Devon farm worked with a university to reduce its carbon footprint

23/09/2021 paulcannon

Riverford grow a range of organic produce on their farms in Devon and northern France. Deliveries cause the bulk of the company’s emissions, with up to 45,000 boxes of produce delivered every week to customers across the UK. Goods also travel back and forth across the Channel, increasing the company’s carbon output.  

Founder Guy Singh-Watson used the Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme to make a carbon footprint study with the help of Exeter University’s Centre for Energy & Environment. His aim was to make the business more sustainable.

The study highlighted areas where the farm could reduce its carbon emissions and make savings. The three main areas were:

  • transport
  • packaging and materials 
  • electricity use

Tackling the biggest carbon-emitting area: Transport

Transport accounted for 72% of Riverford Farm’s total carbon emissions. Contributing factors included:

  • transportation of goods
  • customer deliveries
  • business travel
  • commuting to work by co-owners (Riverford’s ownership is shared among its employees)

To cut emissions, Riverford decided to:

  • organise delivery routes to minimise distances
  • use electric ‘e-cargo’ bicycles for deliveries in urban areas
  • use sea freight instead of air freight, causing 40-50% less emissions
  • make a 100% switch to electric vehicles by 2025

Using biodegradable solutions for packaging 

Packaging and materials accounted for 14% of the farm’s carbon emissions. This included:

  • plastic bags, films and bottles (40.85%)
  • pallet wrap (25.13%)
  • plastic punnets (17.93%)
  • chill pack and insulation (11.79%)

To reduce emissions, the company decided to remove plastic packaging entirely from many products and replace it with recyclable or compostable substitutes. Now over 91% of Riverford’s packaging is biodegradable, preventing 21 tonnes of plastic waste per year

Using renewables to cut electricity bills

Electricity accounted for 11% of the business’s carbon emissions. To reduce emissions, Riverford switched to a 100% renewable energy supplier and installed solar panels

Automated lighting was introduced with more efficient LED lighting bulbs. At one of the farms, a heat recovery system was installed which used waste heat from refrigeration units to heat the rest of the building.

At the main offices and production site at Wash Farm, the solar PV array can now generate 400,000 kWh of electricity per year, resulting in massive savings on energy bills.

Owner Guy Singh-Watson: ‘Riverford’s most recent (2018/19) carbon footprint, carried out by Exeter University, came in at a thumping 11,683 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, largely made up of: transport 68 per cent, packaging 14.7 per cent, and electricity 9.5 per cent. We chose the most demanding scope of assessment, which includes co-owner commutes (surprisingly high at 15%, but likely to drop in 2020/21 because of homeworking), and our own farming emissions (surprisingly low at four per cent).’

Find out more about measures Riverford Farm took to reduce its emissions

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