Let's talk about how a grocery delivery company REALLY does good things for the environment

Let's talk about how a grocery delivery company REALLY does good things for the environment

. 8 min read

So, let’s say what we’re all thinking. How does a grocery delivery company that only delivers household basics AND sells generic as well as eco-alternative brands do more for the environment than say, your average grocery company or ones with a sustainable-only range? Surely that’s just adding to carbon emissions by forcing people to split their shop. Surely by showing cheaper non-eco options side by side with pricier sustainable alternatives, you’re not encouraging your consumer to make the greener choice?

When Douglas Morton, Bother founder and CEO, set out to solve the issue of shopping for boring basics, the environment was absolutely number one on his agenda. Frustrated at how environmentally inefficient the industry had become, he wanted to make sure that Bother's entire business model was built on eco foundations. He wanted to make it simple for customers to make better choices, while reducing the impact of every grocery shop.

It’s a complicated message to land, particularly with an increasingly sensitive and eco focused consumer base, but one that Douglas believes is worth fighting for.

Well, now’s your chance Douglas. We sat down with him to talk about what Bother does differently.

First things first, let’s talk about what you found out when you were researching the grocery industry when Bother was just a tiny little lightbulb in your head. Was the eco angle always part of the idea?

Yep, a hundred per cent. It was always front and centre. I remember hearing a statistic about how reducing our impact on the environment was as much about the way we live our lives as a population as it is about the product choices we make as individuals and it really resonated. A few months later, I was sitting in a traffic jam full of people in their cars trying to get into a supermarket car park and it struck me that here was this antiquated industry that impacts everyone’s lives, yet was hugely environmentally inefficient and hadn’t really changed in 3 generations.

When I looked at our bills I also realised that around half the value of our shop was super boring things that were heavy to carry home and aside from those items, I didn’t really want to get the fresh stuff in a supermarket or in an online delivery anyway. I would much rather get all that stuff on my nice local high street. So, I thought there had to be a better way. When I started doing some research I came across some pretty mind-boggling facts and stats. And these formed the building blocks of Bother. The environmental inefficiency of the way we live our lives and actually my frustration that so many companies were only focusing on product based solutions that put pressure on consumers in terms of price and convenience, rather than helping our day to day lives become more efficient was the initial seed from which Bother grew.

We have always known that as a message, this would take time for customers to understand. It’s not a simple story, but changing consumer habits never is and we believe it is an effort worth making.

Well this all sounds pretty interesting. Have to say, we love a stat too – you never know when it’s going to come in handy in a (virtual) pub quiz. So what kind of stats are we talking about?

Ok well, the really big one and something that really helped me think about the way I shaped the business was discovering that more than 90% of all carbon emissions are not derived from the manufacturing process but are held within the distribution and usage of the products themselves. These are called ‘Scope 3 Emissions’.

90%? Wow that is bonkers. We definitely would’ve assumed that things like cow farming would take a way bigger share.  

Cow farming is another big one for sure, but remember we are talking about carbon emissions here and on that basis the food we eat isn’t even the largest contributor to the average household footprint.

Travel is the biggest perpetrator here, and that doesn’t even include the distribution of products to shops nor any of the airmiles we rack up. When combining this with the fact that more than 90% of the industrial footprint is in these ‘Scope 3 Emissions’ the reality is that our impact as consumers is far less about WHAT we consume but HOW we consume it.

That is what really matters. When you look at the grocery industry specifically, over 8% of the average home’s carbon footprint could be derived from household shopping alone.

The good news however, is that this also means there are some pretty simple changes that we can make as a society that have the potential to have a significant impact on our environment. Taking the pressure off the individual and spreading it across society, as it were.

Ah, gotcha.  That’s super interesting. But what about online deliveries, surely they help?

To an extent yes. But the reality is that still 50% of all grocery shopping in the UK is done by people getting into their cars and driving to the shops and the predominant and increasing reason for these car journeys is to pick up heavy household goods, not food which is increasingly being bought in convenience stores, through online recipe boxes and at local high streets. Furthermore, the main reason people do not shop on line for groceries at all is because they want to see, feel and touch their fresh produce before they buy. If we can separate these two things, we have a chance to free up a significant amount of environmental inefficiency.

Unfortunately, those that do get fresh produce delivered through online supermarkets, don’t fare much better from an environmental stand point. Aside from the cost of sending everything in a refrigerated van, it is only the fresh produce that requires the customer to be at home to take delivery within a nominated time slot. What this means is that even a carbon neutral fleet doesn’t help because scientific analysis shows that these just contributing to peak time congestion which obviously is a big problem for carbon emissions.

And those refrigerated vans can’t help a whole lot either?

