On Black Friday, my ten-year-old stepdaughter Mabel, a formidable eco-warrior, bullied me into taking her on the Exeter school climate strike. Some thousand students marched to chants of “What do we want?”, “Climate justice!”, “When do we want it?”, “Now!” A generation found its voice as the megaphone was passed from university students, to teenagers, to primary school children.
Humbled by the bright young faces, and the contrast between their irrepressible hope and the bleak future we are leaving them, I found myself holding back tears.
As we passed a primary school, children inside pushed up to the railings to see what the noise was; 20 marchers broke off and rushed up the bank to feed leaflets into their eagerly waiting hands. We are the custodians of their planet, and we are failing shamefully. The tears came rolling down.
So, what is Riverford going to do? We have just completed the second largest rooftop solar panel installation in the South West, which will generate up to 25 per cent of our electricity; we are investing heavily in electric vehicles (70 per cent of our vans by 2023); we are redesigning our packaging, to make fruit and veg 100 per cent plastic free by December 2020.
Much more than many businesses are doing, but given the gravity and urgency of the situation, we could do more. We have started an internal debate, hoping to reach an agreement on the degree to which we are willing or able to risk our profits in pursuit of bigger changes – and perhaps more significantly, how much we can restrict your choices without losing customers to retailers who offer no such limits.
Our prices will increase by an average of two per cent in January. We have had a good year, so might have been able to hold prices steady a bit longer by shelving some of the projects above – but we think many people choose to shop with us not only for great food, but for a more hopeful future.
You might reasonably ask: are you getting value for money? The best assurance I can offer is that we are very good at what we do; it could not be done, with the same ethics, for any less. Beyond paying our taxes and investing in the business, the money we make only leaves in two ways: as a profit share to co-owners (£719 each last year); or as a dividend on my remaining 26 per cent share, which goes into a fund for projects that reduce our environmental impact.