How to make your SME more planet-friendly

By Louise Palmer Masterton, Stem & Glory

I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere of David Attenborough’s new documentary ‘A Life on our Planet’, which has since been seen by many, many more people.

Described as his ‘witness statement’, the film is not only an emotional watch, it also contains compelling statistics that define the devastating problems we face if we don’t stop destroying our planet. The film shows the numbers for the rapid increase in global population, the increase in carbon in the atmosphere, and the accompanying sharp decrease in unfarmed natural land.

It is not all doom and gloom, as there is a ray of hope at the end. Attenborough lays out the steps we need to take to quickly redress the balance and allow the planet to recover.

These steps are simpler than you might think; population control, rewild to restore biodiversity, stop eating meat, abandon fossil fuel in favour of renewable energy, use less land in more intelligent ways to produce more food and – probably most importantly - stop waste!

Can your SME play a part?

Of course, international action is needed, but we can all instigate actions that make a difference. Some of these involve supporting non-profits in a financial sense, but many of the actions we can take are changes within our own supply chains which are not disruptive or costly. They simply involve making more ethical choices in our purchasing decisions. A recent Futerra survey showed that 88 per cent of consumers want brands to help them be more sustainable, and many people utilise their purchasing power as a way to make their mark, so it’s also a shrewd business decision to make positive changes within our own business.

Donate to educate Consider donating a small part of your income or profit. Attenborough states that education, particularly of women, plays a huge part in achieving the eradication of poverty. Camfed, a charity directly impacting the education of women is one such example of an organisation working towards this aim.

Audit and support rewilding Perform your own sustainability audit (there are also individuals and organisations that can conduct this for you) and take action accordingly. For example, we work with a tea supplier called Reforest Tea. For one 500g bag of breakfast tea, costing £12, they are able to plant 6-8 trees. Or, as it’s now widely known that palm oil is one of the main reasons that the rainforest has been destroyed, eradicating it in your SME is a way of making an impact.

Investigate veganism Obviously as a vegan brand we are hoping that the whole world will eventually refrain from eating meat. But even if you are not vegan, the fact that 65% of all the mammals on this planet are farm animals, their devastating carbon impact and land use cannot be overstated.

If you have a staff canteen, look to increase the plant-based offerings. Educate your staff about eating less meat (whether that’s avoiding it for a few days a week, or putting less on the plate). If you host events that involve food (whether canapes or a full sit-down), ask your caterers to provide a good choice of plant-based options, or follow the example of other companies and charitable organisations that choose to make their events 100% plant-based.

I am not lecturing here, but don’t count on people wanting to continue eating meat in the future like they do now. Now is the time to explore plant-based options that suit your brand, and develop new products that have a lesser carbon impact.

Sourcing green energy SMEs can make an impact by simply moving to renewable only energy sources. There are a number of these now, including the most established Ecotricity and Green Energy. But we can go one step further. Who are your investors? What are their green credentials? Do they invest in fossil fuels? Who are your partners? Who are your landlords? Scrutinise everything. Ask the questions. Take every opportunity you can to bring attention to this.

Urban / vertical farming In Amsterdam there are some super exciting projects with vertical and urban farms. They are a big exporter of vegetables because of this and they get a greater output from a much smaller footprint in this way. These concepts are now also breaking into the hospitality sector. I visited a restaurant called Juniper & Kin which is on the top floor of a tall hotel building. They have a green house on their roof and grow a high percentage of their produce there. There are a number of similar operators in the UK and it’s a hugely exciting space to be involved with. We are in discussion with our landlords about making this happen at our existing and all future sites.


Probably the biggest issue of all.

Packaging Waste

There’s a massive amount of misinformation out there on this subject, especially with regards to single use. I watched a short film recently, called Our Planet, Our Business and one of the experts said, ‘there is no such thing as waste, it’s just a commodity in the wrong place at the wrong time’. That really struck me. Packaging is a complicated subject that we've been immersed in researching for some time, and here is what we have learned:

The only truly sustainable, circular solution for packaging is to use products that are made from 100% recycled post-consumer waste, which are then endlessly recycled. So, we are no longer using single use anything.

Compostable is not the answer to the issue of single use, as compostable containers are widely made from virgin materials, which increase the carbon footprint of the product, and do nothing to solve the issue of mass disposability.

When the world is truly plastic free, then it may be that recycled packaging which is also compostable could play a part. But, whilst we have such huge amounts of post-consumer plastic waste, the most responsible thing we can do is recycle it. If demand for 100% recycled plastic were greater, demand would also increase for manufacturers to buy post-consumer waste plastic. And so it goes on.

Of course, responsible use of recycled plastic products requires education, and we need to invest energy into just that. It's a big step for us all to make in our heads because plastic has been vilified for so long, but research shows it's moving away from single use anything that has the greatest carbon impact. The leap we all need to make is to start viewing plastic (and everything else on this planet) as a valuable commodity.

Recycling waste inventively

At Stem & Glory, we are currently fitting out a new site in Cambridge. The driver behind our decor is reuse and recycle as far as possible. It’s been great to see that there are so many new products on the market that are composed of recycled post-consumer waste. We predict that this will explode massively in the coming months and years. From table-tops to worktops, paint, flooring, concrete, lights, innovation is everywhere. And it looks completely fab! As part of this process we have also been able to get our entire team on board - from designers to contractors, all are now also committed to the reuse and recycle way of living.

Never underestimate the contribution that an individual or individual business can play. By changing ourselves we generate spirals of positive influence - the R number of sustainability! The more you make changes and tell others, the more people you will influence for good.


Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory; hip and trendy but accessible plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally sourced ingredients, 100% made on site. Stem & Glory also offers click-and-collect and local delivery in London and Cambridge.

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