We’ve been extremely concerned about the environment like most people since a young age. We believe it is a problem that the whole of society must tackle. We, as a company, and employees of that company, must do whatever we can to make a difference, even if small. We’ve learnt it is a very difficult task to get right - decisions must be thoroughly considered as it’s easy to do more harm than good. I’m almost embarrassed to write some of things we have done as they are so tiny they could be deemed pointless, such as re-using piping bags, however we believe we get something back from doing something however small.
We have tried to place sustainability at the heart of the company. What this means to us, for example, is that when we are buying packaging for our cakes, we seek out the most environmentally-friendly solution first, as opposed to the prettiest or cheapest. We believe this is actually putting the customer first.
Every decision is different and when making any decision, the environmental impact is properly investigated. A great example is replacing a perfectly good delivery van with an electric one. At first, it may seem like the obvious thing to do, but recent research by Yuya Nakamoto and Shigemi Kagawa from Kyushu University in Japan concluded that it is significantly more environmentally-friendly to extend the lifespan of a car than to replace it with an electric one.(1) It’s important to realise this might change as China and Asia start using cleaner energy to produce electric cars components.
When we ran our little shop, it was horrifying to watch and learn about the amount of waste a food outlet creates. I remember it well to this day, how genuinely soul destroying it was. We would have to freshly bake and fully stock the shop each day, and you simply couldn’t predict how much you would sell - on some rare days we would sell out, but most days there was waste. There are apps now that shops can sign up to to sell or donate unsold food however our products are special occasion treats. Since closing the shop, we make absolutely everything to order without any waste and only very minor additional costs. This means that we never ever throw a single cake in the bin. We take stock control very seriously and we ensure there are never any wasted ingredients. We design our cakes with waste in mind and this is also a reason why we limit bespoke orders – the gripe we have about custom cakes is that they often result in wasted ingredients and supplies.
We used to have massive three phase 17kw rotary ovens that weighed a tonne. They were the industry standard and pretty much all that could be used to bake sponges perfectly, time and time again. Once ours came to the end of their lives, we extensively considered what the most environmentally friendly option would be. Open up oven research. There were many differences between the ovens' efficiency levels but we weren’t just considering that. We were looking at the carbon cost of installing the power requirements, the carbon cost of transporting the oven and the oven itself. We quickly realised big machinery, like the rotary oven, came with higher carbon costs from manufacturing to installation when compared to much smaller single phase ovens up to 7.2kw. However, we couldn’t use these smaller ovens with our current baking schedule as they were just too small. It was a massive set-back. However, we were determined. We changed the way we worked, by completely changing our bakery schedule and capacity – yes there is a degree of inconvenience but it’s worth it because our electric consumption went down drastically, more than 50%. And we are so thankful we made that change considering energy costs in these times. It’s the single most effective change we’ve made.
Our office has been a thorn in our side since the start of the business. An office and a bakery just don’t go well together as they have very different heating requirements. So during lockdown, the office situation changed for us and we took the opportunity to build a office that doesn’t use electricity. We use a solar set-up consisting of solar panels, lithium batteries, an MPPT controller, an inverter and a battery monitor. It’s brilliant - it runs our lights, small fridge (we got a small 12v one which we can leave on all the time - it’s an extremely efficient marine fridge with an excellent compressor), computers, music system and small heater. It’s totally off grid. For the extreme cold we have a diesel heater that was the most environmentally-friendly solution for us – mainly because England is mild for most of the year.
Going forward, we want to establish the carbon cost of a small water treatment plant and to consider other means of heating (at the time of writing this I’m looking at our new roof insulation improvements to reduce moisture and heat loss – they’re a bit unsightly at the moment!). We are also hoping to have the money to install a small wind turbine. The office is sort of an experiment for an off-grid bakery which is admittedly more of a dream than anything else (but I do think we could get extremely close).
