Businesses Taking on the Challenge to Mitigate Climate Change

Posted on Wednesday, 2 September 2020 under Stories

Reducing the carbon footprint from our food, requires that food systems emissions must be addressed. In BC alone, emissions from food distribution, processing, retail and food services sectors combined are projected at nearly a million tonnes of CO2e.

The Climate Smart industry brief, “Carbon Emissions in the Food and Beverage Sector” encapsulates the breadth of the challenge that eaters face. “As our food travels down the supply chain from growers to processors to grocery stores and restaurants and, ultimately, to our plates, energy, fuel, and other resources are used at every step along the way to grow, transport, prepare, package, cook, and serve the food we eat. This energy and fuel use produces carbon emissions and contributes to climate change, the environmental challenge United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calls ‘the defining issue of our time’.”

Businesses are seeking support from organizations like Climate Smart, to take steps to make meaningful change. “Climate Smart helps businesses to measure and manage their carbon footprint with a business case approach. I think we’re unique in that we’re helping businesses to not only reduce their emissions but also to cut costs,” says Christine VanDerwill, Partnerships and Communications Manager.

two people posing for a photo inside an ice cream store

Photo courtesy of Earnest Ice Cream

Nature’s Path Food and Earnest Ice Cream are both certified Climate Smart businesses in BC. “Each year [Climate Smart] is there to answer questions and hold us accountable. They have been a huge help,” says Ben Ernst, co-owner, Earnest Ice Cream. “We know that we’re measuring our footprint each year and we’re fortunate enough that it’s a small enough footprint that we can buy the carbon offsets to reduce that number to zero or better than zero. More importantly, we’re able to look at where the main sources of our emissions are, what can we change, and what can we work on to reduce those.” While Ernst is not sure if his customers know they participate in Climate Smart, it is important to them and their employees.

VanDerwill suggests that one way eaters can make a difference is to be curious, and support organizations that are showing leadership in taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint. “This is something really tangible that an eater can do to support businesses that are taking action on climate.”

Earnest Ice Cream doesn’t shy away from their commitment to the environment as a company priority.

“Business doesn’t have to be about just making money. In fact, it can be a great platform for activism. It can be a great example for other businesses,  and inspiring a real focal point for making change,” says Ernst.

Beyond being Climate Smart certified, Earnest has a commitment to being a Zero Waste brand. Going Zero Waste means more than reducing and diverting waste from the landfill. It involves taking the extra steps of talking to suppliers, understanding their processes, exploring ways to package items in bulk, reusing shipping materials, and always looking for opportunities to improve. To be successful going Zero Waste, Earnest has had to get creative and consider everything from the employees’ lunches to how they host celebrations and meetings.

Man standing in field.

Dag Falck - photo courtesy of Nature's Path Foods

Earnest Ice Cream customers have embraced Zero Waste by enthusiastically supporting returnable glass jars. Ernst recalls their decision to use glass was made right from the beginning but was met with concerns about freezing, handling, and stocking at grocery stores. “There were various push backs, but the customers loved it and they still do to this day. It has really driven our sales.” He feels because the customers spoke up, the stores were accommodating and happy to have the glass jars and take the extra steps to make space in their storage areas to hold the empties until the next delivery day.

Nature’s Path Foods, Dag Falck, Organic Program Lead says, “Arran Stephens, our founder, says our mission isn’t to make cereal. Our mission is to change agriculture and to farm in a better way that’s better for the earth. That’s the reason for our existence. Everything we do is making good tasting, delicious food in a way that works with nature and enhances nature.”

Falck states, “That’s why we’ve chosen to have everything we grow certified organic, because that’s the system we’ve identified as the best system for ensuring that everybody in our supply chain is following the same kind of philosophy and using the same kind of practices.”

There is no recognizable and universal label on grocery store shelves that tells eaters what food is climate-friendly. If we want our purchases to positively impact climate, we, more often than not, need to do the research and get to know companies, ask questions and understand their mission. Falck suggests that one thing eaters can start doing today, is to eat organic. He explains that most folks only think about “organic” in terms of what organic isn’t and what it doesn’t use in terms of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Falck wants people to recognize what “organic” really is. Organic farming is focused on soil health.

“Conventional agriculture depletes the health of the soil because they’re using the chemical fertilizers and the chemical sprays, but that harms microorganisms and diminishes the soil life,” he continues, “by choosing organic agriculture, you’re helping to retain the health of the soil for future generations. Healthy soil retains water, it retains nutrients better so that nutrients don’t leach into the groundwater, it doesn’t pollute the water with chemicals that are not meant to be in water. By making the choice to eat organic, the good that you’re doing in the world is huge.”

Becoming Resilient in the Face of the COVID-19 Pandemic 

COVID-19 has changed Earnest Ice Cream’s business model and increased the packaging they have to use. While it is technically compostable, Ernst explains that while they can compost the materials with the hauler they use, an eater living in the City of Vancouver, is not able to put those compostable containers into the city’s green waste bins. “It is unfortunate, and I think that’s something that everyone is experiencing in the food industry as we’re trying to figure out safe handling of food and hopefully it is temporary and we can go back to our edible packaging,” says Ernst.

When asked about the resiliency of his business during COVID and the steps that he has taken to withstand the impacts of the pandemic, Ernst says, “It certainly is one of these moments where everyone is becoming a lot more aware of the importance of our food chains and shortening those food chains and the security that comes from knowing your farmer, knowing where your food comes from and participating in that food system.”

In a recent article in BC Business, Nature’s Path Foods is highlighted as a business that is weathering the pandemic and feeling thankful for surviving. Falck speaks to how the company has built a culture of resiliency, “COVID has done many things to make us reflect more deeply about our food system. Some of the things we’ve learned and expect to learn are [the importance] of our strong relationships and supply chains.” He proudly describes their personal relationships with growers, cooperatives, and individual farm owners. “Those are the supply chains that are not breaking down as much as some of the bigger supply chains that are just commodities.”

In April, VanDerwill was uncertain about what the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic would be on Climate Smart, their consulting business. “We found that the businesses that had already had a commitment to sustainability and some legs underneath their work, they have been the ones that have stayed committed through the pandemic.”