‘Before the chicken and the egg, came the planet’: Meet the company selling the UK’s first carbon neutral eggs

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Respectful
Image: Respectful

Related tags Egg carbon neutral Eggs

Did you know that chickens that lay white eggs have an 8% lower carbon footprint than those that lay brown eggs?

That’s the claim from Respectful, which just unveiled what it calls the UK’s first carbon neutral egg into 330 Sainsbury’s stores.

Respectful eggs are produced on free range farms that use locally grown feed, renewable energy, and a carefully chosen breed of hen who inherently have a low carbon footprint.

Egg production is one of the lowest animal protein emitters. But Respectful Commercial Manager Lewis Mercieca told FoodNavigator that many consumers want to take steps to cut their carbon footprint where they can. “The production of animal proteins is a significant contributor to GHG/CO2e globally and needs to be addressed immediately if we are going to meet agreed carbon reduction targets,”​ she said. “Whilst egg production is one of the lowest animal protein emitters we have launched Respectful Carbon Neutral Eggs to offer consumers a choice to take action on their carbon footprint.”

Focussing on the feed

The largest component of an egg’s carbon footprint is the soya used in the feed. The company therefore feeds its hens field beans which are grown on its farm, and milled on-site, thereby reducing the food miles required to feed the hens.

The crops are direct drilled, meaning soils are not ploughed. As well as meaning fewer tractor movements, reducing fuel use, this vastly reduces soil compaction, the company explained, and allows for sub-terranean microbes to thrive, as opposed to being exposed to UV light – all beneficial for soil health. 

Replacing soya not only significantly reduces the carbon footprint, Mercieca said, it also removes any risk that the soya used has come from areas under deforestation threat in South America. “We have then gone a step further by growing the soya replacement, field beans, on our Respectful farm using local wheat to then mill the feed on the farm.”

The company gets its eggs from white hens. The company calculated this breed has an 8% lower carbon footprint than brown breeds. (Incidentally, in terms of nutrition, both brown and white eggs are identical unless the feed has been enhanced for speciality eggs such as Omega-3.)  The driver of this is based around efficiency. The breed is lighter and therefore eats less feed with a better feed conversion ratio. They also live 40% longer, so lay more eggs for longer. This all adds up to more efficient egg production, using less resources to produce the same or more amount of eggs. These white hens are reared and raised on Respectful’s farm and are free to graze on open pastures.

Renewable energy

Both the farm and the company’s packing centre use renewable energy from Respectful’s own solar array, as well as procured wind energy, further contributing to the reduction of CO2e emissions.

Experts from Climate Partner, which helps brands enact climate action plans, have independently verified the carbon footprint of the Respectful egg, monitoring its journey and impact from its beginnings on the farm all the way through to Sainsbury’s stores.  

The move taps into a desire to rethink the principles of intensive farming and its impact on the environment, Mercieca added. “The consumer focus isn’t just about egg production. The problem is much wider in the way we currently produce and consume food globally and its contribution to GHG emissions,” ​she explained. “With Respectful we are offering carbon neutral eggs to those consumers who want to make choices that reduce their carbon footprint. The easier and more choices there are for consumers to do this the greater impact it will have on tackling climate change.”

Expect to some modifications to the product, however. “The packaging is fairly standard but is carbon neutral in its own right as the manufacturer (Hartmann) have been through the same process as us. The Respectful product is not the finished article in terms of carbon reduction and packaging is very much a key focus for us.”

Neither has the company completely removed carbon from its egg production. It has a ‘small percentage’ leftover. In order to achieve its full carbon neutral status, it has offset this percentage with a commitment to some carbon offset projects in South America.

Using the valorisation of waste flows for soy feed alternative  

Respectful’s move follows that of Dutch farm Kipster which launched the world’s first carbon neutral eggs in 2017 after spending four years developing a closed loop farming method. Like Respectful, its production method is based around taking soy out of the equation. Kipster’s white hens are fed biscuits, rice cakes and other leftovers from local bakeries that cannot be sold and would otherwise be thrown away.

Kipster currently has two farms in Netherlands using solar panels that provide all the energy it needs. It claims its eggboxes, made from potato starch, cellulose fiber and water, rate as the most sustainable in the world.

Earlier this year it raised funds for an international rollout and has made agreements to build farms in the US, UK, France and Germany. Its farms can be built to accommodate between 3,000 and 120,000 chickens, it said.

Kim de Boer, fund manager Brightlands Agrifood Fund, which led the funding round, said: “The Kipster team fully understands how to combine animal welfare with producing an egg in a climate neutral way. We invest because we believe that the Kipster concept deserves to be scaled up internationally. We want to contribute to this growth and enlarge the consumer awareness about producing animal protein in a sustainable way.”

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