Sustainability in business is one of the hottest topics around at the moment, so we decided to take a look at what we're doing at The Homemade Brownie Company to hit our own sustainability goals.
How important is building a sustainable business at The Homemade Brownie Company?
Laura: It's really important to us without question. The sustainability impact we're having is now a factor in every decision we make. It's just such a hot topic at the moment that it's almost impossible not to be conscious of it whenever you're making decisions. The reality is that everybody's now watching what you do closely so even small businesses like us (and us as individuals) are expected to be doing the right thing.
What kind of decisions is it a factor in?
Laura: Almost everything. We've changed quite a lot of our packaging in the last 12 months and we're looking at further changes now as well as considering how we will package new products. Every move we make on this front has an environmental impact so we have to think carefully before making any; for example we just couldn't even consider launching a new product in plastic packaging these days as it wouldn't feel right, nor would it be accepted by customers. We've bought new vans recently too and there's a huge impact there so we had to think that through carefully as well. It's just a consideration in everything now as we want to ensure we're doing the right things wherever possible.
So, what things do you think you're doing well sustainability-wise?
Laura: Packaging is probably the single biggest area for us to think about because we get through so much of it. Obviously all our website, Amazon, wholesale and corporate orders use a lot of packaging to get them delivered safely and even at markets and events we use a lot. Everything we use is now plastic-free and fully recyclable, with a couple of small adhesives exceptions. We also have our vegan range catering for the vegan lifestyle which is obviously a big sustainability driver. Another thing we're really proud of is our ability to run close to zero food waste by selling our brownie leftovers as Broken Brownies and in our new Bargain Boxes (main image).
What more would you like to do to improve your credentials further?
Laura: There are still so many things on the list that we'd like to tackle. We do still use tape and adhesive labels in our packaging which we'd like to find better options for. We also go through a huge amount of fresh eggs and don't currently have a sustainable way of getting rid of the shells; we briefly spoke to a company last year that are able to re-use them in the food and pharmaceutical industries but we aren't generating enough volume to interest them at this point. Both our vans still run on diesel and we'd love to transition these to electric vehicles soon. Honestly, the list really does go on and on as everywhere you look there are things we could do better!
Are there any particular barriers preventing you from doing more?
Laura: There are a few challenges, with cost being the most obvious one. In a perfect world we'd be doing everything in the most sustainable way, but we do have to balance this up with running a profitable business. As an example, electric vehicles are still very expensive and, as a new company, we couldn't get the finance for one which just meant it wasn't viable for us now. Some sustainable solutions still aren't quite up to the level they need to be for everyday use too, such as replacements for the labels and tape we use to seal our greaseproof paper packages. It would be great to use entirely plastic-free options, but if that means customers are receiving packages that have come open in transit it's not a realistic choice. Things are improving all the time and I'm sure there are solid options out there, but it's just a question of finding and testing them over time.
Is there anything you're working on right now?
Laura: Yes, we have a new packaging project happening at the moment and we'd hope that we're able to eliminate a large chunk of the tape and adhesive labels we use once that's completed. We're also looking at investing in a new system which will help us with our production and inventory planning. That should indirectly help us in a number of ways as better planning will allow us to reduce supplier deliveries each week, in turn reducing our carbon footprint, reducing packaging, etc. It should also help us better plan our baking each day and reduce the amount of leftovers we have, as although we manage to sell most of them there's always a small amount that gets wasted.
Do you have any sustainability accreditations?
Laura: We currently don't, but this is definitely something I'd expect us to have in place by the end of next year at the latest. We're aware of a number of organisations out there providing good accreditations and, as well as the obvious positive that accreditation shows you're serious about sustainability, we know they'll be great for providing guidance to us and also for holding us accountable. We're able to make sensible decisions ourselves, but having experts looking over our shoulder will definitely help open our eyes to other opportunities and things we're missing. It's always useful to have somebody watching your progress and ensuring you do all the things you say you're going to as well!
We look forward to continuing to evolve on our sustainability journey as the business grows. We're always looking at ways to improve what we do, so if you have any comments, hints, tips or tricks for us please do get in touch as we'd love to hear from you!