We brought a delivery vehicle a number of years ago, before electric was mainstream and viable. Currently we have determined that it is more environmentally-friendly to use our petrol vehicle for at least a few more years. We hope the situation will have improved by then. We took into account its remaining usable life, its scrappage cost or second-hand retail carbon cost, its current carbon footprint, and replacement carbon cost including sales and manufacturing.
Relying on research conducted by Yuya Nakamoto and Shigemi Kagawa “A generalized framework for analyzing car lifetime effect on stock, flow and carbon footprint” we concluded extending the life of our vehicle was the most sustainable option. We will monitor the situation and work on fully incorporating the consideration of air pollution within our core delivery areas into our decision.
Recently ‘The Seventh Pan-European Environmental Assessment’ published by the UN (find it here) made the following key point: “Countries in the pan-European region are expanding policies to tackle air pollution. Some progress has been made, but increased effort is needed. The health impact of long-time exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) with a diameter less than 2.5 µm (PM2.5) in 41 European countries was reduced by 13 per cent in the period 2009–2018 and that of nitrogen oxides (NOx ) by 54 per cent. However, the number of premature deaths due to ground-level ozone exposure increased in that period by an estimated 24 per cent, possibly caused by higher mean temperatures.” As Londoners, we know how horrible the air can get and it's time we find out what we can do.
We believe that custom packaging has a significantly larger carbon footprint than off-shelf packaging as there is far more shipping involved, transport costs, ink costs and more material costs. We also realised that most of our customers never actually see our cake boxes. With these two points in mind we quickly stopped our bespoke cake packaging and use UK printed stickers to convey the necessary information. No one has complained so I think we were right.
We did a few things when we moved into our bakery:
1. Installed programable light switches to ensure the lights could never be accidently left on. Leaving them on just once was enough to undo so much good.
2. When we moved into the bakery the lights were very old, inefficient and needed to be replaced. We created zones with different lighting requirements and replaced all the overhead lights with very efficient LEDS and optimally spaced. We were able to buy two less lights by taking into account working height in the area, how much light we needed, shadow considerations and how the LED illuminates the area. We stuck these into our mixer and the answer came out. The zones allow us to turn off the lights in certain areas when they are not in use (namely where we take photographs). At the very end of the day, for example, now only two lights are used. Furthermore, they are all voice controlled to ensure ease of use (and in bakeries light switches have a habit of getting dirty quick).
3. In the toilet we installed a sensor-based light and used a high-quality LED.
We chose an AC unit based on the following criteria - the highest Energy Efficiency Ratio, reliability and estimated longevity. When selecting the AC we were very careful to size the unit cautiously, our AC engineer was able to show us how larger units are often far more efficient and getting one too small for your requirements is a mistake. We ended up with a 7.2kw unit which proved much more efficient than a 3kw for our purposes. We then carefully selected where it would be installed and changed our bakery layout to ensure it would operate as efficiently as possible. We have also installed timers to ensure it can never be left on accidently.
We bought the most energy efficient fridges we could afford – the most energy efficient model was silly money from a relatively unknown entity, and it was only marginally more efficient. The purchasing bit was easy, but what we learnt in the process was that installation, maintenance and operation can have dramatic effects on how much energy they use. For one, they generate a lot of wasted heat – we use this as natural heating in the colder months, and then we switch to channelling the heat out of the building through simple venting in the warmer months. It was extremely easy to do (who doesn’t love an easy win) and by improving the energy efficiency we also increased the operational life of the fridges as the compressors work less. We have taught ourselves to open the doors as little as possible, and for the shortest time possible - when commercial fridg doors are opened they have to recover their internal temperature very quickly, and this draws a lot of power. We’ve installed Bluetooth temperature monitors (it’s a legal requirement to monitor and log the temperature of your fridges in a commercial setting) which we use to check how often the door opens to ensure we remain efficient. Finally, we ensure everything put inside the fridges allows for the air to flow easily on all sides which reportedly can reduce the burden on the compressor. At this point, we have scheduled in time to assess any cool (pun intended) new technology relating to fridges.