No definitely not, but the fact is that those household goods don’t need to be in there. Which is why we want to totally own the separating out of fresh and non-fresh grocery as just by doing that, we can vastly reduce the impact of shopping on an average household’s carbon emissions. Non perishables (that can be left in safe places), that can be delivered at off peak times, in non refrigerated vans. It’s a win win win.

So, talk to us a bit more about the products you sell. Because on the surface it’s not an obviously eco-first range which is probably the first thing an eco-conscious consumer would notice?

Ok great! I’m really glad you asked this as it’s something that I feel passionate about. There’s already loads of retailers serving that quite niche consumer-base who want to only buy eco products. And they pay a premium for it. But the unfortunate reality is that this is still quite a niche and in many cases affluent audience. On the other side, we’ve got retailers who just have thousands and thousands of products. So much choice that it’s overwhelming (and time-consuming) for a customer to shop. Plus the eco options are hidden away and comparatively expensive so it doesn’t make sense for them to make those eco choices. The popular brands dominate – they're  more visible, cheaper and easier to add to your basket.

Ok so you’re saying it’s about visibility?

Pretty much. But it’s predominantly about providing solutions for the masses and not just for the few. Making better choices easier to make. Selling eco products to the eco conscious is not going to change the world, but making those choices easier to make for those that do not make eco choices... now we’re talking! And if we can also reduce the impact of whatever choices you do make, then that becomes a pretty powerful offering in terms of the environment. By showing planet-friendly products alongside the popular brands, with equal visibility and competitive prices, we’re making better choices easier to make. It’s not necessarily about getting every single customer to swap every single product in their box for an eco alternative. It’s about giving customers the easiest way to make choices that make sense for them and their families, all while knowing that whatever products they choose, that carbon footprint is lower. Also, by attracting that wider demand, we’ll be able to reduce the cost of those eco products through time and make the most powerful impact – changing habits of the unconvinced rather than just reinforcing the habits of people who are already eco conscious.  It’s about building out a business that is more relatable and tangible to the mass market which means the positive environmental impact will grow exponentially as our business grows. Sustainable solutions need to be self-sustaining and scalable in themselves... otherwise they are not solutions at all. They are costs.

So, it’ll massively up the accessibility of eco products to the average consumer while also not putting all the pressure onto consumer choices?

Bother is really not here to preach. But by creating that mass appeal, it means that we can leverage the big FMCG brands that have the real power to impact the industry as a whole (where most of the inefficiencies lie) rather than individual products. For them, we are attempting to show more clearly what consumers want and what they are willing to pay for thus hopefully speeding up the manufacturing innovation for the industry as a whole towards more sustainable products.

So it’s sort of taking that pressure off consumers and putting it back onto big business?

Which is 100% where it belongs. Asking consumers to make huge changes just isn’t realistic or sustainable. We’re never going to stop flying planes and the current market isn’t conducive to customers choosing expensive eco products every time. It has to be about the easier option if we want to create real change. Those changes need to be viable both for consumers and for manufacturers otherwise they will fail.

Well, when you put it like that, it all sounds pretty easy to us.

Haha, well easy for the customer. It’s obviously a real challenge for us. But one I’m genuinely excited about. Essentially, Bother has been built on a mission to have long term, lasting and sustainable (in both senses of the word) impact. The aim is to reshape the industry and provide climate positive solutions to the masses instead of niche products to those already looking for it (and to be honest, can find it from loads of other specialist retailers). But yes, essentially it’s about giving every single customer the power to reduce their environmental impact - just by choosing to shop with Bother. And most importantly I wanted Bother as a business to be accountable to it and to attach tangible numbers.

So, can you actually attach a number to how much a customer can reduce their carbon footprint if they shop with Bother?

Yes, if you take into account all the things we’ve spoken about, every step in the Bother chain, a Bother customer could reduce their household carbon footprint by 2.5%.

That sounds like a pretty impressive amount to me but again, can you put that into context from a customer’s point of view?

Ok, yes in fact – that 2.5% is the same (in carbon terms) as heating the average UK home for a month, 1.5 years of running your fridge, 2 years of washing machine use or over 3 years of new clothes purchased.

Oh wow, ok, that’s a lot a lot.

But the point is that it’s not about a customer having to make that decision. It takes the onus and the pressure off every single individual and puts it back where it belongs – to companies and businesses who have the opportunity to reshape the industry as a whole and build a better more sustainable future. The fact is, there is some low hanging fruit here in terms of our impact as a society. Why wouldn’t we try to take that? Thus our mantra: We Bother, so you don’t have to.

Ah yes, that line takes on a whole new meaning to me now. Thanks Douglas, that seems like the perfect place to round this off. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us today.