'Potatoes with purpose': First carbon neutral spud produced for UK market

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Puffin Produce is selling its 'planet friendly' spuds in 200 Co-op stores across the UK. Image source: Root Zero
Puffin Produce is selling its 'planet friendly' spuds in 200 Co-op stores across the UK. Image source: Root Zero

Related tags Potato carbon neutral

Grown using sustainable farming practices and packaged in plastic-free bags, the carbon neutral spuds will be the first of many products to tackle the food industry’s ‘huge impact’ on climate change, hopes Puffin Produce CEO Huw Thomas.

Grown by Puffin Produce in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Root Zero potatoes have achieved carbon neutral certification.

According to Puffin Produce, the decision to go climate neutral was prompted by a desire to reduce the negative impacts of agri-food production on climate change.

“The food system contributes up to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions which are causing the planet to heat up faster than ever before. We have to act now - so we’re on a mission to become carbon neutral and farm in a way that protects and regenerates our land, plants and wildlife,”​ said Huw Thomas, CEO of Puffin Produce.

“This isn’t easy. We’ve engaged the best scientific advice and partnered with organisations who are helping us to measure, reduce and certify our impact." 

A collaborative approach to carbon neutrality

Puffin Produce measures its environmental impact on-farm with the Cool Farm Tool. Specifically, the tool measures its on-farm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and soil carbon sequestration.

The producer has also worked with management consultancy 2Keel to calculate its carbon footprint, help select carbon offset projects, and design carbon removal initiatives.

“We believe in complete transparency and the only real way to measure our true impact when we count carbon is to count all of it,” ​according to the Root Zero brand.

“We have therefore measured every single thing that contributes to our carbon footprint – from the lights in our offices and factory, to the transport used to take Root Zero potatoes to the supermarkets, even down to the way you cook your spuds at home.”

Root Zero - growers harvesting potatoes 1
Root Zero potatoes are produced in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Image source: Root Zero

Puffin Produce is addressing GHG emissions within its own operations and its wider value chain – covering scope 1,2 and 3 emissions.

The total carbon footprint of its business in 2019-2020 was 24,612 tonnes CO₂e. The carbon emissions from these calculations equates to 0.532kg CO₂e for every kg of potatoes sold.

Reducing CO₂e emissions

Root Zero is minimising GHG emissions from its production process by improving its farming, production, and transport practices.

In production, for example, the company is growing new varieties of potato that do not require storage at low temperatures.

Concerning packaging, Root Zero is certified 100% plastic-free. The paper used in its packaging is FSC certified, meaning it is made from 100% renewable materials. Innovations in water-based inks and adhesive technology make the paper bag completely recyclable. It is also home-compostable – when added to a garden compost heap it will decompose in around 200-300 days.

In farming, Root Zero is using more fuel-efficient tractors and electric cars, with the aim of transitioning to 100% green electricity from 2023.

Further, the business also plans to generate its own green energy by installing solar panels at its production site and wind turbines on its farms.

Root Zero - cover crops planted at Morgan Scale farm
Root Zero is planting cover crops on-site in Wales. Image source: Root Zero

Biodiversity is key pillar in Puffin Produce’s sustainability framework. The company plants cover crops to build up carbon and feed the soil with nutrients, sequester carbon, provide food and habitat for wildlife and attract essential pollinators, all the while helping to prevent soil erosion.

The company surrounds its fields by hedgerows, which similarly benefit wildlife and pollinators.

Root Zero pack lores
Image source: Root Zero

“Climate change is affecting everything we do, putting soil, wildlife and our ability to grow at risk. We’re developing new techniques and learning from climate change experts to increase our management of the land and ensure our natural environment is strong and resilient,”​ said Thomas.

“Root Zero is about growing responsibly and respecting nature, farming in a way that minimises or captures carbon, nurtures healthy soils and protects our local biodiversity. Our hope is that what we learn from Root Zero can offer a more sustainable future for agriculture for Pembrokeshire and beyond.”

Offsetting carbon via international projects

While Root Zero’s priority is to reduce its emissions as much as possible, it has also selected projects to offset its ‘unavoidable’ GHG emissions.

For every 1,000t of Root Zero potatoes it sells, 586t of CO₂e is offset via three international projects.

In Nicaragua, Root Zero is helping fund a bamboo afforestation project, in India, the brand is helping to provide a safe supply of drinking water, and in Rwanda Root Zero is giving families access to clean cooking stoves that are more energy efficient than open fire cooking methods.

Looking to the future, Root Zero is committed to net zero emissions by 2050. In the meantime, the company has set its own interim targets.

By 2030, the company aims to reduce the carbon intensity of its potatoes by 51%, and to reduce operational emissions by 46%.

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