I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere of David Attenborough’s new documentary ‘A Life on our Planet’, which he describes as his ‘witness statement’.
The documentary contains compelling statistics that define the devastating problems we face if we don’t stop destroying our planet. The film shows the numbers for the rapid increase in global population, the increase in carbon in the atmosphere, and the accompanying sharp decrease in unfarmed natural land.
It does end with a sliver of hope though, as Attenborough lays out the steps we need to take to quickly redress the balance and allow the planet to recover and they’re simpler than you might expect.
- Stop Waste. Period.
- End poverty and increase access to education for all people, which will naturally lead to population control.
- Rewild farmlands and the rainforests to restore biodiversity.
- Stop eating meat.
- Stop using fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy.
- Use less land in more intelligent ways to produce more food.
But what could a business possibly do?
While it’s true that international action is needed; we can actually all instigate actions that make a difference and many of the actions we can take are changes within our own supply chains which are not disruptive or costly. They simply involve making more ethical choices in our purchasing decisions.
A recent survey showed that 88 per cent of consumers want brands to help them be more sustainable so it’s also a shrewd business decision to make positive changes within our businesses.
Probably the biggest issue of all.
There is a huge amount of misinformation out there on this subject, especially with regards to single use. Packaging is a complicated subject that we’ve been immersed in researching for some time, and here is what we have learned:
- Compostable is not the answer to the issue of single use, as compostable containers are widely made from virgin materials.
- The only truly sustainable, circular solution for packaging is to use products that are made from 100% recycled post-consumer waste, which are then endlessly recycled.
- Of course, responsible use of recycled plastic products requires education, and we need to invest energy into just that.
More than a third of all food produced is wasted – with fruit and vegetables, almost half. In medium and high-income countries (us) we are simply buying it and not eating it. Much of this food waste could be avoided if it were managed better.
We’re currently fitting out a new site in Cambridge. The driver behind our decor is reuse and recycle as far as possible. It’s been great to see that there are so many new products on the market that are composed of recycled post-consumer waste. We predict that this will explode massively in the coming months and years.
More Plant-based meals
It’s simply not sustainable for the 11 billion animals on the planet to eat other animals. But what does this mean for a business or for one that serves meat? Well, it means you need to pivot your business model. Although it might feel like your offering is well supported now, it will become increasingly regarded as unethical in the future.
If you have a staff canteen, look to increase the plant-based offerings. Educate your staff about eating less meat (whether that’s avoiding it for a few days a week, or putting less on the plate).
If you host events that involve food (whether canapes or a full sit-down), ask your caterers to provide a good choice of plant-based options. I am not lecturing here, but don’t count on people wanting to continue eating meat in the future like they do now.
Work with the many new ethical suppliers who are themselves making a difference. For example, we work with a tea supplier called Reforest Tea. For one 500g bag of breakfast tea, costing £12, they are able to plant 6-8 trees.
Using Renewable Energy
In pursuit of renewable energy, businesses can make a huge impact by simply moving to renewable only energy sources. There are a number of these now, including the most established Ecotricity and Green Energy.
In February, I visited Amsterdam. There are some exciting projects there with vertical and urban farms. They are a big exporter of vegetables because of this. They get a greater output from a much smaller footprint in this way. I also visited a restaurant called Juniper & Kin which is on the top floor of a tall hotel building. They have a green house on their roof and grow a high percentage of their produce there. There are a number of similar operators in the UK and it’s a hugely exciting space to be involved with.
Arguably, the best way we can win hearts and minds to tackling climate change is by never underestimate the contribution that an individual or individual business can play. By changing ourselves we generate spirals of positive influence – the R number of sustainability! The more you make changes and tell others, the more people you will influence for good.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients, 100% made on site. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge. www.stemandglory.uk