Connecting SMEs for a green economy

Friska: Adopting a green business model in the food and catering business

Emily Benson's picture

Friska have been working from the beginning to green their business model down to the ground. Sustainability backed by zero landfill waste, 100 percent renewable energy and only the tastiest, locally sourced, free range food.

Friska, based in Bristol, England, set out to put sustainability and greenness at the heart of their business right from the start. The directors felt it was obvious that they had to think about the environment when setting up their business; every other business would have to do it eventually, why not be ahead of the curve? Luckily for them customers and staff agreed, and their sustainable business practices have kept hungry punters flowing through the doors of their four Bristol locations, and even attracted staff enthused by their green pedigree.

Friska initially focused on waste reduction as this was one of the easiest areas where green-sense and business-sense pointed in the same direction. Friska found that it was 52% cheaper for them to recycle their general waste than send it to landfill, and so they made sure recycling was prioritised where ever possible and whatever was left got sent to be incinerated or anaerobically digested.

For Friska, local sourcing – important on principle in order to get the freshest and best ingredients – also had substantial green side-effects. Sourcing locally meant that their suppliers weren’t driving long distances to bring them ingredients, whereas large suppliers would often take local produce away from Bristol to regional distribution centres before sending it back to Friska. Local meant fresh food and flexible supply, but also lower food-miles and a smaller carbon footprint.

Further improvements could still be made across the business and several years down the line Friska transferred their electricity supply from a conventional tariff to 100% renewable with OVO Energy. This meant that they no longer paid the UK’s Climate Change Levy on each unit of power, and going green actually left their bills at the same price point they were on before. For Friska. the green energy premium was zero and they were also able to offer their staff the chance to opt-in to the green energy package at a low cost.

Overall, being green helped deliver a range of financial and non-financial benefits to Friska. It helped drive customer interest in the business, gave them wider PR opportunities through award schemes and, of course, helped them reduce their negative impact on the local and global environment. Crucial for their success was staff support and engagement in sustainability from the directors on down, and access to local grants through the West of England Carbon Challenge to help fund some of the upfront capital costs.

Fitting low energy bulbs, selecting display fridges with doors and choosing energy efficient equipment seemed quite daunting for a new SME. Even if they would pay out in the medium term by helping reduce a store's energy bill by 20% - cutting as much as £200 per month off the cost of running a store - the initial prices were a barrier. Relying on grants instead of a profitable business model wasn’t a good long term plan, but Friska found that using grants to cover the extra cost premium for green solutions which had a guaranteed payoff further down the line worked very well indeed, and was both environmentally and financially sustainable.

The toughest part of the model for Friska was finding the time to research what green solutions were available and not knowing what was going to be compatible with their business, location and local infrastructure. Developing a network of contacts and like-minded businesses was crucial in this regard.

Ultimately, Friska have pushed green from the start and extended the sustainability of their business where ever they can, but it didn’t have to work that way. Friska could have just as easily overextended and taken an eye off their core business: tasty food. Even then, Friska’s lesson to other SMEs would be to not to worry about experimentiation. You can always push green and then walk it back a little if it turns out to be too difficult or doesn't quite make financial sense for your business model. Experimentation and innovation can deliever their own unexpected rewards.

A SME can always do even more to improve sustainability, but this just means there's a scale and scope of ‘greenness’ that can work for any business model – even if it’s just separating and recycling your waste, it all counts and it all helps.

Further details

How was the green solution financed?: 
Would you characterize the green solution as: 
Medium to low capital intensive investment (i.e. €3,000 -€10,000)
Cost savings description: 
52% saving on waste disposal at Victoria St store.
Emission reductions description: 
Transitioned to 100% renewable energy at Victoria St store.
Operating and maintenance costs: 
Yes, low O&M costs
Energy consumption description: 
20% energy saving at the Victoria St store.
Technical and capacity requirements?: 

Minimal technical or human prerequisites as you can take the green business model as far as you like to suit your own sector. Strong staff interest is a must though.

Regulatory framework prerequisites and constraints?: 

Regulatory support varies a lot, so look around and ensure considering grand support at local, regional, national and international levels.