FEATURE: How the on-trade is giving the green light to sustainability

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Going green: businesses are taking steps to become more environmentally friendly (image: Getty/Credit: tommy)
Going green: businesses are taking steps to become more environmentally friendly (image: Getty/Credit: tommy)

Related tags Sustainability Social responsibility Pubco + head office Wine

From reducing food miles by growing produce on site, slashing packaging waste by building supplier relationships and using renewable energy, many businesses across the sector are reducing their impact on the environment.

A snap poll of The Morning Advertiser ​readers​ undertaken last year found most (92%) of participants take sustainability into account in their operation with many (88%) having changed their lighting, four in 10 (43%) installing energy-saving equipment in cellars and more than a third (37%) having put energy-saving equipment in the kitchen.

Sustainability is also becoming increasingly more important to pubgoers as the majority of those surveyed by The Morning Advertiser ​stated it held importance to their guests.

Research from the Sustainability Matters: What consumers want and how brands can win ​report in 2023, from foodservice tech provider Nutritics and hospitality data firm CGA by NIQ showed more than a third (34%) of Brits were happy to spend more money on sustainable options when eating at pubs and bars.

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A pioneer of sustainability, Lanchester Wines has become the first UK wine business to offer a super lightweight 300g wine bottle to its bulk wine customers.

Shipping wine in bulk saves around 38% CO2​ compared to shipping in bottle. The new 300g wine bottle removes 3.2 tonnes of bottle weight per 24,000l of wine* from the finished goods, further reducing the carbon footprint of a venue’s wine list.

Partnering with renowned glass manufacturer Verallia, we’ve pioneered the use of this innovative bottle setting a new standard for sustainability in the wine industry. The Verallia Bordelaise Air 300g offers 25% CO2​ reduction compared to UK Standard 400g bottle.

Crafted with approximately 30% recycled glass and designed specifically for the wine sector, the Bordelaise Air 300g combines eco-friendliness with the timeless elegance of the classic Bordeaux wine bottle. Glass is 100% recyclable and the UK glass sector recycles around 74.2%, one of the highest rates of any packaging materials**.

Because being carbon neutral is just the beginning.

*300g bottle vs UK standard 400g bottle ** Britglass.org.uk

One business that is implementing numerous schemes to minimise its environmental impact is the Riverside at Aymestrey, which was named Best Sustainable Pub at the 2022 Great British Pub Awards.

The charming pub is nestled in the Herefordshire countryside with a riverside location, as the name suggests.

Its excellent initiatives including growing its own produce, offering nature walks to guests, championing local food and drink and fundraising to support local sustainability projects made it a worthy winner.

The pub’s sustainability offer focuses on four key areas – one of which is sourcing seed to plate.

It has two acres of land where the pub grows, forages and produces honey, pork and eggs, allowing chefs to ensure menus truly reflect seasons and reduce food miles to metres.

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The Riverside at Aymestrey crafts products in-house and has a strong waste reduction policy.

However, this doesn’t mean the Riverside is self-sufficient and so outside of the homegrown produce, local artisan producers that share the pub’s ethos are carefully selected to source ingredients from.

Outside of the sourcing, the Riverside also works closely with suppliers to minimise packaging and plastic waste alongside analysing all on-site waste.

This helps find ways to utilise that wastage such as smoked salmon skin scratchings and turning waste ale into vinegar.

For the large-scale food waste, the pub turns this into compost, helping improve soil health and as a result of purchasing a ride-on composter, some 60 to 80% of the food is now composted for use in the pub’s smallholding.

Another area of focus for the Riverside is the impact of its energy and carbon footprint. To help combat this, there is electric car charging on site, bike storage for guests and staff as well as waterless and water-saving technology, increasing insultation in the roof and walls, solar and LED lighting to just name a few.

However, the most important initiative for the Herefordshire pub is preserving wildlife and ecology.

Chef-patron Andy Link says: “We have developed our grounds by planting 200+ trees, wildflower meadows, and a diverse range of plant specifics, alongside a range of habitats from ponds, hedgehog houses, bird boxes to log piles and other varied areas for different ecology.

“These areas are for our guests to sensitively enjoy nature and explore our beautiful part of Herefordshire.

“Expanding further our voluntary community environmental donation raised £15,000 last year allowing us to work with Herefordshire Wildlife Trust to create a new nature reserve 20 minutes from our pub, as well as supporting local schools with developing outside garden spaces, and other community tree planting projects all thanks to our generous guests and team.”

