SustainAbel & Cole | Abel & Cole

SustainAbel & Cole

Are you looking to lessen your impact on this beautiful planet? Us too. And we’ve been at it for over 30 years. Read all about how below.

  • Reducing your carbon footprint
    • 100% organic or sustainably wild food
    • In a nutshell, organic farming means food as it should be; food you can trust, food that doesn’t cost the earth, and food where the animals are treated with respect. It’s a conscientious way of tending to the land that is kinder. Organic farming always means:

      • No synthetic sprays (pesticides, fertilisers, fungicides, insecticides).
      • No artificial colours or preservatives.
      • Working with nature, not against it.
      • No routine use of antibiotics.
      • The gold standard for animal welfare (even better than free range!).
      • No GM ingredients.

      Almost everything we do is organic; only things that cannot be officially certified, like water, salt, wild game, sea-caught fish, and foraged food are not. This is because they have not been ‘farmed’ and therefore aren’t controlled under organic standards. We work closely with all our suppliers though to know they prioritise ethics and environment. Outside of food, our cleaning products (whilst eco-friendly) are not organic. Everything that is certified organic is clearly labelled on the website with a little O-shaped symbol, and on the products themselves.

      The main certifying body in the UK is The Soil Association; they certify us as a company as well as plenty of our food and drink. However, there are also eight other Organic Control Bodies, approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Organic products from abroad will be certified by the relevant body in that country, shown by the organic control code on the label. For organic items grown or produced in the EU, there will also the EU ‘leaf’ logo on the label. We hold copies of the organic certificates for all of our suppliers. Each certifying body will carry out a regular audit (usually annually) of the suppliers under their control and we also make visits to them ourselves. Products are tested by the accreditation bodies to make sure it's organic and we also do random spot checks for pesticides.

    • 92% less plastic in our fruit & veg boxes
    • Since 1988 we’ve pioneered a low plastic approach to life. Over this time we’ve saved at least 60 million plastic bags by using returnable and reusable cardboard boxes instead. If you line up all those saved bags they’d wrap around the moon three times! Cosmic, huh?

      Over the years we’ve done a bunch of stuff to reduce the other plastic we use, especially in our fruit and veg boxes. We compared our best-selling organic fruit and veg boxes over a four-week period to the same organic fruit and veg from four supermarkets (Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda). The total weight of plastic in the supermarket deliveries across the four weeks was 268.13g whereas ours was 19g. So our deliveries use 92.86% less plastic compared to the supermarkets.

      We do use some plastic to keep food fresh and safe, as we recognise that food waste is a bigger issue to tackle in the climate emergency. Decomposing food not only produces greenhouse gases, it’s also a waste of the resources used to produce it. Keeping carbon emissions as low as possible means we contribute less to global heating, and that is a key consideration for us.

      Across our fruit and veg range, only some of our salads, soft fruits, and leafy greens currently need plastic to keep them fresh. We’ve been trialling sustainable alternatives, and are on the cusp of being able to make some really exciting changes.

      Everything else either comes loose, or in FSC card or pulp punnets (which are made from recycled paper and card), which are easy to recycle, or in compostable materials. Interesting fact from our research: we found that even when we selected ‘no plastic bags’ at the online checkout, each delivery apart from Asda’s, came in plastic bags.

      There’s no use crying over spilt milk, but what about broken glass? Our milk cartons account for 40% of our plastic use. We’re working with a university research team to analyse the environmental impact of what would happen if we switched to glass or other materials, to understand which option is truly better. We’re currently looking into using refillable tubs for some products. Our Woolcool® packaging is all returnable and reusable.

      Some of our products are completely plastic free, using card and/or compostable materials instead. Soon you will be able to find them in our plastic-free category.

    • All delivered in the most efficient way
    • From day dot we’ve designed our delivery routes to minimise food miles and carbon emissions as much as possible. That’s why you can’t specify when you’d like your delivery, and why we can’t guarantee what time exactly it will arrive. By delivering to certain areas on certain days each week we make our deliveries as environmentally efficient as possible. Good things do come to those who wait in.

