business food

What can we learn from the world’s first carbon neutral cheddar?

Last week I wrote about the carbon footprint of cheese, which is second only to red meat as a high emission food. So it’s fortuitous timing that while I’ve been pondering the question, Wyke Farms have chosen this week to launch the world’s first carbon neutral cheddar. Since it’s been done well, and certified by the Carbon Trust, it’s a really good opportunity to understand more about the carbon content of a dairy favourite.

A little background first: Wyke Farms are a family business, currently run by the grandsons of its founders. Two of them run the cheese making side of things, and two others run the dairy. The firm has been making cheese in Somerset for 160 years, and has grown to be one of the biggest independent cheese makers in the country.

Heritage is no obstacle to forward-thinking approaches to the environment, and they have been working to a climate strategy since 2010. A major milestone on that journey is the launch of Ivy’s Reserve cheddar, launched with a new brand, PR strategy and plenty of supporting documentation on its carbon credentials.

Like many a carbon neutral product, there are three main steps to consider:

1 Calculate the emissions – to work out the carbon footprint of cheddar, you need to start with the milk. That’s the main ingredient, and as you know if you’ve been paying attention, where the bulk of the emissions will be. Wyke Farms found that 87% of the carbon impact of the cheese is from the milk supply.

The rest comes mainly from the production. Packaging and distribution are just 2% each. Including the full scope of emissions, they have calculated the likes of you and I keeping it in our fridges and an average amount of household waste. Those are 1% each.

2 Reduce what you can – the company are on their way to full zero carbon production, with a plant that captures waste heat and filters waste water for re-use. It uses 100% renewable energy from on-site solar and bio-gas. The three bio-gas digesters are fed with manure from the cows, and by-products from cheese-making, a local cider company and others. Anaerobic digestion produces electricity, gas that supplies the nearby town of Bruton, and fertiliser that is used on local farms.

Of course, reducing the emissions from those cows is all important, and Wyke Farms are using animal feeds, regenerative farming and land management techniques to reduce emissions from the milk. So far production is 20% less carbon intensive than the national average.

3 Offset the remainder – even with the best will in the world, there is a certain portion of emissions that are hard or impossible to eliminate. And so Wyke Farms have purchased offsets for these. They’re gold standard, verified for their impact on communities and biodiversity as well as carbon reductions. That’s through Climate Care, and their offsets support peat restoration in Indonesia and solar power in India.

Offsetting is not being used to avoid the hard work here, and they state clearly that “Wyke Farms recognise that offsetting is only a temporary solution, and actively seek out all other routes to Net Positivity.”

There are still legitimate questions about the dairy industry, beyond its carbon impact. And of course we need to see these sorts of measures adopted on a wider scale, not just for premium products. But pioneering projects like this one show what’s possible, and Wyke Farms aren’t going to be the only carbon neutral cheddar on the market for long.

Finally, if you’re now craving some vintage cheddar, you can get Ivy’s Reserve directly from the company, from a handful of selected supermarkets in the UK, and Costco in the US.

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