6th May 2019
Climate and Ecological Emergency
By Louisa Ziane, Toast’s Chief Brand, Culture and Sustainability Officer
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released its global assessment report today. It warns that 1 million species are threatened with extinction. People living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures that we depend on for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate.
This is the second alarming report from the UN within the space of a year, the first by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning that we are on the path to runaway climate change. That report, and the citizen action that has followed, seems to be finally waking many to the urgent need for action.
I began my career in sustainability at the Carbon Trust in 2008, having previously studied the challenges of environmental decision-making at masters level. We knew enough then about climate change to lead the move to a low carbon economy. The Climate Change Act was enacted into UK law in 2008, mandating an 80% cut in greenhouse gases by 2050 to avoid dangerous climate change, and organisations had begun taking action on energy, transport and waste in particular. Over ten years later, we now face a climate and ecological emergency and urgent, transformative action is needed.
We set up Toast in 2015 to tackle food waste with a scalable action – using surplus bread as a key, historic ingredient to prevent it ending up in landfill and pouring all profits back into environmental charities. We open-sourced a recipe for homebrewers and began collaborating with bakers and brewers all over the world to share our experience and magnify our impact. We wanted to change society’s attitude to wasting food with a positive, empowering ‘message in a bottle’. We’re using this approach to support systemic changes that are now so badly needed.
What is the Climate and Ecological Emergency?
The Paris Agreement, agreed at COP 21 on 12 December 2015, is an agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. Its central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5oC.
On 7 October 2018, the IPCC released a report on the state of climate science. They warned that if the planet warmed by 1.5oC there would be devastating consequences, such as the loss of most coral reefs, and increased extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods. The consequences of allowing 2oC warming would be catastrophic. Globally we are already seeing the impacts of climate change, including increasingly frequent heat waves, intense storms and sea level rise. Deforestation and the degradation of soils through intensive farming, particularly the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, is removing nature’s ability to fight back.
We are at the start of the planet’s sixth mass extinction: populations of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have declined in size by 60% since 1970, and insect species are being lost 2.5% annually, projected to be extinct within a decade. IPBES’ global assessment report warns that people living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate.
Given that the planet is currently heading for 3-4oC warming, keeping to 1.5oC requires a radical shift across energy, land, industrial, urban and other systems to reduce emissions, unprecedented in history for its speed. Based on the IPCC findings, we need to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050.
Citizen Action and the Political Response
There is increasing public concern about the twin crises of nature and climate. Since the lone ‘school strike for climate’ protest by Greta Thunberg in August 2018, over 1 million students have gone on strike. On 15 April 2019, Extinction Rebellion – a socio-political movement which uses nonviolent resistance to protest against climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse – began multiple days of action in cities all over the world. I joined them in London, where Toast’s visionary founder Tristram Stuart had also set up Feeding the 5000 style events to create delicious meals for all from food that would otherwise be wasted.
The movement demands that governments:
1. Tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
2. Act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
3. Create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
A group of business leaders, originally under the collective name of XR Business but subsequently rebranded, wrote a letter in The Times. They say that they ‘understand that business as usual is not going to deliver the type of progress we need to ensure successful and sustainable life one Earth’. They have called on businesses to declare the climate emergency and consider the case for urgent action. We were a signatory to that letter.
Politicians are responding. Towns and cities across the UK have declared a climate emergency. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon made the declaration to the SNP conference on 28 April, and Plaid Cymru’s motion in the Welsh Assembly was backed the following day. On 1 May 2019, the UK parliament approved a motion by the Labour Party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to nationally declare an environmental and climate emergency. He said, “this is no longer about a distant future, we’re talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes.” The proposal called on the Government:
- To increase the ambition of the UK’s climate change targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero emissions before 2050,
- To increase support for and set ambitious, short-term targets for the roll-out of renewable and low carbon energy and transport,
- To capture economic opportunities and green jobs in the low carbon economy while managing risks for workers and communities reliant on carbon intensive sectors;
- To lay before the House within the next six months urgent proposals to restore the UK’s natural environment and to deliver a circular, zero waste economy.
