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How Green is my Valley?

In the first of a regular taste.blas column we take a closer look at the sterling efforts of the Welsh food and drink community to produce sustainably and help protect our planet for future generations. Patrick Gee from Llanllyr Water explains how and why they’ve pioneered sustainable production and how he thinks government and consumers can affect change.

The packaged water industry garners a lot of attention when it comes to its environmental impact, in fact it’s usually the first under fire, but this needn’t be the case. Looking at all aspects of the business, from extracting water in a sustainable managed way based on its natural replenishment rates (i.e., always taking out less water than is entering the ecosystem), energy expended to take water out of the ground, to packaging our products and delivering to customers, even to the emissions produced by travelling to meetings, Llanllyr SOURCE has been a carbon neutral company since 2006, one of the first in the field. In this regard, it is part of our corporate ecosystem to always be pushing our boundaries to do more for the environment and with a goal of becoming carbon negative by 2025.

Our decision last year to discontinue using PET bottles and move back into 100% recyclable cans, having tried once before way back in 2008 when we discovered the hard way that people weren’t ready for non-carbonated drinks in cans, is just a small part of our overall journey. We’re actively reducing use of secondary plastics within the company and looking at ways to stop its use altogether, particularly with pallet wrapping.

Llanllyr Water Company has had this focus from the start 22 years ago. It has not had to change its look to fit into a different looking commercial world, in the same way as the Soil Association organically registered Llanllyr land from which we sustainably draw our water has always been farmed organically. Although we offset our carbon footprint and have done so since 2006, we also have solar panels and plans are afoot to develop our reliance on alternative sustainable energy. In addition, we are looking to plant more trees on the land to create an even greater carbon sink.

Our waste is tightly managed and targets are based upon recycling everything we can. All waste is separated and put aside for re-cycling (cardboard, glass and any plastic wrap we have from glass being delivered to the company). Nothing gets missed.

We have worked with and supported charities since the business was founded, notably the Anthony Nolan Trust, ‘Just a Drop’ and other waste reducing charities focused on the environment and are proud to provide stable jobs for local people with a keen interest in helping future generations. It’s all part of our focus on the triple bottom line - profit, people and the planet. And it’s an approach I feel all producers in Wales should pursue – as it ties in so well with ‘brand’ Wales as a country of great, sustainably produced food and drink and an environment so beautiful that we all have a responsibility to maintain and preserve for the benefit of everyone.

I also believe that every company can, and should be carbon neutral, but it is only now that some of the larger companies are starting to seriously consider the impact they have on the environment. Fluffy greenwashing statements have to stop. The time to act is now. You are either committed to this and it is part of your corporate DNA, or you are just “greenwashing” to protect or generate sales. In my mind, the latter is just as bad as doing nothing at all.

To help, more needs to be done to give polluters the push they need to reduce their footprint and commit to a carbon-free future.

Carbon labelling is a great initiative to help consumers make better choices, but this doesn’t go far enough. Firstly, it is optional. Secondly, it relies on mass awareness and understanding of the scheme, and consumers reading the label before making a purchase.

To have greater impact, the government needs to increase the pressure. A carbon tax for companies on individual products might deter companies putting corporate profit before environmental purpose, or perhaps tax breaks for companies who are carbon neutral might have the same effect. This would not be easy as it would present a number of practical problems for producers and could lead to increased prices for consumers, but we can no longer kick the issue into the long grass as otherwise there will not be any grass left for future generations.

If consumers are presented with a choice between a cheaper carbon neutral product and a more expensive, higher carbon footprint competitor, they will almost unconsciously do more to help the planet.

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