With Nottingham’s businesses increasingly hungry for inspiration on how they can make a difference to the environment, we catch up with Treat Kitchen’s Jess Barnett who’s been leading efforts at the major local exporter. She explains why going carbon neutral didn’t cut it for them, and how they’re shifting their focus to reducing their own emissions and keeping projects local.
Treat Kitchen are one of Nottingham’s most visible business success stories of recent years. Starting out with a humble shop on Wheeler Gate (since moved to a prime spot in Victoria Centre), they’re also big in the wholesale game - you’ll find them in ASDA and Sainsbury’s, as well as higher end fare like Urban Outfitters, House of Fraser, and a range of garden centres. Like all good businesses worth their salt, Treat Kitchen are also conscious of the impact they’re having on the planet.
Their sustainability journey, Jess Barnett - Co-Founder and Brand Director - tells me, started about a year and a half ago. Selling to major retailers across 21 countries worldwide, and necessarily doing a lot of importing themselves, the little changes make a big difference. They’re “very much a design sensitive business looking at new product development, different ways of presenting delicious sweets and snacks”, Jess explains.
I chatted with Treat Kitchen back in June 2021. At the time they mentioned their carbon neutral workforce (a scheme delivered in partnership with global offsetting company Ecologi), but they found the results, often feeding into projects in far-flung countries, too remote. This jarred with their local values, and they “didn’t feel any connection to the projects we were supporting”, Jess says.
“We wanted to take it further and to try and embed sustainability across the whole business”, which is when they called on support from Nottingham Trent University’s (NTU) Sustainability in Enterprise (SiE) project. Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the SiE project helps SMEs in Greater Nottingham with a range of funding and practical support to reduce their carbon emissions. The SiE consultants confirmed that the company was carbon neutral, but the reliance on offsetting didn’t feel right, so they’ve shifted emphasis towards reducing their own emissions.
Carbon neutral refers to our scope one and two emissions - fuel we burn directly, and energy we use. If those direct emissions are balanced, such as via tree planting or other projects helping to draw down greenhouse gases, a company may call itself carbon neutral, but there’s technically no obligation to reduce those emissions.
A company may call itself carbon neutral, but there’s technically no obligation to reduce those emissions
Now, Treat Kitchen are going for a bronze accreditation from Investors in the Environment, which will help ensure they track their use of resources and implement an action plan to reduce their impact. “This will direct us to more targets, things like getting a comprehensive sustainability plan, getting all of our team on board, and having a corporate communications plan. I think that’s a better place for us to start rather than just saying we're going to carbon offset it all.”
“Our focus is more on sustainable community work now,” she adds. One such partnership they’re developing is with the Canal & Rivers Trust, who they’re helping via supplying tools, wild garlic bulbs, and (of course) cake, helping boost nature-based wellbeing opportunities for locals via social prescribing, and making the nearby Nottingham and Beeston Canal better for wildlife. They like that “it’s ten minutes walk away, so it's a project that we can go down have a look at, see how the plants are growing, and see people enjoying it”.
Internally Treat Kitchen have set up a task force looking at problems like procurement and waste material they produce, which has led to buying a box compressor to make bales of cardboard which are more efficiently recycled, and a plastic baler for pallet wraps, which they offer out to other businesses on their estate. With NTU’s help, they’ve also been looking at their production methods.
Jess explains: “Our work with the NTU product development team has looked at the lifecycle of our message bottles, one of our best sellers. We've always thought it's quite a good product in terms of sustainability because of its upcycle potential, you can reuse it for all sorts of things, but it’s maybe a misconception that glass is better than plastic in terms of emissions, and we wanted to look into that. One of the quick wins was using a lighter bottle with thinner glass, and that also made the overall delivery of glass that we get lighter. It saved a lot in terms of transport and materials, but the bottle looks exactly the same.”
Internally Treat Kitchen have set up a task force looking at problems like procurement and waste material they produce
I ask what the business impact of their environmental efforts has been, and she notes that this work hasn’t just made them feel better or helped the environment - it’s also boosted profit margins. “One of the beauties of people looking at their sustainability is it's not just green wins, there's some financial savings to be had too, like switching to LED lighting, that can save you lots of energy usage and, therefore, money.”
As understanding of their impact has deepened, Treat Kitchen have realised that a lot of their environmental impact is tied up in their supply chain. These are the scope three, or indirect, emissions which if sufficiently reduced and offset get you to net zero.
“We work with major confectionary suppliers all over the world. The majority of them send the sweets in three kilo plastic bags which are non-recyclable, and that’s across the industry. That’s just ridiculous, because we get through thousands and other companies must get through thousands. We can only do what we can do, but we’re constantly asking suppliers for their sustainability policies.” Jess thinks the answer lies in customer pressure, uniting in demanding eco-friendly alternatives.
Finally, Jess offers suggestions as to how other businesses make headway on reducing their environmental impact. “Talk to other organisations, like the universities who've got that specialist skills, and talk to other businesses. Until you're talking to other businesses, you don’t know what solutions are out there.” And she feels businesses can have more impact by supporting local community projects directly. “There's so much going on, particularly in Nottinghamshire that you could be getting involved with and supporting - not just financially, but also by promoting them or learning about them.
“It’s never easy knowing that you're doing the right thing, but I think if we can keep it local then we can talk to the people that are directly involved and understand the issues better. I'm really pleased we're taking it in that direction.”
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