This raises more questions about recent decisions. In June 2018, the government approved a third runway at Heathrow airport, already the UK’s biggest single source of greenhouse gases, which could add 250,000 flights a year. Legal challenges argued that environmental factors like air quality and climate change were ignored. They were dismissed by the High Court on 1 May because the Paris Agreement is not part of UK law. Other controversial decisions include Cumbria county council giving the go-ahead for Britain’s first new deep coal mine in 30 years to supply the steel-making market in March 2019, and continued support for shale gas fracking.
The climate emergency motion does not legally compel the UK government to act, but it would be irresponsible for it to fail to do so.
We set up Toast as a circular economy solution to the environmental challenges we face. Food production has an immense impact on the planet, responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and the biggest driver of deforestation, yet we waste one-third of all the food we produce. In the UK, bread is one of the most wasted food items with 44% of it never being eaten. As a nation, we love it, but we don’t cherish it. It is plentiful and relatively cheap, so only a small proportion has its life extended by freezing it, drying it or using it in other recipes. With our beer, we’re using one of the oldest preservation techniques known – fermentation.
By using surplus bakery bread – and we’ve upcycled 1.1 million slices to date – we prevent it ending up in landfill where it can take up to 25 years to decompose without oxygen, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. We also use less barley which requires land, water and energy to grow and malt. At the end of the brewing process, spent grain goes to local farms. It’s used as animal feed and composted to replenish the soils, from which more wheat can be grown for bread and more barley grown for beer. A truly circular beer.
Whilst directly reducing food waste, we also want to change the wider food system. Through positive, empowering messaging, we’re engaging beer drinkers in the simplicity of solving the problem: we simply need to value our food and its origins and stop wasting it. To this end, all our profits go to support charitable work for the environment. The vision of Feedback, our main partner, is a world where nutritious, delicious food is available for everyone and human activities replenish rather than degrade the environment.
Our ambition is to create a global solution by working with local communities rather than exporting. We set up in London, brewing on a contract basis with local Hackney Brewery and now with Yorkshire-based Wold Top as our sales have grown. As opportunities came to work with friends around the world, we set up licensing arangements in South Africa, Iceland, Brazil, and most recently Ireland. We also set up a small subsidiary in New York. For each, we found local brewers to produce Toast under our branding, local sources of bread to donate their surplus, and local charity beneficiaries who are changing the food system. We also collaborate on unique bread beers with brewers around the world, including partners in Sweden, San Francisco and Melbourne.
Our B Corp Community
In May 2018, we became a Certified B Corp and locked our social mission into our Articles of Association. We’re proud to be part of a community of businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability. They include environmental stewards like Patagonia and Finisterre, social champions like The Big Issue and Cafédirect and ethically-driven businesses like Triodos Bank. They include FMCG brands like Ella’s Kitchen, Rebel Kitchen and Cook, and B2B businesses like Escape the City, Kin&Co and Volans. They include multinational companies and their subsidiaries, like Danone UK and Unilever (who own Pukka Herbs and Ben & Jerry’s), small businesses like Winnow, Bulb and Flooglebinder, and co-operatives like Divine Chocolate.
We strive to be an active member of that community, working together with existing B Corps and supporting those wanting to join the movement. I recently joined a sub-group of B Corp business leaders focussed on helping other businesses to create a meaningful response to the climate emergency, drafting the first edition of the ‘How to Declare a Climate Emergency’ playbook.
As a responsible member of society, we believe it would be irresponsible and a breach of duty for businesses to continue as though there was not a climate emergency. There are huge implications for all businesses, from supply chain disruption to changing pressure from employees and customers. Businesses producing, or reliant on, fossil-fuels and other non-renewable resources are already experiencing a steady and significant stream of divestment. It is also an opportunity to rebuild the economy for the benefit of all.
Our Shared Future
Our Board has formally declared a climate and ecological emergency and we’re reviewing our business in this context to shape our short, medium and long term strategy. We’ve already done a huge amount to be a responsible business, but there is always more we can do directly or by supporting our wider community. We are totally committed to doing what is required. We would love to hear from you if you have any ideas, or if we can help you in any way, for example by supporting you on the journey to becoming a Certified B Corp.
The word ‘companion’ comes from the latin word ‘com’ meaning ‘with’, and ‘panis’ meaning ‘bread’, originally used to describe someone with whom you shared a meal. We believe we can use the power of food (and beer!) to unite people as companions in finding positive solutions. We have immense capacity for bold action if we work together.