      We can do this because our vans are specially designed to carry more deliveries than other vans. And having our own driving team means we provide regular training to help them be more efficient drivers. We also remap our routes every day so we can keep emissions down as much as possible. These last couple of things have led to a saving of 35,000 gallons of fuel a year.

      And when the van comes to the end of its life, we remove the body, refurbish it, and pop it on a new vehicle. This means fewer materials finding their way to landfill. We were the first people in our industry to do this.

    • Zero airfreight
    • Whilst most of the world has been cruising towards a climate emergency, we've known for a long time that the way food is grown, sourced, made and delivered has a huge impact on the planet. Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough agree that airfreighting food costs the earth. Sending things by plane uses between 50 and 100 times more energy compared to shipping.

      Here at Abel & Cole we’ve never airfreighted a thing. Our zero air miles policy is just one of the things we've always done to minimise our carbon footprint. We champion eating by the season and as close to home as we can get it. But for things from further afield (like bananas), we only ever transport by road or ship, never by air. If you’re really keen to buy British only veg, we have the All British Veg Box.

    • What is a carbon footprint anyway?
    • A carbon footprint is defined as the total emissions caused by an individual, event, organisation or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.

      Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, according to a University of Oxford study. Organic soils sequester (capture) up to 450kg more carbon per hectare than non-organic farms, and organic soil carbon stocks are up to 3.5 tonnes higher per hectare than non-organic farms. Based on this, if all UK farmland converted to organic, it would be the rough equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road.

      Non-organic farming also relies heavily on fossil fuel based sprays. For example, much of the emissions from non-organic bread come from the fertiliser used to grow wheat. This 2017 study found that ammonium nitrate fertiliser accounted for 43% of the greenhouse gases emitted producing a loaf of bread.

  • Organic & Wild
    • 100% organic or sustainably wild food
    • In a nutshell, organic farming means food as it should be; food you can trust, food that doesn’t cost the earth, and food where the animals are treated with respect. It’s a conscientious way of tending to the land that is kinder. Organic farming always means:
      • No synthetic sprays (pesticides, fertilisers, fungicides, insecticides).
      • No artificial colours or preservatives.
      • Working with nature, not against it.
      • No routine use of antibiotics.
      • The gold standard for animal welfare (even better than free range!).
      • No GM ingredients.

      Almost everything we do is organic; only things that cannot be officially certified, like water, salt, wild game, sea-caught fish, and foraged food are not. This is because they have not been ‘farmed’ and therefore aren’t controlled under organic standards. We work closely with all our suppliers though to know they prioritise ethics and environment. Outside of food, our cleaning products (whilst eco-friendly) are not organic. Everything that is certified organic is clearly labelled on the website with a little O-shaped symbol, and on the products themselves.

      The main certifying body in the UK is The Soil Association; they certify us as a company as well as plenty of our food and drink. However, there are also eight other Organic Control Bodies, approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Organic products from abroad will be certified by the relevant body in that country, shown by the organic control code on the label. For organic items grown or produced in the EU, there will also the EU ‘leaf’ logo on the label. We hold copies of the organic certificates for all of our suppliers. Each certifying body will carry out a regular audit (usually annually) of the suppliers under their control and we also make visits to them ourselves. Products are tested by the accreditation bodies to make sure it's organic and we also do random spot checks for pesticides./li>

    • Why is organic farming different?
    • Organic farming is a holistic way of farming that works with nature, not against it.

      All farming was organic until the Second World War when a combination of surplus nerve agents (good for neutralising insects) and a requirement to increase food production saw farmers using petrochemical sprays on their crops. An industry was born and synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides enabled agriculture to expand rapidly.

      This type of mass-production farming is now commonplace and over 98% of global land is farmed using these synthetic inputs. Shockingly, though we produce enough food globally to feed 14 billion people, yet we are a population of only 7.7 billion of which 600 million are undernourished and 1.9 billion are over nourished.

      A group of outlier farmers saw that this new farming revolution was in conflict with nature, and decided to skip it, instead farming in a way that promoted biodiversity and protected the countryside. These early organic pioneers, united by a devotion to soil health and sustainability, formed the Soil Association in 1946 to recognise and certify other farmers, producers and retailers who champion the organic cause.

