Sustainability Stories

Riverford’s latest report highlights the unprecedented challenges on the path towards a brighter future for farmers, people + planet

Since Riverford was founded in 1986, we’ve remained committed to good food, good farming and good business. We’re continuing to reduce our carbon emissions, improve how we package products, and work towards fairer supply chains – as well as strengthening how we farm to protect our climate and benefit nature.

With every year that passes, we see climate change impacting the way we live, particularly how we produce food. The summer heatwave in 2022 caused significant failures of fruit and veg crops. In 2023, April’s temperatures were up to 20°C higher than usually seen across southern Europe and north Africa, significantly affecting cropping, and the UK had its wettest July on record, seriously affecting crops like oil seed rape, potatoes, and wheat.

Riverford remains dedicated to positive change, especially through building the resilience of our own farms and farms in our supply chain Zac Goodall, Head of Sustainability, Riverford

On the path to net zero carbon emissions
We’ve reduced our carbon intensity (that’s emissions per delivery) by 6.2 per cent in the past year. In total, our carbon intensity has now fallen by 34.8 per cent since we started measuring our footprint in 2017/18.

The main emission-reducing changes we made this year were:

  • Reduced deliveries and organising routes to minimise distances. We carefully plan our weekly routes to minimise the distance travelled per drop. That’s why you have a fixed delivery day!
  • A greater proportion of our fruit and veg being sourced in or closer to the UK
  • Increasing electric van mileage for our deliveries to customers
  • As of August 2021, we’ve electrified 30% of our van fleet. We plan to increase this to 50% in 2024, and all our delivery vans will be 100% electric by 2025.
  • Reduced refrigerant gas leaks

Our biodiversity action plan
Last year we’ve created a biodiversity action plan for our Devon farm, to encourage nature-friendly farming, create new habitats, and connect existing ones so wildlife can move and spread safely.

Here’s what’s been happening at Wash Farm:

  • Planted over 460 meters of hedging, and this winter, we plan to plant an additional 400 metres.
  • New pond creation which is already proving to be a popular habitat for various species, including dragonflies, damselflies, swallows, and house martins.
  • We’ve also created a Biodiversity Action Plan for Riverford on Sacrewell Farm, Peterborough. We will start to implement this plan in 2024.

Trees are an important part of our plans to sequester carbon, protect our soil, and pioneer perennial crop farming in Devon. In early 2022, 1,588 trees were planted across four farms through our Refer a Friend Scheme, with a focus on nut trees such as walnuts, hazelnuts, and chestnuts.

Riverford plans to continue supporting agroforestry throughout our supply chain, expanding beyond nut trees. This commitment aligns with our broader vision of sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. These systems are expected to sequester thousands of tonnes of carbon over their lifetimes.

How many trees have we planted into agroforestry systems so far?

  • Winter 2021 – 1,600 trees planted
  • Winter 2022 – 5,000 trees planted
  • Winter 2023 – 10,000 trees planned

Reducing plastic
As well as honouring our promise of no conventional plastic in the fresh fruit and veg packaging we send to customers, over the past year we have:

  • Replaced all plastic tape on customer boxes with paper tape, saving approximately 1.5 tonnes of plastic a year.
  • Replaced plastic stretch wrap (used to secure pallets of produce behind the scenes on the farm) with reusable buckle strap systems, replacing over 4 tonnes of plastic a year.
  • Replaced approximately 100,000 recipe box plastic pots and single use plastic bags with recyclable paper bags.

Farming for the Future project update
Working with our farmer friends, we want to set the blueprint for how the UK should farm in the future, for the future – going a step beyond organic. It evaluates a farms impact on things such as water, carbon, biodiversity, soil and animal welfare.

Our 2022 trial showed that across the farms, there were ten key improvement opportunities. We will use the data from this trial to to develop a new programme of support for our suppliers, as well as research and development for our own business, to ensure that Riverford continues to exemplify the best farming practices.

You can read the full report here, and we’ll also be sharing deep dives into some pioneering sustainability projects over the coming month, here at Wicked Leeks.


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