Sustainability has always part of the business as a result of Link and the pub’s general manager growing up on local farms and now plays a pivotal role.

“It is no longer acceptable for business to profit at the expense of people and the planet.”

Link adds: “Post-Covid, we radically changed our focus expanding our grounds, and launching many new initiatives from kitchen composting to environmental donation scheme, to mass tree planting it has become a core to brand and central in all decision making and new developments.”

Fellow operator Greg Pilley has a green background, having studied an ecology degree and travelled a lot in early life, giving him insight into how daily actions have a global impact.

He says: “It is no longer acceptable for business to profit at the expense of people and the planet.”

His operation, Stroud Brewery in Gloucestershire, is also a previous Best Sustainable Pub winner that has a multitude of initiatives in place to minimise its impact on the environment including rainwater harvesting and 100% renewable energy.

The business was the first brewery in the UK to be certified as organic and B Corp, that latter of which it has been since 2018.

Its most recent carbon footprint assessment shows the business has done virtually all it can to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions.

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What iff business challenges became dinner solutions?

Policies such as Workplace Recycling in Wales and Simpler Recycling in England are driving change in how waste is collected and managed.

Separating food waste in UK businesses is a welcome step, however the best outcome is to avoid the waste before it happens. Redistributing surplus stock is an effective way to prevent products that are still fit for human use and consumption from going to waste.

As part of Biffa, Company Shop Group works with manufacturers and retailers to identify surplus that can be redistributed, before it becomes waste, ensuring it goes to people first.

“Through redistribution, we can support the industry in more ways to transform surplus and preventing waste, by using innovative capabilities such as our bottle wash facility, which prevented 3.2m bottles from going to waste in 2023.” Owen McLellan, Group Managing Director at Company Shop Group​  

Search ‘Biffa what iff’ or click here​ to find out more. 

Since 2008, the site has been using 100% organic ingredients to make its beer and even though it costs more, there are no plans to deviate from this.

This commitment to being a dedicated organic brewery is the initiative Pilley is most proud of.

“With up to 20% less emissions (organic v conventional barley) and significantly more biodiversity on organic farms​, as a brewery where barley is our largest purchase, this is the biggest impact we can have,” he says.

“It comes at a cost as we have to operate at reduced margins, as the market cannot sustain the real cost when competing in a largely conventional market.”

From small independent operators to the larger pub companies, sustainability is a key driver in Greene King’s long-term business strategy.

“But there is a greater understanding now of how businesses all must work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Its environmental, social and governance (ESG) programme, Greene King for Good, aims to encompass its ambition to care for the planet, people, communities and customers.

Significant investment

Sustainability has been important to the business for a number of years and more recently, it has seen additional focus and investment on its sustainability programme.

ESG and sustainability director Matt Pearce says: “​This seeks to build on the maturity of our social sustainability work, which has progressed for over a decade, for example raising £18m for Macmillan Cancer Support since 2012 and supporting more than 17,000 apprenticeships over the same period. 

“But there is a greater understanding now of how businesses all must work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and this is why we are now investing significant sums in reducing our emissions.”

In 2022, the business committed to setting near term greenhouse gas reduction targets and a carbon net zero target of 2040.

Greene King’s near-term target to halve emissions across its own operations as well as those outside of its direct control, such as the goods brought into the business, were validated by the Science Based Targets Initiatives.

There are a number of ways in which the pub company is focusing reaching those targets such as phasing out natural gas and switching to air source heat pumps and all electric kitchens.

It is also looking to procure and generate renewable electricity, reducing energy usage through greater efficiency as well as working with suppliers and partners to cut carbon emissions and create circular solutions, protect and enhance biodiversity and minimise water usage.

In fact, working with suppliers was an area that impressed the judges for the 2024 Publican Awards, when Greene King won Best Sustainable Pub Company.

The business launched a formal supplier engagement programme in a bid to better understand the current sustainability credentials of the goods and services it purchases as well as identify opportunities for improvement.

Inside the organisation, it has boosted recycling across its managed pubs and replaced single-use glassware for reusable or biodegradable glassware across a huge number of its estate (1,552 pubs).

“We have worked to embed sustainability into our everyday decision-making."

Moreover, it has removed 5.5m single-use items from pub operations such as single-use cutlery, plastic cups and sauce pots.

As a result of conducting a supplier packaging review, card has been cut by 46 tonnes and plastic by 5.5 tonnes.

