Making measurement count

As previously, transport is our biggest sin, and the final delivery to the door is the most carbon costly – so we are converting over 70 per cent of our vans to electric by 2023.

‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ Though true and useful up to a point, this oversimplification can too easily morph into ‘if you can’t measure it, it isn’t worth having’, or even ‘it doesn’t exist’. The dogma has caused a huge amount of suffering and societal damage over its 40-year rule. I prefer ‘if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.’ 

There is no doubt that numbers are easier to manage than feelings and beliefs, but the best policymakers are able to incorporate both into their analysis and decision making; after all, most of the numbers we care about are the result of human behaviour, which, despite the economist’s fantasy of human rationality, is largely driven by emotions.

When it comes to environmental and social impacts, we should measure what we can, while not kidding ourselves that everything that matters is included, and while being wary of the distortions that result from a narrow focus on measurables. When the measurement becomes the goal, as it too often does under short-termist, unimaginative management, it ceases to be useful.

With these limitations in mind, we have repeated and improved on our 2006 environmental impact assessment, working again with Exeter University. For those interested, our first annual sustainability report can be read at, or go to and find ‘Making Riverford sustainable’.

Credit to the author, our own Zac Goodall; it is informative, readable, and only occasionally self-congratulatory. Rightly, the focus of the report is our carbon footprint. As previously, transport is our biggest sin, and the final delivery to the door is the most carbon costly – so we are converting over 70 per cent of our vans to electric by 2023.

Solar panels
Solar panels and electric vans will help cut carbon emissions at Riverford.

But there is also emphasis on packaging. All our fruit and veg will be 100 per cent plastic free by the end of this year; it will cost us a lot, and we don’t expect anyone to follow, but we are doing it anyway. Hidden from view, astronomical quantities of single-use plastic are used in the supply chain, to wrap and stabilise pallets; in our case it is 25 per cent of all plastic use.

Few outsiders see this, but everyone in the business agrees it is unacceptable. This is where measurement is most valuable: in focusing attention on the things that really matter, but are less visible and emotive to customers. We will hang our heads in shame if this figure is not massively reduced


Leave a Reply

  1. I don’t think that electrical delivery vehicles are the answer.
    The best option is green hydrogen for commercial vehicles.
    Green hydrogen can be produced from a combination of CO2 taken from the air, water and renewable energy.
    The filling stations of the future will be produce power on site from a unit not much larger than a shipping container.
    Articulated lorries powered by hydrogen are already in production and a growing network of hydrogen refuelling stations is being built around the UK.

    1. Great idea – but only 16 filling stations in the UK I can see? Big commercials – great idea.

      Right now, smaller local deliveries easily accomplished by a plethora of available vehicles, and recharge points anywhere there’s the grid [essential to choose a 100% sustainable ElectricitySupplier, needless to say.]

  2. @chilting maybe you’re right but I think what is key is that we need the options out there to choose from. I still can’t hire an electric car in London – I have to go to Milton Keynes. I haven’t checked out the availability of hydrogen-fuelled cars but I guess it’s zero. OK so the hire car market is perhaps special but there are other options too. Here in zone 2 London, we’re currently pushing for “Low Traffic Neighbourhoods” and one of the issues is the delivery vans and worse, lorries. A solution on that table is local distribution centres which are accessible to big lorries and where the goods are transferred to cargo bikes – human-powered – for local distribution.

    1. adam
      Hydrogen powered cars are a long way off but buses and lorries will appear on our streets within the next few years, That will make a tremendous contribution to reducing pollution. Companies with lorries that are based at one location and deliver around the country could be first to benefit. They could have their own refuelling point, this could be shared with other local firms – Riverford please note – the refuelling units will be made in a new factory in the UK currently nearing completion.

  3. @chilting

    promising looking stuff. Do you know the details?

    How many miles does a kilo of H2 get you?

    How much electricity does it take to make that kilo?

    I’m not in the market for one – I just want to know. At the moment it’s difficult to differentiate reality from fantasy in all the headlines.

  4. One thing I don’t understand is why there are so many different types of plastic used in food/consumer goods packaging? The recycling centres are constantly saying this is a problem for them. Why can’t the government just mandate say 6-8 types of plastic (a film, a wrap, a punnet, bottle, bag, cap or whatever) and all producers have to work with that list? The types could be numbered, or colour-coded, so that consumers knew which bin to recycle them in. Surely also this woud bring economies of scale in packaging manufacture. Any thoughts out there?

    1. THIS ! Having to teach every housemate from a different are, how to recycle as every council does it differently adds to the problem.

  5. One thing that always amazes me with so called carbon friendly transport means and the plethora of NEW this and NEW that is just that! Why do we need to reinvent the wheel? For possibly thousands of years we managed very well using what we had – animal power and human power backed up with natural sources – wind and water power.

    Horses and various carts for local and longer range deliveries, sailing ships of various shapes and sizes for longer range and so on, all operated and controlled by humans – everybody complains about the lack of jobs, so why build ever sophisticated machines to do what small amount of work that needs to be done? time methinks to go backwards to move forwards!


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