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News from the farm   |   Climate change   |   Ethical business   |   Employee ownership

How we will tackle our carbon emissions

Riverford’s most recent (2018/19) carbon footprint, carried out by Exeter University, came in at a thumping 11,683 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, largely made up of: transport 68 per cent, packaging 14.7 per cent, and electricity 9.5 per cent. We chose the most demanding scope of assessment, which includes co-owner commutes (surprisingly high at 15 per cent, but likely to drop in 2020/21 because of homeworking), and our own farming emissions (surprisingly low at four per cent).

Since our last carbon footprint in 2008, perhaps the most significant change has been becoming employee owned; there is now a feeling that we all own the problem, and share the responsibility for finding solutions, as well as the pain of short-term impacts on shared profits. Can conventional, distant shareholder ownership, predicated on greed and consumption, ever deliver sustainability? A topic for another time, but employee ownership is the foundation of the solutions we are now consulting on.

Until we agree, I cannot promise when Riverford will be carbon neutral (the view seems to be 2030 at the latest), but I do promise that those solutions will be transparent, well researched, honest, and only marginally influenced by the desire to be seen to be doing the right thing.

electric van
70 per cent of Riverford's fleet will be electric by 2023. 

Clearly we must focus on transport. 70 per cent of our vans will be electric by 2023, but that is not enough. There are two areas where we need our customers' support. Firstly, we must review how much we import, and from where. We will sometimes nudge you towards more seasonal cooking (such as expanding our range of 100 per cent UK veg boxes next year), and we must also be prepared to say ‘no’, and risk losing those customers wedded to a year-round supply of avocados. Secondly, we must resist pressure to offer chosen, timed delivery slots, which could nearly double emissions.

We will continue to remove as much packaging as possible (and by the end of the year, 100 per cent of our fruit and veg packaging will be home compostable). We will almost certainly install more solar panels, possibly wind turbines too, and look at energy storage solutions.

These things, and many more, won’t get us to net zero – so as a final resort, we will look at offsetting, probably via tree planting on our own land or that of our suppliers. And finally, we will be mindful that carbon is not everything; we must also enhance biodiversity on our land. Together, it all seems surprisingly doable.






    2 Days 5 Hours

    Really good that Riverford is taking CO2 reductions so seriously. Shame you aren't being more ambitious in terms of electric vehicles, but I guess that is related to cost. We have been having the packaging free box regularly since March and find it works really well, though we would appreciate a wider range of goods, rather than focussing too much on those that will most obviously work well packaging free e.g. it would be good to have less cabbage and things like curly kale and sprouts included sometimes instead.

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    2 Days 4 Hours

    Well done on efforts to become even more transparent and honest.
    For my part, I will try to wean myself off avocados.

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    2 Days 1 Hour

    I love your recipe boxes especially having fresh spices delivered in small quantities and giving me a cooking experience beyond my usual repertoire but there is a lot of plastic packaging associate with it. Can you try to address this?

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    anthony roper

    2 Days 1 Hour

    A lot to think about there. Years ago I met someone who would not eat bananas because of the food miles. I suppose avocados fall into a similar category. I need to look at the uk produce boxes more often.

    1 Reply

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    1 Day

    I recommend Mike Berners-Lee's book "How bad is a banana?", recently updated - the answer is that bananas aren't that bad as they are transported by ship. I was horrified to learn that anything grown in a HEATED greenhouse was as bad as being air-freighted!
    Also, it is more carbon efficient to keep using old vehicles as long as possible before replacing them with electric because of the carbon embedded in their manufacture.

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    Alastair Martin

    1 Day 20 Hours

    Good news that you are approaching this issue in a responsible way. A lot of good businesses are doing this. I encourage you to measure your carbon emissions every year, once you get into a routine it is not that difficult and it does become and added spur to making progress.

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    11 Hours 3 Min

    Although I agree that it is better to shop local (in this case British), I also think that it is important that organic producers work together more globally if we are hoping for a more sustainable future for all. Smaller organic farmers are being connected with customers with this method of distribution whereas the supermarkets generally only buy from the bigger "industrial" farms. As customers, we also have much more variety. The choice of organic products may be improving in supermarkets, but it is still very limited. I think that the more people convert to this way of shopping, the more producers will convert to more sustainable farming practices, and that can only be good for the future of the environment.

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Self-confessed veg nerd, Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 55,000 customers a week. Guy is an opinionated and admired figure in the world of organic farming, who still spends more time in the fields than in the boardroom. Twice awarded BBC Radio 4 Farmer of the Year, Guy is passionate about sharing with others the organic farming and business knowledge he has accumulated over the last three decades. His weekly veg box newsletters connect customers to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about. In June 2018, Guy handed over the reins of Riverford to its staff, choosing employee ownership as the model that will protect Riverford's ethical values forever and ensure the security of its employees.

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