Collaborate to Zero: Toast Ale
How can we achieve net-zero carbon and halt the climate crisis? By working together to drive wide-scale, meaningful change.
To this end, Delphis CEO Mark Jankovich meets fellow eco-entrepreneurs to swap insights and inspiration. First up is Louisa Ziane, co-founder and COO of Toast Ale.
Mark Jankovich: Welcome Louisa, thanks for finding time to talk. I’d love to start by understanding the story of Toast, where you guys came from and how you developed this amazing, sustainable approach to craft beer.
Louisa Ziane: My pleasure, Mark. We started Toast over five years ago when we saw that there was a huge problem with food waste. Did you know that in the UK, 44% of commercially made bread is discarded?
MJ: That’s appalling.
LZ: But thanks to a visit to a brewery in Belgium we learnt that the origins of brewing and baking are intertwined, because the original recipes for beer actually used a fermented grain like bread. This brewery created a delicious beer using surplus bread, creating a circular product. And we saw that we could marry the huge problem of food waste with the growing market opportunity of craft beer and create a really tasty solution. Now we dedicate our profits to a charity called Feedback, which was started by my Toast co-founder Tristram Stuart, to campaign for systemic change in the food industry. And of course, it’s also a communication tool, beer being the perfect way of starting a conversation. We know that the industrial production of food is the biggest contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss, yet we're wasting a third of everything that we produce. It's nonsensical. So it's a fun and delicious way to solve the problem, where we're not asking people to make concessions, but to value all of those natural resources and the human resources that we’re expending to produce food in the first place.
MJ: Drinking beer is nearly as much fun as cleaning your bathroom, but I would say that…! My ‘ah-ha’ moment was in Italy where I saw a shop owner pour a bucket of soapy brown water into the storm drain, that literally went straight onto a crowded beach. And I realised it’s such a massive disconnect between this person who owns the shop, who wants us to shop there, but really is there because of the beach. So the question was, how can I create a cleaning product that doesn't have an impact on the environment? And then think through everything that we're doing to try and remove and reduce the environmental impact. The logic was obvious, like making beer from discarded bread, but the tricky bit has been telling the story and getting people to come on the journey and that took a lot longer than I thought. But there are lots of similarities around there being a fundamental need to be more sustainable and then delivering a product and a solution. How was your journey to becoming B Corp certified?
LZ: I was previously a climate change consultant at the Carbon Trust and before that I did a master's in environmental sciences, so I’ve known about the movement for quite some time. And when we started Toast, I saw some really interesting brands that were engaging with it, for example my daughter was six months old, so I was using Ella's Kitchen products. Ben and Jerry's is another B Corp. It was then connecting the dots between these fantastic brands and this greater purpose that maybe I hadn't been aware of as a consumer. I did the B Corp impact assessment just to see what it was all about and it opened my eyes to the fact that, yes, we're a fantastic environmental business, but there's still a lot more that we could do. I used the assessment as a framework to help me build a responsible business and our environmental mission, then it was a natural step to then go through the certification process. And it was the most wonderful experience for me, because I love everything about B Corp.
MJ: Yeah, I mean, we get asked every day to join some form of eco club. When we started there were none so am delighted that others are now on the journey, but I'm quite strict on sticking with very few and sticking with the best. And B Corp, I think, arguably is the toughest. From a provenance perspective, very few companies have it. There are a lot of massive competitors of ours who can't get it. We've got high-level product endorsement and at the corporate level B Corp arguably is the best or the toughest to achieve in that respect. My key driver with any club is collaboration and conversation, and B Corp make all of the members do the work, which is genius. We're having conversations with people and then we feed back to B Corp, but it works for us because it enables us to have strong conversations with people we wouldn't ordinarily have. And that’s the only way we’ll get to net zero carbon, don’t you think?
LZ: It's going to be very challenging. It requires partnerships, not just between businesses, but with government and civil society as well. You know, we all have a role to play and I think the structural changes that are required are huge. More than we've experienced over the last year with the lockdowns. But I saw in the news this morning that the UK reported that we're 50% of the way there to our target. And we're seeing some other countries switching away from fossil fuels. China is making a huge investment in wind, for example. And we've also seen the investment community moving away from investment in the old structures. I think all the players are there, the people in organisations that want to make this happen, and we've set these ambitious targets. It will be interesting to see what happens at COP26, whether we and other countries go with ambitious enough plans. So I'm hopeful, but the scale of the challenge is not to be underestimated.
MJ: We're going to get there, but it's either going to be collaborative or incredibly painful. I mean, it's going to be painful whichever way we look at it, but we're going to get there. But I think, to your point, the level of disruption is something that nobody is currently thinking about. And I think that's where conversations like this are super important because we are going to need to disrupt so fundamentally everything that we think about
LZ: Yes, there's a huge element of behaviour change to overcome. For example, one of the reasons there is so much bread waste is that supermarkets purposefully fully stock their shelves to create a feeling of abundance and luxury when you shop. And then the bread is fresh daily, usually, which creates so much surplus. A lot of it goes to charities, but some of those charities have too much bread. I don't know if you know the app OLIO?
LZ: Where people go and they actually collect food direct from supermarkets and other retailers and then they distribute it to the neighbourhood? There's always bread on there because there's so much of it. And it's a short shelf-life product. Often charities have to turn it away or they end up with a waste problem and cost for themselves. So we have to incentivise the reduction of overproduction in the first place, as well as incentivising the use of that waste, you know, shaming some of these companies and working with them to re-educate, to change people's expectations of how we buy our food.
MJ: Absolutely. The way we operate businesses, the supply chain, the way we consume, the entire infrastructure and framework needs to be completely unravelled and re-woven, to orient it to a new way of doing things.
MJ: Last question. As a consumer, what could I be doing differently to make more sustainable choices? Besides drinking lots of Toast ale, of course?
LZ: I would say, don't feel like you have to be perfect. Don't feel like you have to fix everything in your life, focus on one thing. For example, you can can look at one room in your house. What’s under the kitchen sink? What are my cleaning products? Replace one at a time and find what works for you. Think about what interests you, like fashion, then find out what brands are doing something, like looking at alternative materials. Or if you're a real foodie, focus on where your food’s coming from and what changes you can make. Everything needs to change, but each of us individually doesn't need to change everything all in one go.
MJ: Wise words. Thank you, Louisa, and all the best with Toast.
LZ: Thank you, Mark.
To summarise, green businesses must do more networking and showcasing of best practice so we can learn from each other and drive scale change. And as consumers, we have the power to move the needle, from deciding what cleaning products and beer to buy, to how products are packaged and so on, it has a massive ripple effect.
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