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.
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.