    • Is organic an answer to the climate emergency?
    • We believe it is a strong contender! Organic soil is naturally healthy and resilient as it contains billions of bacteria that make it able to store water, nitrogen and other nutrients. Healthy organic soil absorbs more water by storing as much as 3,750 tonnes of water per hectare, which is about 1.5 Olympic swimming pools. This means it’s more drought and flood-resistant compared to non-organic soils.

      Organic soil also sequesters (captures) 450kg more per hectare than non-organic soil and if all UK farmland went organic it’d have the same effect as taking 1.3million cars off the road. So organic is most definitely a fantastic tool in the fight against climate change.

    • What is biodiversity?
    • Biodiversity is the (frankly mindboggling) variety of life on Earth. It encompasses the vast number of species of plants and animals as well as the genetic diversity within and between these species. Biodiversity also includes the different biomes and ecosystems of which they are part, including rainforest, tundra and desert. If your brain can expand even more, it includes the diversity within microscopic organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.

      Biodiversity provides us with food, medical discoveries and ecosystem services (including pollination). From cleaning water and absorbing chemicals (which wetlands do), to providing oxygen for us to breathe, biodiversity is key to life.

      Sadly though, around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. 1/3 of land and 2/3 of the ocean environment have been significantly altered by human behaviour.

      We believe that organic farming, especially the organic farms we work with, offers a more respectful and sustainable alternative to industrial farming. Organic farms also promote biodiversity, and are a refuge for wild plants and provide homes to bees, birds and other species. No harmful chemical sprays means more life: on average, plant, insect and bird life is 50% more abundant on organic farms, and organic farms are also home to 30% more wildlife species (including mammals) on average than non-organic farms.

    • How does organic affect animal welfare?
    • Organic certification has the highest of animal welfare standards. The Soil Association certifies Abel & Cole and their farms, and their stringent standards cover everything from living conditions and food quality, to the use of antibiotics as well as transport and slaughter:

      • Must have access to graze and forage on organic pasture where only natural fertilisers are used and pesticides are severely restricted.
      • Must have plenty of space (even more than free range!) – which helps to reduce stress and disease.
      • Must have the opportunity to express natural behaviours, such as nest-building or foraging.
      • Are fed an organic diet that is as nutritionally complete as possible and is free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Over a million tonnes of GM crops are imported each year to feed the majority of non-organic livestock that produce chicken, eggs, pork, bacon, milk, cheese etc. This practice is banned under organic standards.
      • Must not routinely be given antibiotics. Farm animals now account for almost two-thirds of all antibiotics used in the EU. These are passed to us through the food chain.
      • Must not be subjected to painful practices such as tail-docking or beak-clipping.

      We only work with farms that are certified as adhering to these standards and make sure all animals are treated with respect, and provided with the room they need to lead a naturally healthy and happy life.
    • How does organic compare to free range?
    • It’s even better! Organic standards demand that all animals have more access to the outdoors and more space than free-range standards.

      For example, on a free-range chicken farm you will find 12 chickens per square meter indoors. And outside there must be 1 square meter for each chicken. In organic, there must be 4 square meters for every chicken outside, and when they’re tucked up inside, you’ll find 10 chickens per square meter. Organic farming also requires that animals spend more time outside than in free-range systems. This low ‘stocking density’ rule applies to all species kept organically, including pigs, poultry and cattle. Policy dictates that the environment must provide opportunities for them to express natural behaviours, like providing pigs with straw to build nests or chickens with sand baths to clean themselves.

      The farms we work with adhere to the most stringent standards to make sure all animals are treated with respect and provided with the room they need to lead a naturally healthy and happy life.

  • Plastic & packaging
    • 92% less plastic in our fruit & veg boxes
    • Since 1988 we’ve pioneered a low plastic approach to life. Over this time we’ve saved at least 60 million plastic bags by using returnable and reusable cardboard boxes instead. If you line up all those saved bags they’d wrap around the moon three times!

