Putting the planet before your profits: the cost of going green

  1. Melissa Tredinnick

    Melissa Tredinnick UKBF Newcomer Administrator

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    Since banning single-use coffee cups in June 2018, cafe chain Boston Tea Party saw its takeaway coffee sales fall by £250,000 - 25% down on its usual figures.

    This came as no surprise to owner Sam Roberts, who said the impact had been factored into the company’s plans and they were prepared to sacrifice those profits.

    The Bristol-based chain felt banning the cups was “the only true sustainable option”, as their combination of plastic and paper means the vast majority of disposable cups - around 99.75% of the 2.5 billion thrown away every year - end up in landfill. 

    According to Boston Tea Party’s website, the ban has saved more than 150,000 cups from that fate so far.

    Roberts said he wanted it to be an inspiration for other companies to follow suit and to stop “putting their profits before the planet”.

    Latte levy and plastics ban

    Last year, a so-called ‘latte levy’ of 25p on disposable coffee cups was proposed by the Environmental Audit Committee.

    It was rejected, after ministers said it was better for cafes to offer their customers discounts for bringing their own cups instead.

    Several large coffee chains including Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Pret A Manger have introduced discounts for reusable cups.

    Starbucks also trialled a 5p charge on takeaway cups, which it said increased the number of customers bringing in their own cup from 2.2% before the trial to 5.8% afterwards.

    Boston Tea Party previously had a 25p discount scheme in place for reusable cups, but decided that with only 5% of their customers taking it up, the impact was insignificant.

    Despite dismissing the latte levy, the Government has announced plans to tackle plastic pollution, by introducing a tax on all plastic packaging that doesn’t include at least 30% recycled content.

    Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier this week that Canada will ban single-use plastics altogether as early as 2021.

    This ban is modelled on similar legislation passed by the European Union, which is intended to take effect in the same year.

    With around 12 million tonnes of plastic now entering the world's oceans every year, it’s becoming clear that change is unavoidable, and governments, businesses and individuals are all adapting.

    Growing demand

    Aside from the sense of impending doom, a major driving force for change is the increasing demand among consumers for sustainable products.

    According to a survey by Nielsen, 81% of people around the world feel it is “extremely or very important” that companies should help to improve the environment.

    For some businesses, this could make environmentally-friendly choices a successful PR strategy - especially when they can also enhance the service.

    Online supermarket Ocado recently invested £17m into vertical farming, a method of production where food is grown on a series of levels, in precisely-controlled indoor facilities.

    The company said this would have “clear sustainability advantages”, including cutting down on waste, low water use, low land use and no pesticides. It could also cut down on food miles by allowing farms to be located closer to distribution centres.

    In theory, this would also benefit consumers by giving them access to fresher products. 

    Ocado chief executive Tim Steiner said he wanted to “offer the freshest and most sustainable produce that could be delivered to a customer’s kitchen within an hour of it being picked”.

    What can a small business do?

    Unfortunately, not every business can absorb a 25% loss of sales like Boston Tea Party did and survive to tell the tale. 

    For most small cafes, convenient disposable cups can’t be done away with completely, but alternatives such as discount schemes or biodegradable cups might be viable.

    Another approach is to look at improving sustainability in your supply chain, whether that’s by procuring goods from local sources, or ensuring your suppliers operate in an eco-friendly way.

    Encouraging an environmentally-conscious workplace culture and considering using renewable energy suppliers are other areas worth considering.

    Of course, the kinds of changes you’re able to make will depend on the kind of business you run, but some would argue a big part of the challenge is simply being prepared to change your own habits.

    UKBF user khushy recently shared how they made their eCommerce business more sustainable, beginning with installing solar panels before cutting out single-use plastic:

    “I am proud to say that now, we do not purchase or output any single-use petro-plastic during the course of our business and to be honest, it's not been at all difficult to achieve. 

    “A little creativity, and our cost base has not changed either.”

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  2. giantarticles

    giantarticles UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    This is a very informative post. Great job!
     
    Posted: Jun 18, 2019 at 10:47 AM By: giantarticles Member since: Jun 8, 2019
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