Pearce says: “We have worked to embed sustainability into our everyday decision-making. This is a journey and we are working with a number of our partners to be a truly sustainable business – for the good of our communities, customers, suppliers and the environment. We are delivering our strategy into action and supporting the sector to do likewise.

“To do this, we have both a dedicated ESG team, and a cross-business working-group structure, reporting to our executive board, with independent advisors. Each group works on its specialist area, such as property decarbonisation, renewable energy, regenerative farming, sustainable brewing, water, transport and packaging.  We have also added specific leadership forums for environmental ideas to be shared.”

“This year, we have announced plans for a new brewery in Bury St Edmunds​ to ensure the future of brewing and cask beer in the future. The new brewery will deliver significant environmental benefits including reducing water usage and increasing energy efficiency and supporting Greene King’s progression to become carbon net zero by 2040 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.”

“We are not afraid to try new things.  We are constantly trialling new technology and exploring new partnerships in the search for better ways to deal with sustainability issues.  We are acutely aware that we don’t have all the answers yet and that all learning is valuable, for us and for the wider industry.”

For Greene King, those learnings have often come from team members such as a plastic recycling initiative, which also raised money for a good cause.

This has created engagement between staff and sustainability, helping to drive awareness of the importance of being more environmentally friendly.

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Greene King for Good is its environmental, social and governance programme.

Pearce adds: “​At Greene King we are aware that our staff and customers are not two separate groups. We are all people, and our research tells us that people are highly engaged in sustainability.  Our sustainability journey therefore helps our customers to make more sustainable choices, but also endorses our value as an employer. 

“Some of our best initiatives are driven by our team members and widely engaged by our customers.  This is true of the amazing Tub2Pub scheme, which had a record result in 2024 when 150,000 plastic tubs were collected, saving 21 tonnes of polypropylene plastic from landfill while raising £12,600 for Macmillan Cancer Support.

“Customers like the ‘Invisible Mac(millan) n Cheese’ which was launched in 2022 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the charity partnership and is still available across our Urban pubs. Customers don’t receive the actual dish but it acts as a way to make a donation to the charity.

“Everyone who joins Greene King receives sustainability training as part of their induction. With Environment & Social as a strategy driver, all team members are aware of its everyday importance and impact. Recycling bins, reminders about energy efficiency and usage, the ongoing roll-out of electric vehicle charging bays at pubs nationwide and support centres and sustainable messaging are examples which all help reinforce environmentally friendly choices.”

Information and involvement are also at the heart of how the teams and customers at the Riverside are engaged with the pub’s sustainability journey – something that is an ongoing process.

Link says: “We aim to constantly improve but at the same time take our team and guests on the journey with us.

“With our team, we have regular meetings to discuss issues such as wastage, local sourcing, our smallholding, and many other core ideas, even tours of grounds and foraging to connect with nature and our land.”

With many successful initiatives in place at the pub, the chef-patron has advice for fellow operators who are looking to become more environmentally friendly.

“Make a plan. The first step is to take a step back from the business. We are all guilty of having to work constantly in service, firefighting the daily issues and dealing with guests, but taking some time out to review everything,” he says.

“[This could be] using clear bin bags and each day assessing what is thrown away. Can you order less? Can you repurpose some of the ingredients into new dishes, and avoid them ever reaching the bin?

“Review your energy usage, water usage, and supplies. Make a plan... So many things can be achieved with low to no cost, and then what future investment is needed.

“We aim to constantly improve but at the same time take our team and guests on the journey with us."

“Hospitality businesses have had a challenging few years, we have a plan to improve our cellar air conditioning and boilers to more energy-efficient technologies. These come to a huge cost but we will receive financial benefits in lower energy bills.”

Good business decisions

Energy is also the area Stroud Brewery’s Pilley suggests others to alter when looking to start their sustainability journey, which he says will not only help now but in the long term too.

He advises: “Switch to a 100% green & renewable energy supplier. This is easy to do, has an immediate impact and helps invest in the rapidly needed move to renewables.

“And if you can, look to install your own solar. The payback time has reduced dramatically and provides some certainty for our own future power needs.”

Collaboration and a focus on business are two pieces of advice from Greene King’s Matt Pearce.

“Sustainable decisions are good business decisions.  There is a huge area of action which is good for the planet and good for your profit and loss,” he adds.

“Starting with those things can really help your journey. A sustainable business is a business with a future, a business with its communities and environmental responsibilities forming part of everyday conversations. We all share this planet, we can all make a difference, all recycle, reduce our wastage and think about actions to lessen our impact on the environment.