      Over the years we’ve done a bunch of stuff to reduce the other plastic we use, especially in our fruit and veg boxes. We compared our best-selling organic fruit and veg boxes over a four-week period to the same organic fruit and veg from four supermarkets (Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda). The total weight of plastic in the supermarket deliveries across the four weeks was 268.13g whereas ours was 19g. So our deliveries use 92.86% less plastic compared to the supermarkets.

      We do use some plastic to keep food fresh and safe, as we recognise that food waste is a bigger issue to tackle in the climate emergency. Decomposing food not only produces greenhouse gases, it’s also a waste of the resources used to produce it. Keeping carbon emissions as low as possible means we contribute less to global heating, and that is a key consideration for us.

      Across our fruit and veg range, only some of our salads, soft fruits, and leafy greens currently need plastic to keep them fresh. We’ve been trialling sustainable alternatives, and are on the cusp of being able to make some really exciting changes.

      Everything else either comes loose, or in FSC card or pulp punnets (which are made from recycled paper and card), which are easy to recycle, or in compostable materials. Interesting fact from our research: we found that even when we selected ‘no plastic bags’ at the online checkout, each delivery apart from Asda’s, came in plastic bags.

      Our milk cartons account for 40% of our plastic use. We’re working with a university research team to analyse the environmental impact of what would happen if we switched to glass or other materials, to understand which option is truly better. We’re currently looking into using refillable tubs for some products. Our Woolcool® packaging is all returnable and reusable.

      Some of our products are completely plastic free, using card and/or compostable materials instead. Soon you will be able to find them in our plastic-free category.

    • What is Abel & Cole doing to reduce plastic?
    • We’ve always been keen to keep our plastic use low and our preference is always to work with growers and makers who use minimal, sustainable packaging wherever possible.

      Over the last year we’ve reduced the plastic in our organic fruit and veg boxes by 18% so we now have 92% less plastic than the equivalent supermarket shops.

      It’s in our bones to challenge ourselves to do things better. Over 10 years ago, we replaced polystyrene chill boxes with Woolcool© which is British, sustainable and 100% recyclable. We just love it, it’s so cool. It even keeps things colder than polystyrene ever did.

      This summer we took the decision to stop selling still bottled water, and now offer just sparkling water in aluminium cans or glass. We’re currently sourcing a sustainable reusable water filter so people (who previously bought still bottled water) can confidently enjoy tap water.

    • What plastic do you use and why?
    • We're plastic-free wannabees though we do rely on some plastic to keep your food fresh and healthy. We only use it when necessary, for two reasons:

      1. Reducing food waste. Food waste is one of the biggest contributing factors to climate change so we avoid it as much as humanly possible. Sometimes a bit of plastic is the difference between 200 mouldy cucumbers or 200 deliciously fresh cucumbers that'll happily last a week. It is frankly brilliant at keeping food from spoiling both in transit and in the home. Biodegradable alternatives are either many times the price and/or not quite robust enough to do the job as well.

      2. Reducing transport & carbon emissions. From day dot we’ve tried to minimise the impact of our transportation (from the farm to us, and us to you). Plastic is often the lightest and safest option for food transport, so can help to keep our carbon footprint down. We’re always weighing up the sustainable viability of all alternatives. Most of our packaging is already recycled, recyclable and/or compostable. Like BioD and Court Lodge who use 100% post-consumer waste (recycled plastic) to make their bottles, which you can then recycle in your curb side collection.

      We’re working our organic derrières off to make everything reusable or recyclable:

      • Fish trays are recyclable (just give them a rinse first!).
      • As you may know, black trays are not collected by most boroughs and councils, so we’ve encouraged farmers to switch to clear trays. Seasonal game and ready meals are the only things in our shop that still come in black trays and they’re just using up the last few packs then switching to clear PET plastic.
      • Currently unrecyclable packaging includes meat vac pack bags (all the trays are recyclable, just give them a rinse) and bags for grains, nuts and seeds. This isn’t good enough we know and we hope to have alternatives very soon. In the meantime you can turn them into ecobricks.
      • Milk bottles make up 40% of the plastic we use. Wait! Hold up! It’s udder control (oh good grief). The bottles are already 30% recycled and we're working to make that 100% recycled. We’re also working with a research team to analyse the impact of alternatives like glass.
    • What do I do with the packaging I get from Abel & Cole?
      • Please leave your Abel & Cole boxes out for us each time we deliver, so they can be reused time and time again.
      • Pulp and card punnets are easily recyclable.
      • Compostable bags are suitable for home composting or food waste collection bins. If you don’t have either of those, return them to us with your boxes so we can add them to our compost heap.
      • Plastic trays for meat and fish can be washed and recycled. Currently the film lid is not widely recycled. If you have a local Terracycle collection point you can take them there.
      • The little clear Podpack pots in our recipe boxes are fully recyclable, and we take them back for Podpack to make other things from, like toilet seats or counter tops. Being made from the newly-developed Breakdown Plastic, if they should accidentally make their way into anaerobic environments like landfill they will completely decompose within a few years.
      • Any glass or aluminium can be easily recycled by your council.
      • Please return all chill packaging, the Woolcool© boxes (and all the gubbins inside) as we reuse it all.
    • How else can I reduce plastic at home?
      • You’ll probably already have a reusable coffee cup and water bottle.
      • You can now also get reusable wooden or bamboo cutlery too.
      • Save glass jars to use as Tupperware.
      • Consider buying toys second hand from charity shops or online sites like www.preloved.co.uk or local forums.
    • What packaging does my Fed by Abel & Cole order come in?
    • It comes in Paptic bags, which we ask you to return to us when we next deliver to you. If for any reason you can’t get them back to us, please make sure you recycle them with your paper recycling.
  • Carbon emissions
    • All delivered in the most efficient way
    • Good things come to those who don’t wait in. From day dot we’ve designed our delivery routes to minimise food miles and carbon emissions as much as possible. That’s why you can’t specify which day you’d like your delivery, and why we can’t guarantee what time it will arrive.

      By delivering to certain areas on certain days each week we have good reason to believe we make our deliveries with just a fraction of the miles, compared to other retailers.

      Set aside cycling, public transport and feet for a moment, and let us say that there are three types of grocery delivery options; individuals driving to the shop, a shop delivering at a time specified by the customer, a shop-designed delivery route that has the least impact on the environment. Same day, next day and hourly slot deliveries offered by supermarkets and other delivery services are pretty rubbish for the environment. Vans zigzag around the place, wasting precious fuel and polluting the air with carbon dioxide and particulate matter.

      A US study ‘The true cost of convenience’ found that “grocery delivery trucks emitted between 20% and 75% less carbon dioxide per customer on average than passenger vehicles driving to the stores around Seattle, but only if grocery stores could choose drop-off times and optimise delivery routes.” Companies who clustered deliveries by postcode, like we do, instead of letting customers choose their delivery slot, emitted between 80 and 90% less carbon dioxide.

      We then cut emissions even further, oh yes. Every day we remap our routes (to allow for new customers joining or existing customers who may be on holiday) so we’re delivering in the most logical sequence - without wasting so much as a cherry tomato’s worth of carbon.

      We’ve specially designed our vans to carry more than other vans on the road – we even use bespoke pallets that work with our boxes to reduce transporting any air. And our superstar drivers attend regular training to help them be more efficient drivers. In the last year alone these changes have collectively saved 35,000 gallons of fuel. And when the van comes to the end of its life, we remove the body, refurbish it, and pop it on a new vehicle. This means fewer materials finding their way to landfill. We were the first people in our industry to do this.

      We continually scrutinize every little thing about our deliveries to make sure we’re being as environmentally friendly and efficient as we can be. There’s always room for improvement of course, and we'll be trying out some vans next year that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) made from food waste.

    • What is so special about Abel & Cole vans?
    • Abel & Cole yellow vans are green at heart. Every morning we tweak our delivery routes to make sure time on the road is kept to an absolute minimum.

      We were the first people in the delivery industry to design our vans themselves to be lighter, so we could carry more goods on them, therefore increasing the amount of people we can visit in a day with a single van, and reducing our carbon emissions.

      Over the years we’ve trialled alternative fuels so we can move away from fossil fuels. Our ‘veg van’ ran on recycled vegetable oil (chip fat, essentially) but the engine kept blowing. It turned out the stop and start nature of our deliveries aren’t suited to that kind of fuel.

