Innocent drinks: Sustainability is now a business imperative

EXCLUSIVE: We are moving from a point in time where companies do sustainability because it's the 'right thing to do', to a point it is essential to the bottom line.

Innocent has carried out several projects in partnership with farmers and local universities to find new efficient agricultural processes, which it then shares across the supply chain

Innocent has carried out several projects in partnership with farmers and local universities to find new efficient agricultural processes, which it then shares across the supply chain

That’s according to Charlotte Cawthorne, the sustainability manager at Innocent drinks which sells two millions smoothies a week.

Speaking exclusively to edie, Cawthorne warned that the growing threat of climate change and water stress could pose an existential threat to slow-to-adapt companies.

For Innocent, a company whose fruit supply chain extends across the globe, protecting against these risks is vital.

Cawthorne said: "We’re working to improve our resilience to security of supply risks like climate change, water scarcity, soil degradation, extreme weather events and the increasing incidence of pests and diseases. 

"These have become very real business risks.  For this reason I think the key advice is to ensure the company strategy and sustainability strategy are the same, the two things can no longer be separate.

Securing a sustainable and steady supply of fruit is vital to the business, but as Innocent continues to grow, Cawthorne says it is getting harder and harder to monitor the entire supply chain.

One solution has been to tackle issues on a macro level. In recent years, Innocent has carried out several projects in partnership with farmers and local universities to find new efficient agricultural processes, which it then shares across the supply chain.

For example, a partnership in Spain with the University of Cordoba, trialled different types of irrigation and water management and found a way to grow the same number of strawberries using between 10% and 40% less water.

The video Innocent made to share irrigation technqiues among Spanish farmers (English subtitles)

Similarly a partnership with Indian mango farmers and a local university led to the development of sustainable agriculture plan which increased yields by 25% despite dwindling levels of rainfall.

“We do definitely collaborate,” said Cawthorne. “Especially if there’s systemic change needed, we don’t just tell the farms to change and expect them to do it on their own.”

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Cawthorne said this type of project may not garner headlines, but undoubtedly helps to mitigate the business risk posed by water shortages.

She explained: “We haven’t set our standards according to what the latest trend is in ethical consumption, we set them according to what we think is important, and that means what we work on isn’t always what would give us the best image.

“Fortunately our brand image gives us a certain amount of trust, but we don’t want to abuse that trust and I think we’ve set higher standards for ourselves because of that.

She also cites that trust as the reason why Innocent doesn’t produce a full sustainability report, adding: “We could spend our time writing reports or we could spend our time working on sustainability projects, so we’ve always chosen to do the latter.

"This might be a luxury we have because we have a certain amount of inherent trust from our drinkers, but until we have to, we’ll keep focussed on progressing our sustainability projects rather than reporting."

Smooth road ahead?

The culture of sustainability at Innocent is so strong that Cawthorne says the only things that would make her job easier are external changes.

"If the oil price was higher for example, that would reduce the relative price of recycled plastic," she said.  

"Or if we had a government that seized the opportunity to do things differently and incentivised the level of decarbonisation that’s required to secure the long-term future of businesses like ours, then we’d be able to do much more sustainability work while retaining our competitiveness."

Charlotte Cawthorne at edie's Responsible Procurement & Supplier Engagement conference

edie’s fourth annual 2015 Responsible Procurement & Supplier Engagement conference takes place on 15 September at the Holiday Inn Birmingham City Centre hotel. 

Charlotte will be presenting a talk on the topic ‘Engaging an outsourced supply chain in sustainability: Is it possible to achieve leadership?’.

To find out more about the conference, click here.

Brad Allen


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agriculture | supply chain

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