Reading the tea leaves: Pukka Herbs’ push to address climate change

A recent report ranked the UK poorly on certain sustainability issues, but a number of companies are choosing to make a move before the government takes action.

29 November 2018

From the crop right through to the cup, organic tea company Pukka Herbs has set out plans to tackle climate change in its own operations, as well as through its suppliers.

It has joined brands such as Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Coca-Cola European Partners by becoming the 13th company in the UK to have its climate goal – to be zero carbon by 2030 – validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). In its supply chain, where things are out of its direct control, it has committed to reducing emissions by 50%.

The SBTi is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF. The initiative defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting, and independently assesses and approves companies’ targets.

Pukka Herbs, a £36m Bristol-based organisation, was founded in 2001 by Tim Westwell and herbalist Sebastian Pole. It now works with over 5,000 organic growers worldwide.

A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that failures to hold global warming at moderate levels mean “unprecedented changes” are required, with international scientists claiming it is the final call to save the world from climate catastrophe.

From field to factory

While Pukka Herbs already uses recyclable tea envelopes and renewable energy, it has mapped out its carbon footprint, breaking down total carbon output from ‘crop to cup.’ A complex tea production supply chain means over 90% of carbon emissions are outside its direct control, but 25% of its carbon footprint comes from growing its herbs and making its packaging.

To start, the company will begin using low-carbon farming techniques that reduce emissions and store more carbon in soils.This will include ploughing less, as it releases carbon from the soil into the air; better composting to help lock more water into the soil, which is important in times of future drought; and planting trees for nuts, fruits and bark, which can often provide a secondary source of income for farmers.

It is also investing £45,000 in pilot carbon-reduction projects in collaboration with suppliers and the communities growing its specific herbs, while generating more accurate data relating to its specific carbon impact in-situ, via a field-based app.

The tea-maker has inspired other companies in its supply chain to switch to renewable energy, including Infusion, Pukka’s blending and packing partner.

Forget government action

Pukka plans to get consumers in on the act by tackling the emissions caused from boiling kettles,which have the greatest impact – 49% in its value chain. Its ‘Smart Boiling’ campaign will encourage people to adopt some simple practices to make a ‘Pukka cuppa.’ Boiling only the amount of water people need and switching to renewable energy could save consumers nearly £1m a day in electricity, the company added. In future, all its company vehicles will also be electric.

Co-founder Pole said the company are committing to reductions in line with what climate scientists are telling people needs to happen and not just what they think is achievable as a business.

“As the recent IPCC report tells us, there is now a small window of opportunity. Keeping temperature rises to within 1.5 degrees is, quite literally for many, the only way to live. This demands serious commitment and bold action from everyone, no matter what size their business. It is no use waiting for governments to take action, businesses have a responsibility to act as a force for good and now,” he said.

Sustainability scoring

The campaigns come as the UK’s sustainability credentials are being scrutinised. Though the country scored full marks for its climate change mitigation this year, according to the 2018 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), its overall ranking was 24 out of 67 countries.

Britain performed badly on sustainable agriculture, ranking 55 behind countries such as Brazil, Egypt, India and Sierra Leone, as well as being in the bottom half among EU countries for metrics like agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. It scored well in other areas, however, such as quality of policies to address food loss, compulsory nutrition education and quality of animal welfare regulation.

The FSI, which is led by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation, assesses country performance on 89 indicators, from food waste per head to childhood obesity, sustainability of fish stocks to working conditions in food and farming.

The Food Ethics Council is calling for the UK to address sustainability and introduce anew, inclusive food strategy.

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, said:“It’s not good enough to simply lump together separate plans and bills and to call that a strategy. We need a strategy that genuinely joins the dots, with good food and farming contributing to public health, environmental concerns being tackled hand in hand with animal welfare concerns, and resources being shared fairly so that everyone can access good food.”

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