to help the planet, and all three say they are making progress, but also admit there is still plenty to do.
Jonny Parker runs Yabba Beer. The company brew vegan beer, with no animal products in the recipe. Their e-commerce packaging is plastic-free and they have partnered with a leading sustainable brewery to ensure that raw materials are locally sourced. Wastewater generated by the brewing process is recycled, while used hops are donated to nearby farms for animal feed.
Yabba Beer offset their carbon emissions through a scheme called Ecologi which claims they are fighting climate change through projects managed locally, such as tree planting programs. Jonny says the company is still searching for greener ways to improve their business specification, such as trying to develop plastic-free labels for their bottles that remain both durable and water-proof.
Yabba also want to offer a carbon-free delivery service but will have to wait until they acquire their own licensed premises to achieve this particular goal. One day, they want to earn B Corp Certification which would boost their reputation among investors, customers and stockists.
As for Dr Tom Martin-Wells, he is the founder of Slake Spirits, which is an artisan distillery that draws its inspiration from the wild heritage of Sussex. Tom started out by converting his garage into a distillery, but quickly discovered that this manufacturing process required sizeable quantities of both power and water.
Regarding power, Tom decided to generate electricity on-site by installing a large solar array. He is committed to purchasing 100% green electricity for anything over and above what his panels can already provide. He says it is good practice for businesses to try and minimise any negative impact on the environment.
He is also seeking ways to reduce water consumption but accepts that waste heat recovery is unlikely to be cost-effective. He has laid piping in his new premises which connect with a thermal store and heat exchanges, and this continues to be work in progress.
Mandira’s Kitchen is an award-winning business based in Guildford, Surrey. The company is owned by Mandira Sarkar who leads an all-women team at her converted 400-year-old cowshed. They sell delicious freezer meals which are all hand-made using fresh produce. They also create many different types of chutney and ice cream, while offering cookery lessons, along with a 90-minute tour of their operation.
Sustainability has always been at the heart of what they do. They use biodegradable meal trays, along with non-laminated cardboard sleeves and leaf plates. Single-use plastic has been banished by the company. Ingredients are grown within a 50-mile radius of their kitchens, but they admit that their delivery service options gave them a challenge during the early days.
Having looked at a number of solutions – some of which were too expensive despite being kind to the environment – Mandira settled on https://www.woolcool.com/ which provides an eco-friendly way to transport ‘temperature sensitive goods.’ So they now use eco-friendly cardboard which has a wool lining for transporting hot food to customers.
These three entrepreneurs have made massive strides to become sustainability-friendly companies. But has there been a price to pay? Tom says sustainability does cost more and, despite receiving the plaudits from his customers for following this eco-friendly route, he says he has had little choice but to increase prices.
For Mandira, their bespoke meal trays are expensive and slower, so they have to carry more stock. Delivery boxes are massively more expensive and require large quantities of wool for insulation purposes. As yet, however, she has not passed on this extra cost to her customers.
For Jonny, the artisan brewing process was already expensive, and he accepts that low-margin businesses such as his need to sell high volumes of products. Yabba Beer has also struggled to find affordable, sustainable packaging that protects the glass. The company has absorbed some of these increased costs, but the remainder has been passed on to clients – although it is yet to impact on overall sales.
So what’s the overall judgement? Tom says customers are delighted with the sustainable packaging, and the increase in prices has made little difference to sales. Mandira, meanwhile, says customer support for being eco-friendly is excellent.
For Yabba, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, with new London stockists signing up. Increased press coverage has helped enormously. Jonny says he thinks of these costs as being a necessary tax in the modern world of sustainability, and something they wouldn’t want to compromise.