Riverford clearly cares about the planet. They’re trying their best to ensure each part of the product life cycle is as sustainable as possible. Whether it’s sourcing seasonal produce, growing organically, or using 100% recyclable or compostable packaging, caring about the environment is core to what they do. Riverford is very transparent, providing facts and figures about everything from their carbon emissions, to their farmers. Where they fall short, for example with the large carbon footprint of their delivery fleet, they are clear about this, and explain the actions they are taking to improve. The main issue they face is the price. I would recommend buying from Riverford if it fits your budget, but not everyone can afford to spend £12.95 a week on vegetables alone – and that’s the cheapest option. It's a clear example of how sustainability is easier for the well off. Hopefully, as sustainable companies like this become the norm, it will be more accessible. With 47,000 homes receiving a box from Riverford every week, this company demonstrates that a different, more sustainable form of food shopping is more than possible.
Riverford sells boxes of produce from their 5 farms. Their most popular product is their Seasonal Organic Veg Box, which won The Observer’s Ethical Product of the Decade in 2015. The Veg Box contains a variety of seasonal vegetables, 80% of which are sourced in the UK. The use of seasonal produce means their vegetables are tastier and fresher, and don’t have to be transported from as far away. Sourcing locally is also beneficial for the local economy. It supports farmers, provides jobs and increases transparency around how food is grown. Where produce isn’t grown in the UK, Riverford clearly indicates which country it is sourced from. They also never air freight. This level of transparency is refreshing. Within 48 hours of leaving the farm, veg boxes are delivered to your doorstep (and you don’t even need to be home). Convenience usually comes at the cost of sustainability, but Riverford has managed to do both. This is great, as there is more incentive for consumers to be sustainable.
The vegetable packaging is either made of recyclable paper, or material which can be composted at home. This material biodegrades completely within a year. If you don’t compost at home, Riverford will collect the packaging to be composted on one of their farms, where it can be used to grow more produce. There is even an option to purchase a box with no packaging, although this isn’t the main product advertised. However, it is a cheaper option, which may be an incentive to buy it. I feel like to go even further, Riverford could make this the standard, with the choice to add packaging as an optional extra. The box itself can be left on your doorstep before a delivery, where it is collected and reused up to 10 times. It is made of cardboard, so can be recycled even once it can longer be reused.
All Riverford’s produce is organically grown according to regulations from the Soil Association. This means they don’t use artificial chemicals. Artificial pesticides degrade soil fertility and contribute hugely to nitrous oxide emissions. They also have a devastating impact on biodiversity, often killing crucial pollinators such as bees. Instead of using chemical pesticides, Riverford works with nature to promote growth. For example, they plant vegetables slightly further apart to stop the spread of pests and disease. To promote better soil health, they use crop rotation and companion planting. This is good for the environment, but probably explains why their produce is so expensive, as their yields are likely to be smaller.
Currently, diesel vans are used to deliver most of their products. They are in the process of switching completely to electric vans, but as of August 2021, only 11% of their fleet was electric. Delivery is responsible for 72% of their carbon footprint, so is an area they are keen to improve. They’ve pledged to use only electric delivery vans by 2025. This is a promise I hope they keep, because it will go a long way to reduce emissions.
The thing that impressed me most about Riverford was their level of transparency. They provide in depth information on their website about their organic farming practices, employee treatment and packaging. They have a detailed information page about every farmer or farm they source from, with information about how their produce is sustainably grown. You can even visit all 4 Riverford owned farms in the UK, and their farm in France. This level of transparency shows they aren’t hiding anything. They care about sustainability to their core, and they want you to know about it.
Riverford provides their full 2020/21 sustainability report on their website, which contains details about the extent to which they’ve reached their previous targets. They’re honest about where they fell short, and state how they are going to overcome these issues going forward. As part of this report, they pledge to reach Net Zero emissions by 2030. A lot of companies make promises like this, and their vagueness often makes me doubt their credibility. However, Riverford provides extensive detail about how they will reach these goals. For example, as 72% of their carbon footprint was from transport, they’re switching to 100% electric delivery vans. They also identified other areas where intervention will help them reduce emissions, including increasing energy efficiency and using more renewable energy sources.
Riverford is an employee-owned business, which means all staff have equal shares in the company. They say this raises the morale and productivity of their workers. To make sure voices are heard, they have a democratically elected council made up of employees, and even have 2 employees elected onto the Board of Trustees. Fair wages are prioritised – they are an accredited real living wage employer. The real living wage is higher than the living wage estimate from the government, and is thought to be a more realistic calculation of how much money people need.
Their products are inherently sustainable, but they also go above and beyond to support people in food poverty, animal welfare, and the environment. They proudly state that in the past year, they have saved 21 tonnes of plastic, donated 1 million portions of vegetables to charity, planted 1525 native trees, and raised £164,744 for Send a Cow. This is quite an impressive list of achievements.