How to green your chocolate. Can your choice of chocolate bar help the environment?

11 Mar 2024
6 min read

The UK is a nation of chocolate lovers, with the average Brit estimated to consume 7,560 chocolate bars in their lifetime! But did you know that choosing the right chocolate bars can help protect the environment and be guilt free?

Cocoa farms are limited to a narrow geographical strip across the equator, and 70% of the world’s chocolate is produced in West Africa, most of it grown on small family farms.

Large companies make huge profits from the $100 billion chocolate industry, while cocoa farmers are estimated to earn just 6% of the final value of a chocolate bar. As a result, more than two thirds of farmers and their families are estimated to live below the poverty line.

This matters because farmer poverty is the main driver of deforestation linked to chocolate production. Deforestation is bad for wildlife and also climate change as the carbon locked away in the trees is released back into the atmosphere. In their desperation to enhance their yields, farmers choose to plant additional cocoa crops in forested land instead of replacing old and dying cocoa trees.

Primate endangered by climate change

Income loss is made worse by soil degradation from the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers, which lowers cocoa yields. These outdated farming methods inevitably exacerbate deforestation, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Over half of the protected areas researched in the Ivory Coast have lost their entire primate populations due to illegal cocoa farming.

Fortunately, there are ethical ways to enjoy your favourite chocolate treats without damaging the environment and improving farmer livelihoods. Here are some useful tips:

1) Look out for sustainable certifications

Check the packaging for sustainable certifications. The Rainforest Alliance (RA) and Fairtrade seals indicate that your chocolate bar has met rigorous environmental and social standards evaluated by third-party auditors. A recent report from the International Trade Centre estimated that only 27% of the total global cocoa area is certified; however, the certified area almost doubled in size (by 90%) from 2014 to 2018, a promising sign that the industry is heading in the right direction.

The RA seal – which is a little frog – certifies the farming method, rather than the product, to ensure that the ingredients are grown and harvested on sustainable farms. The idea is that greener farming methods will produce higher quality cocoa beans over time, which should in turn increase farmer income.

The average Brit estimated to consume 7,560 chocolate bars in their lifetime!

The Fairtrade seal indicates that ingredients in the product were produced and traded under strict standards that ensure chocolate corporations pay fair prices to their farmers. In turn, higher economic security allows cocoa farmers to commit to more sustainable and ethical farming practices.

Looking for certifications good however, the price premiums offered in certification schemes are often not enough to bring farmers out of poverty. That’s why it is even better to…

2) Choose ethical chocolate brands that trade directly with cocoa farmers

Some brands go the extra mile. Tony’s Chocolonely, for example, has a mission to make the chocolate industry “slave-free” by skipping out the middleman and trading directly with cocoa farmers. Farmers are also paid a fair price through an additional premium on top of the Fairtrade premium. The company also invests a percentage of its profits in its Chocolonely Foundation to run community projects, such as improving education and helping young victims of human trafficking.

Divine chocolates are made with 100% Fairtrade ingredients, and the London-based company is co-owned by Ghanaian cocoa farmers. The brand’s aim is to ensure that cocoa producers earn a fair share of the profits. That’s why the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers’ Union, a co-operative of 100,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana, is a significant shareholder of the company—a first in the Fairtrade industry. Divine does not use ingredients associated with large-scale deforestation, such as soy or palm oil, in any of its chocolates, and a number of the bars have Vegan Society approval. A percentage of its profits are also invested towards community programmes, including farmer training and adult literacy and numeracy classes.

Alter Eco is possibly the most sustainable of them all. Its chocolates are certified B Corp, Fairtrade, and organic, and it also offset 100% of its emissions by planting and protecting trees in Central and South America. Moreover, its chocolate wrappers are 100% compostable. It only sources its cocoa from small-scale farmers, and the brand’s new charitable arm—the Alter Eco Foundation—works closely with farmers to help transition their crops to regenerative agriculture, a method that has been shown to significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions.

3) Go vegan

There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that going vegan can help save the planet. A study from the University of Oxford showed that if the whole world switched to a vegan diet, land use for food production would decrease by 76% and greenhouse gas emissions from food production would decrease by almost half.

NOMO is the UK’s number 1 vegan chocolate brand. Its acronym stands for “no missing out.” Its NOMO caramel bar was voted 2020’s Best Vegan Chocolate by Vegan Food UK and 25,000 vegan consumers. Furthermore, it has sent zero waste to landfill over the last 8 years, its cocoa is RA certified and it doesn’t use palm oil in any of its products.

4) If you can’t resist your favourite brands… don’t fret!

Some of the big brands are beginning to recognise the importance of sustainable cocoa sourcing as conscious consumerism grows in popularity.

For example, Galaxy is working towards a deforestation-free supply chain by 2025. Its cocoa is sourced from RA certified farms and it uses farm mapping to prevent cocoa from being sourced from forested land. Its new vegan range is also registered with the Vegan Society and all the packaging in this range is completely recyclable.

Lindt & Sprüngli has developed a stronger commitment to sustainability across its value chain. Its Farming Program enables the brand to trace its raw cocoa beans to their origin – to know where they are sourced and how they’ve been produced. As a result, its worldwide cocoa supply is now 100% traceable.

Some of the big brands are also offering ethical alternatives, such as Cadbury’s first vegan Plant Bar in two delicious flavours: Smooth Chocolate and Salted Caramel. Mars is also offering vegan versions of its popular Bounty and Topic bars.

However, a recent sustainability analysis showed that despite improving efforts, the bigger players in the cocoa industry still have a long way to go, whilst the smaller companies are very much leading the way. Therefore choosing the smaller ethical brands can both minimise the environmental impacts of cocoa production and help to encourage the mainstream chocolate companies to do better.

5) Make sustainable choices in all areas of your life

Cocoa farmers, and the agricultural industry in general, are facing additional pressures from the climate crisis through unpredictable weather patterns.

The sustainable lifestyle choices you make today can therefore have a direct impact not only on the future livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their families, but also on the future availability of your favourite chocolate treats. As consumers, we can all take steps to reduce our carbon footprint. To read more visit One Home’s top ten tips.


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