“Our team members, customers and suppliers work together. You will not be alone on this journey. There is a lot of support from groups and operators in the industry.”

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Stroud Brewery operator Greg Pilley urges other operators to consider renewable energy.

It isn’t just operators that are doing their bit to help save the planet, many suppliers are also looking at ways to reduce their environmental impact.

Sustainability is the hot topic driving innovation in the UK wine trade, according to Lanchester Wines, with significant progress happening behind the scenes.

The wine business notes the shift from carbon offsetting to carbon insetting was of particular focus.

Business unit controller Tom van der Neut says: “Carbon insetting involves companies investing in carbon reduction projects within their own supply chains, making their products, practices, and supply chains more sustainable.

“Pub operators should be interested to know the wine trade has been practicing insetting for centuries: from vineyard to glass, the journey of wine is being transformed by innovative sustainable practices.

“Given the global nature of the wine industry, insetting must be applied across various elements of the wine process. The conversation around sustainable wine begins in the vineyard, where practices such as organic farming, water conservation and biodiversity enhancement are implemented.

“However, the sustainability story doesn't end there, the transportation (largely, bulk v bottled at source) and packaging of wine also play crucial roles in its environmental footprint.”

“Sustainable decisions are good business decisions."

The wine importer and merchant initiated its insetting programme in 2011 when it installed its first wind turbine, followed by solar panels shortly after.

Since then, it has invested more than £13m in renewable energy and heat generation projects across sites in the north of England. This means that now, the business is powered almost entirely by wind and solar energy.

It also recently became the first UK wine business to offer an ultra-lightweight 300g wine bottle to its bulk wine customers.

Van der Neut says: “It's important for publicans to consider how their importers or merchants have implemented insetting programs. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainability, so understanding each business's efforts to minimise their specific environmental impact is essential."

Lanchester has partnered with its lass manufacturer to develop a new bottle, which aims to set the standard for sustainability in the wine industry as it achieves a reduction in CO2​ compared to the UK standard 400g bottle.

“Shipping wine in bulk is already a more eco-friendly option, saving around 38% CO2​ compared to shipping it in bottles. By introducing the 300g bottle, Lanchester Wines is further reducing the carbon footprint of a venue’s wine list as this new bottle removes 3.2 tonnes of bottle weight per 24,000 litres of wine (i.e. a tank of bulk wine), representing a substantial environmental saving," Van der Neut adds.

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Lanchester Wines actively seeks business partners and suppliers that share its vision to proactively improve sustainability.

He highlights the company’s innovations reflect a broader trend towards sustainability in the on-trade.

Fellow supplier and one of the country’s biggest brewers Molson Coors Beverage Company is taking the right actions to reduce its products’ carbon footprint operators are serving in their venues.

Due to a power purchase agreement with energy firm RWE, Molson’s products are brewed using 100% renewable energy.

Other ways in which the business is helping reduce its environmental impact include investing in carbon recovery technology at its Burton and Tadcaster​ breweries.

This means it can recover and reuse the carbon dioxide it produces as part of the fermentation process.

It has resulted in the removal of carbon dioxide across these two sites, which would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere, making the organisation more self-sufficient and reducing its overall emissions as Molson works towards reaching its carbon net zero for direct emissions in the UK by 2035.

The company’s sustainability director for western Europe Craig Woodburn reiterates Greene King’s Pearce’s comments around working together when it comes to having a greener future, believing a collaborative approach will be key to moving forward.

Again, similarly to Greene King, Molson works with suppliers to help support them on their own sustainability journeys.

Its Molson Coors Growers Group – a network of around 140 British farmers who provide the brewer’s malting barley – is one example of this.

Woodburn says: “The Growers Group has a shared commitment toward achieving more sustainable farming methods and ideas – using measures like well-planned crop rotations and cover cropping to protect and improve soil health and biodiversity. They also share data and insights to help the wider group adopt more sustainable practices.

“Working with our suppliers, we have reduced scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by more than 60% since our 2016 baseline. Across our value chain, against the same baseline, we have reduced total emissions by more than 35%, which has a significant impact on our overall footprint.”

Looking ahead, the future seems positive for the work businesses are undertaking around sustainability, helping to save the planet and please customers.

"There is no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainability."

Lanchester Wines’ Van der Neut adds: “As [venues] continue to embrace eco-friendly practices, they not only reduce their environmental impact but also cater to an increasingly environmentally conscious clientele. With such pioneering efforts, the future of wine in the on-trade looks greener than ever.

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