Allison Roberts of Clonakilty Chocolate and Exploding Tree has been interested in the environment and how we impact upon it from an early age. “I’m not entirely sure why, but perhaps it’s as a result of a Canadian kids’ magazine called OWL and the cartoons ‘The Smoggies’ and ‘Captain Planet’. I wasn’t raised with these values, or in an area that celebrated them.
“The Girl Guides then sustained my early interest in the enviroment and then of course I got plenty of first hand experience whilst travelling. I also read the book ‘Time to eat the dog? A real guide to sustainable living’ about 10 years ago and it really set my course; I highly recommend it.”
Allison believes that most of the responsibility for sorting out the climate change crisis we face lies with businesses. “The system has been driven to environmental crisis by maximising profit for shareholders and the marketing madness that has led to people wanting products with more packaging to ever before. We, as business owners, have an opportunity to swing things around, change trends, and have the most major impacts.
“Imagine if Cadburys’ packaging was all biodegradable? In the beginning they were an amazingly socially responsible company, but growth, several buy-outs and management shifts have taken them miles away from their roots.”
Allison admits it is perhaps easier to make ‘green decisions’ in her business than in her wider life because those decisions are on a more focused scale. “I only make chocolate; I’m not also deciding about every different meal I eat, where we go on holiday, what to buy my sister for Christmas. My business decisions are on a bit of a loop – repeating – buy paper, order more packaging, clean the floor, order ingredients.
“There is always the opportunity to keep improving on your supply chain – making it ‘greener’. Of course, a lot of companies don’t do this because of the ‘bottom line’ – a terrible cop-out of a term that just means profit is more important than our planet.
“Of course no business is perfect but imagine if all businesses tried their best, did one thing more each month, learned one more way to make their product so their customers could then enjoy it without creating more plastic waste, more environmental damage.”
Allison shares the things Clonakilty Chocolate has done to lessen the enviromental impact of the business.
“We have to think of the environment and working conditions of our supplier countries as mcuh as our local environment. The Fairtrade cocoa we use, supports smaller farms and more environmentally-friendly farming practices and the organic cocconut sugar that I use is the world’s most sustainable sweetner according to the UN.
“Since 2010 we have had compostable and biodegradable packaging, using either paper or vegetable/wood-based clear plastic-like films that compost. The clear film I use is sourced from a company called Eco-Craft in the UK but I also use Down2Earth Materials in Cork and the Tiny Box Company among others.
“I have found it very frustrating at times trying to find the information I need about my packaging – companies are never totally straightforward about eco-credentials. I had an experience where a small plastic-like tab had to be pulled away from my biodegradable chocolate bar pouches, which I disposed of in my own home compost. Two years later, digging out my compost, I discovered none of these little tabs were in fact compostable. I rang the company and they only said that ‘yes, they did know that now and were onto their manufacturer to find an compostable solution’; that meant I now have roughly 50,000 of these tiny tabs that I am still sorting out of my compost.
“I have changed my packaging so that I don’t use these self-seal pouches anymore. The coffee style pouch I use for products like tea and cooking chocolate is made of BioTre and has a paper exterior on an a kind of oil-based liner containing an additive, which makes it biodegrade completely in about five years; much better than the 450-year lifespan of the standard coffee pouches available. The technology is always improving, next time I would use Oxo-Degradable bags, a new product I have discovered available through pouchshop.co.uk.
“I’m in the midst of redoing all my packaging and branding, so I have found a great company in the north called Priory Press that do beautiful recycled card (that is compostable or can be recycled) using vegetable based inks.
“I am also trying to shift to providing chocolate unwrapped as much as possible. Customers come to my HQ to refill pouches of either rough broken chocolate or bars, and I am delighted to have rough chocolate, cocoa nibs, cocoa husk tea and my coated cocoa beans at the amazing Twig refill shop in Clonakilty.
“We aim for zero-waste – that everything that comes in to the factory is used. Our main waste is floor brushings, bits of tape and glossy ads/magazines that I am constantly on a mission to stop getting in the post. From February 2018 to February 2019, as part of our documented ‘cut-the-rubbish’ project, I was happy to measure that the business produced just 4kgs of rubbish. We get our beans in hessian sacks that are reused, most of our other ingredients come in large paper sacks, and our coconut sugar comes in large heavy weight plastic bags that we reuse several times before using as our rubbish bags. Smaller quantities of ingredients like dried fruit and nuts I now buy from TWIG in Clonakilty.
“As regards transport: We cycle when delivering in town, use trains and buses as a rule of thumb, and don’t fly for anything business-related. We have just gotten our first motorised vehicle for the family (a campervan), which worked beautifully as a market stall at the Baltimore Boat Festival recently, so we can double up on work and play.
“I keep the general running of the business in line with my values, like buying only recycled paper products (printing, kitchen, toilet), using earth friendly cleaners and biodegradable cloths etc. Kleepaper is a company in Ireland that I have recently discovered and that I order most of these supplies from.”