      In the next few months we’re welcoming five new yellers into our fleet, and these gems will run on Compressed Natural Gas made from our food waste, which rather neatly closes a loop.

    • Do you use bicycles to deliver your food?
    • If you've walked down a busy London street in the last 5 years you'll know how many delivery vehicles fill the roads. Even before the 2013 explosion of same day deliveries light goods vehicles (LGVs) and HGVs accounted for 33% of road transport nitric and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in Greater London.

      To help offer a more positive alternative, Fed by Abel & Cole launched earlier this year delivering food by electric assisted cargo bikes. Our small but perfectly formed troupe of 6 bikes (technically trikes as they have 3 wheels) take our organic, sustainably sourced and packaged food and drink from our Hoxton base, to offices and shared workplaces all over the city of London.

      Each week we effectively take a light good vehicle (LGV) off the road in the 2.5 mile radius from our Hoxton base. This saves roughly 6 tonnes of CO2 and at least 14.1 kg nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 21 g particulate matter (PM) per year would be saved.

      Bicycles are brilliant. They're the quiet, low cost and zero emission option. By using trikes not trucks we're reducing congestion, carbon emissions and noise whilst improving air quality. That's a quadruple win!

    • What is Abel & Cole doing to reduce carbon emissions?
    • Ooh we love cutting carbs (not sourdough bread though, thank you very much!) By only listing food and drink made without fossil fuel sprays we avoid the carbon emissions associated with the production of said sprays. For example, almost half of the emissions from non-organic bread come from the fertiliser used to grow wheat. This 2017 study found that ammonium nitrate fertiliser accounted for 43% of the greenhouse gases emitted in producing a loaf of bread.

      We jiggle our delivery routes every day to make sure we’re only using fuel when we absolutely need to. (Good things really do come to those who don’t wait in!)

      In our never-ending quest to perfect the most sustainable delivery model, we’re trialling alternative fuels. We'll be trialling a handful of our vans running on CNG (compressed natural gas) made from food waste. Now, of course, we’re very careful about how we work so we have as little food waste as possible. We never send any food to landfill and any unavoidable leftovers go to charity. Now though, anything not fit for eating goes to make CNG. It’s closing the loop on our food waste, which makes us do a happy dance every time we think about it.

      An American study found that ‘grocery delivery trucks emitted between 20% and 75% less carbon dioxide per customer on average than passenger vehicles driving to the stores around Seattle, but only if grocery stores could choose drop-off times and optimise delivery routes. When customers choose, the carbon savings are significantly smaller.’

      We never airfreight anything and haven’t for 30 years. Airfreighting uses a hundred times as much energy as ships. We’ve always thought it was a bit of a bonkers way to get food from A to you. We support far-flung communities in other ways, and transport everything by only sea and land.

      As part of the Clean Van Commitment, we’ve pledged to have zero emission vans in cities by 2028 (but we reckon we’ll get there a lot sooner than that).

    • Why do you only deliver once a week?
    • From day dot we’ve designed our delivery routes to minimise food miles and carbon emissions as much as possible. That’s why you can’t specify when you’d like your delivery, and why we can’t guarantee what time exactly it will arrive. By delivering to certain areas on certain days each week we make our deliveries as environmentally efficient as possible.
    • Zero airfreight
    • Whilst most of the world has been cruising towards a climate emergency, we've known for a long time that the way food is grown, sourced, made and delivered has a huge impact on the planet.

      Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough agree that airfreighting food costs the earth. Sending things by plane uses between 50 and 100 times more energy compared to shipping.

      Here at Abel & Cole we champion eating by the season and as close to home as we can get it. But for things from further afield (like bananas), we only ever transport by road or ship, never by air. If you’re really keen to buy British only veg, we have the All British Veg Box.

    • How can I reduce carbon emissions at home?
    • Carbon emissions cover almost everything you consume, but the biggest difference you can make is to:
      • Change your household energy to a green supplier.
      • Avoid wasting food.
      • Choose greener transport options, like switching trains for planes and car sharing or using public transport or bicycles to get to work.
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