Businesses CAN go green and still be successful. And now’s the time for businesses to lead the way in cutting their carbon footprint and getting the UK to Net Zero emissions before 2050. Vicky Murray has been Sustainability Manager at Pukka Herbs for two years. Here she describes Pukka’s journey to reducing its carbon, and gives her top tips on setting carbon targets.

1) Align your target with your company mission and build your business case

We can’t grow healing herbs on a sick planet. This is the place I start every conversation on climate change at Pukka. Our mission is to inspire people to lead a more conscious life through the incredible power of plants, but weird weather events and new pests brought by changing weather make sourcing quality, organic herbs ever more challenging.

There are now too many examples of herbal supply chains being affected by climate change. Increased hurricane activity in Madagascar has played its part in the dramatic global vanilla price hikes. And on a recent visit to our Aloe Vera supplier, we discovered that they had experienced their first ever frost in the region, affecting yield.

But there is always hope. We can help heal the planet through growing and collecting herbs more sustainably. The need for a new regenerative approach to sourcing herbs – and agriculture more broadly – has never been greater. It is now essential to build resilience to climate change into herbal supply chains and for every organization and individual in the world to play their part in reducing carbon emissions.

2) Set an intention, publicly if possible

Three years ago, in the lead up to the Paris Agreement COP 21, we made a public commitment to set a science-based carbon reduction target with the Science-Based Target initiative (SBTi). As world leaders were gathering to agree on national targets, we wanted to show that we were ready to step up to play our part. Science-based targets are those that align with climate science as ambitious enough to limit dangerous climate change. These are by necessity extremely stretching. A public commitment made us accountable to keep on the target setting path when the going got tough or other business priorities came along. And it will keep us on the path to carbon reduction now that our target is set.

3) You might not get it right first time!

We found out the hard way that the SBTi don’t accept neutrality as a target. You have to demonstrate that you are reducing carbon emissions, not just offsetting them. That meant that we had to start from scratch to get a full picture of our carbon footprint from ‘crop to cup’. This setback lost us time, but we gained so much insight from our carbon mapping project that it was worth it.

For example, it confirmed that our biggest carbon footprint is in people boiling water to enjoy our tea. So we know that it is important to share our Smart Boil message – boil only the amount of water that you need, using renewable energy, in an eco kettle.

4) Take your time to find the right partners

There are many brilliant experts out there to help companies map their carbon footprint and set their targets. We worked with Soil and More Impacts on our agricultural mapping as they had previously carried out greenhouse gas inventories for organic herbal supply chains – a real niche! They also helped us develop a tool for measuring our carbon impact while out in the fields visiting suppliers so we can continue to gather more accurate data and measure any improvements over time.

We then worked with Carbon Credentials to set our target. They helped us to select the right methodology for setting our science based target and helped us through the calculations and submission process.

5) Break the task into manageable chunks

Mapping the carbon footprint of every herb in our agricultural supply chain would have taken years. We knew we didn’t want to spend forever setting the perfect target – we wanted to get quickly to action. And so we selected the top 20 herbs that represented 80% of our volume, and grouped them based on categories.

Say we put wild sourced roots together like ginger and licorice. Even though these are obviously different, there are basic similarities in how they are planted and harvested compared to say leafy perennials or annual leaves. Then within these larger categories, we had a smaller category of crops that were more or less mechanized. That made the map more manageable.

We were able to add this agricultural data to information we were already gathering annually on our operational carbon footprint. Then added data from studies on packaging, shopping habits, tea drinking and disposal. This gave us our full crop to cup picture.

 

6) Make it real & have fun

To help make every Pukka person carbon-savvy as we prepared to set our Science-Based Target, we launched a company-wide campaign with Do Nation to pledge to make carbon reductions in our daily lives. Teams competed against each other to save carbon and change habits. It made carbon saving real by linking it to activity we do every day, for example by cycling to work, enjoying more veg based diets and switching to renewable energy to power our homes.

The real work starts when the target it set

Is it daunting to have set such a stretching target? You bet! But this time a few years ago we had no idea how to even set our target and now here we are. We’ve learnt so much along the way and we’ve got great partners helping us to reach our target.

Take our agricultural supply chain, which is another focus area for us as it makes up 11% of our total carbon footprint. To begin to address this we’ve mapped our most carbon intensive crops and identified potential low-carbon farming practices. Ploughing, for example, releases carbon from the soil into the air, so ploughing less, or not at all makes carbon sense. Another example, agroforestry, has many benefits: trees remove carbon dioxide from the air, roots firm up soil helping to prevent soil erosion, and tree nuts, fruits and bark can often provide a secondary source of income for farmers.

We have set up a regenerative agriculture fund to support farmers to trial these solutions. We can’t do any of this without the help of our suppliers. For example, The Organic Herb Trading Company are our herb sourcing partners in the UK. They generate some of their own electricity on site through a 20kW solar array. They also carefully reuse their milling waste for compost for their own herb gardens, sending the rest to local farms and for anaerobic digestion.

My advice to anyone reading this article thinking of setting a carbon target, go for it! You’ll learn so much, unlock innovation and be part of the solution for a sustainable future.

About this interview:

Bristol-based tea company Pukka Herbs commits to reduce absolute Scope 1 & 2 GHG emissions 100% by 2030 from a 2017 base-year.  Pukka Herbs also commits to reduce Scope 3 GHG emissions from crop to cup 50% per million units of products by 2030 from a 2017 base-year. You can read more about Pukka’s overall approach to sustainability in their 2017 Sustainability Report, which besides being interesting and informative, is beautiful!

Vicky originally had this conversation with Ann Armbrecht of The Sustainable Herbs Program - a multi-media project dedicated to educating consumers and the industry about issues of sustainability, quality, and equity in botanical supply chains. 

Featured image courtesy of Ann Armbrecht. 

Infographics courtesy of Pukka Herbs

 

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