Eight reasons why ‘going green’ is good for business

Lucy Gatward

Bristol Going for Gold’s food sector lead Lucy Gatward highlights the economic arguments for environmental sustainability. Adapting to climate change is vital, even in the midst of a pandemic. Read on for motivation about why ‘going green’ is good for your food business.

Bristol City Council has declared both a climate emergency and an ecological emergency. But how do you respond as a business owner operating in the middle of a pandemic and with the end of the Brexit transition period just around the corner?

In turbulent times, keeping your business afloat probably seems like enough to be getting on with, but to quote former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, “Companies that don’t adapt [to climate change] will go bankrupt without question”. While that may feel a little stark, below are eight practical reasons why ‘going green’ is good for your bottom line.

1. Buying local keeps money circulating locally for longer

Sourcing and shopping locally is good for the environment (because shorter supply chains generally consume lower amounts of carbon), but it’s also the best way to keep the local economy buoyant and thriving.

According to research done with Northumberland County Council, every £1 spent with a local supplier is worth £1.76 to the local economy, and only 36p if it is spent out of the local area. That makes £1 spent locally worth almost 400% more to the local economy.

A bit of money in the pockets of those in your community and spent in your establishment is good for everyone. So supporting local suppliers, wholesalers and growers makes good business sense.

Further reading:

“The community supports us and we support the community”

2. Unhealthy diets cost us all

Worldwide, poor diets now kill more people than smoking, according to a study published in the Lancet in 2019. In the UK, health issues related to diet cost the NHS an estimated £22bn a year, while the bill just for obesity-related illness is more than £4bn a year. We indirectly pay for this in our taxes.

What’s this got to do with the food you sell? It’s a pretty stark incentive to lead people towards healthy food choices, using more seasonal fruit and veg and less pre-made processed food.

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3. In some circumstances, it’s the law

One example of this is that complying with the waste hierarchy is enshrined in UK law. Over 40 major UK operators have signed WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact to reduce the use of unnecessary and problematic plastics (and to make those that are used 100% recyclable or compostable) by 2025.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have said that their plans will be the same as EU regulations when it comes to single-use plastic. In some cases, the UK’s plans are more ambitious.

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4. As well as being more environmentally beneficial, local supply chains are reliable, collaborative and flexible

The COVID-19 lockdown that started in March 2020 shook the food sector to the core. Research undertaken by Bristol Going for Gold partner Bristol Food Network into peoples’ lockdown shopping habits indicated that customers used their local shops and food delivery services because they literally came up with the goods. This included local veg box schemes.

Not relying on the narrow ‘just-in-time’ supply chains used by the big supermarkets and restaurant chains gives smaller independent food businesses a competitive edge. The research showed that these smaller, locally centred food businesses coped impressively as they formed partnerships, diversified and took advantage of what was available locally. They experienced fewer shortages, kept things moving and attracted new customers.

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5. More people now want to buy local

There is a surge of commitment from the public to support businesses that put themselves at the heart of their communities.

The Bristol Food Network research found that – whatever the reasons behind why people discovered their local shops during lockdown – by the end of it (in July), over 80% expressed an intention to continue to use local services in the future. The strongest driver was a desire to support local businesses: “I thought ‘What businesses do I want to survive this pandemic?’ and realised that’s where I needed to spend more of my money.”

On the supplier side, business benefited by offering an experience based around good customer service, a more personal touch, and the chance to introduce products that people might not have tried before. Gary Derham, Bristol Loaf’s owner, said “We want to lead people to understand what a good food network looks like”.

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6. Local food can save you money

The cost of food is rising for many reasons, and as a small business, it can be hard to absorb those costs and not pass them on to your customers.

Money

Exploring what’s available from local growers, manufactures and suppliers can save you money as things like buying seasonally or working with other businesses on the best ways to order and receive deliveries can be fair and cost-efficient for all. And because you’re all working to the same ends (keeping your local economy buoyant) you have an added incentive to work together.

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7. Having a vision motivates your staff, encourages productivity and reduces staff turnover

It’s well documented that happy teams are more productive, especially when they understand your purpose and mission. Being clear and involving your team in decisions about how to reduce waste, for example, or using toxin-free cleaning materials, or adding vegan menu options, and giving them access to healthy food and a pleasant workplace are small and inexpensive things you can do to attract and keep good people. It’s worth it: the cost of employee turnover, based on the average UK salary, is around £11,000 per person.

A local example of how getting a team to support a vision is Bristol-based independent Boston Tea Party. In June 2018 they banned single-use coffee cups. Though they saw takeaway coffee sales fall by 25%, they reduced staff turnover to well below industry standards, as loyalty to the brand amongst their mostly young workforce improved, saving the business an estimated £1m per year.

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8. Reducing waste saves money

This not only applies to your bin collections, though obviously that is a major factor for food businesses.

Leading by example by only turning on lights when needed, wasting less food, encouraging customers to bring their own reusables (coffee cups and lunch boxes) for example, and explaining to your staff why you consider these things important (financially and environmentally) stimulates a positive way of thinking and behaving.

From January to June 2020, local food outlet Better Food saved nearly 15,000 single-use coffee cups from being thrown away by inviting customers to bring reusable cups, or to drink in. Even during lockdown, when most outlets were refusing reusables, they managed to save nearly 1000 from landfill (part of City to Sea’s #ContactlessCoffee campaign). The environmental benefits are obvious. Financially, that’s a saving of over £3000 in cups and lids annually. Boston Tea Party (see #7 above) have also participated in the #ContactlessCoffee campaign.

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Those working in our city’s food sector face unprecedented challenges. Though the bid to make Bristol a Gold Sustainable Food City has had to refocus the need for a resilient food community has never been greater. Visit Bristol Food Network for more information and resources on Bristol’s Good Food response to the pandemic. Read Bristol Going for Gold Coordinator Joy Carey’s blog proposing five core principles on which to start building a better and more resilient food system.

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