As with the ovens, we changed our mixers to less energy consuming 1 phase models. By making small changes to our procedures we were able to easily adapt to using much smaller mixers. These also had the benefit of being easier and lighter to use.
We didn’t find any ways we could improve our water efficiency except for one. We added a foot pump to turn the water on and off at the sinks. We’ve found our water consumption went down about 15%. We are going to shortly assess a dishwasher that may help the situation which is designed to use far less water than conventional washing-up or dishwashers and very little energy.
We always knew that websites consume energy. We investigated ours and we found out that our website was causing a huge amount of unnecessary carbon emissions by having large images, superfluous content and so on. Basically, the quicker the website loads the more environmentally-friendly it is. We set out on a mission to reduce our website page file size, we started removing anything we thought unnecessary and then engaged a specialist speed agency to improve the website speed. It was tedious and fraught work but in the end we reduced the size of the average website page by circa 54%. We also changed our hosting provider to one using clean energy. We now rank better than 65% of websites, but because ours is an ecommerce website we will always be well behind simpler websites. We believe we are as efficient as one can be, however we also know there is room for improvement. We are having discussions with a company who will rebuild the website from scratch to be much quicker and more environmentally-friendly. It’s a huge and expensive job, but necessary. If you are interested in creating a greener web, please read and sign the Sustainable Web Manifesto.
We have always tried to subscribe to a circular way of operating. We use our equipment carefully and be as energy efficient as possible. We maintain the equipment properly and do our darndest to make everything last as long as possible. We’ve learnt how to replace the compressors on our fridges, how to replace the gearing in a mixer and how to keep the oven going and going and going.
One thing we did well when moving bakeries after a nearby fire damaged our building, was to pick a location that didn’t get too much light. We found having too much sunlight sent our cooling bill through the roof.
For insulation we did nothing! We don’t use the heater very often and most of the time we actually want the hot air to escape!
We have always used the finest suppliers who are dedicated to sourcing the finest ingredients. When we audited our supply chain we were very impressed how all our suppliers shared our concerns about the environment and were actively improving, eg: streamlining their delivery zones delivery days. Whilst it can cause some inconvenience, we learnt to work together better and it helps us plan further in advance which is never a bad thing!
We attempted to make carbon offsetting work on our website a little while back but were unsuccessful. We are monitoring the situation for changes to facilitate it and also still formulating an opinion on how best to do it. When we build our next website, we are thinking about installing a custom carbon calculator (because we do our cake deliveries in-house it’s not something off the shelf apps can do for us) and offset the delivery emissions.
Our landlord is responsible for our electricity. It is communally provided to a number of buildings and he can’t change at the moment. The company used does use solar and is increasing its capacity. We have asked if there is a possibility to change to another supplier with a much lower carbon footprint and one that actively builds solar farms.
We use a waste collection company that runs a recycling centre. We recycle everything possible. The company are very open, and we can even visit their facility. We separate our carboard and then compress it for efficient transport. Food waste is separated by us, and general waste is sorted by the waste company. We were genuinely impressed how much they were able to recycle. What they don’t recycle is burnt to produce green energy which is much better than using landfill.
We believe it is people’s choice how they get to work, however we attempt to encourage bike use by providing free access to a bike. I too am guilty of relying on the bus; I walk my little boy to school in the morning and it’s not viable to return home and get a bike. It needs a solution.
In summary we have come a long way, but we feel like we are just at the start of our journey. We promise to keep improving and to never forget to put the environment first in our decision-making processes. We think that is how best we can help. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, we welcome them.
(1) Yuya Nakamoto and Shigemi Kagawa: A generalized framework for analyzing car lifetime effects on stock, flow, and carbon footprint. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 2021; DOI: 10.1111 / jiec.13190