High-street Chocolate: Setting the bar high for sustainability.

Ani Talwar explores popular chocolate brands and their plans to provide chocolate that is both delicious and eco-conscious.

Image Credits: Etty Fidele

Who doesn’t like chocolate? In the UK, the average person consumes 7560 chocolate bars, 8316 chocolate biscuits, and over 3000 mugs of hot chocolate within a lifetime. With all this talk about sustainable farming, the big brands of chocolate production are trying to find ways of reducing their impact on the planet as well, but with varied success.

Hotel Chocolat is one of these companies. Their mission is to reduce waste in energy, IT and electronics, which seems is a large task for a business of their scale. Their primary focus has been replacing old technology with new 90% efficiency appliances and their local servers with one central one in order to successfully reduce energy usage. There are even ideas in the works to phase out tills and PC’s in shops, reducing Carbon emissions by 5 tonnes a year.

Chocolate itself needs to be kept at a certain temperature, so measures have been taken to reduce heat loss, including air curtains and automatic switches for lights. Even the energy in other parts of the production line has been minimised, with packaging no longer made in Asia and transported, but made in the UK and the EU instead. Furthermore, the chocolates themselves are now also manufactured at the company’s UK-based factory, to reduce emissions yet again from transport. 

Measures have been taken to make packaging as recyclable as possible, and the width of materials has been reduced by 50% to reduce waste. 100% of card and paper now also come from an FSC-certified source. Fun ways to make packaging reusable have also been rolled out like their Hat Boxes but despite this, Hotel Chocolat still wants to reduce the amount of waste they send to landfills, and so they’ve sourced their own compactor in their warehouse, where plastic and bubble wrap are sent to be recycled and reused where possible, in order to  comply with the goal of reaching net zero carbon by 2030 – a goal I can definitely get behind. So if you’re looking for your next chocolate snack (or fourth in my case) give Hotel Chocolat a try!

Cadbury’s is another big brand giving sustainability a big go! With a goal to have 100% of their cocoa sourced sustainability, Cadbury has set up ‘Cocoa Life’. This initiative is to make sure all cocoa is sustainable, from farming to the economic benefits. So far, all of Cadbury Dairy Milk is sustainably sourced through this, however there is still some work to be done to achieve the goal of 100% sustainable sourced chocolate by 2025! 

To date, 175,000 farmers have been trained, as part of the initiative, to farm cocoa more efficiently and sustainably, and 10.8million cocoa trees have been planted. Not only this, but 1.4million other trees and nearly 150,000 farms have been mapped out with care not to intrude upon rainforests.

Education measures have now helped 19,000  young people receive training with a further 72,000 people within communities taught how to better manage their finances so that from production to sale, Cadbury’s chocolate is as sustainable as it can be.

Image Credits: Denny Muller

Nestlé is also giving it a go, with commitments to source 100% of their Cocoa sustainably by 2025, through Nestlé Cocoa Plan. Currently they’re at 46% of their cocoa sourced responsibly, but by identifying the three key issues with cocoa sustainability (deforestation, poverty and child labour) they’ve set out a three pillar plan to make their processes more responsible. This involves providing training and materials to farmers, improving education and making changes to deforestation. By 2020, 53 schools had been built/refurbished, 127,550 children had benefited, and 27% of children were no longer in child labour, compared to 5.6% in 2018 in Côte d’Ivoire alone. Recognising that deforestation and sustainable farming is an ongoing and massive issue, Nestlè has also started working with farmers in groups so there can be clear records of purchases and ideas can be trialled on a small scale before being deployed to more people for bigger benefit.

This by no means screams perfection, with Nestlé and Cadbury’s under scrutiny for the practicalities behind their promises as it is. Despite their goals, Nestlé has been pulled up for their unsustainability in practice from their apathy to environmental drought with their bottled water business; and child labour policies, with a lawsuit filed against them by the International Labor Rights Fund. Practices in the production line weren’t the only thing under scrutiny either, but the practice after production was also being looked at with threats in 2009 of E. coli contamination in Nestle Toll House cookie dough.

Mondelez, the owner of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, as well as Cadbury’s, Belvita and Oreo to name a few, are not without fault either. Between 2016 and 2018,, the food company was held responsible for 70,000 hectares or habitat for Orangutans, and in 2018 the company hailed as the biggest buyer of palm oil in the world. Arguably the worst factor is that the company reports that it has purchased palm oil responsibly since 2013, but the certificates used are ‘by far the weakest of the certification models offered by the main palm oil industry body,’ as reported by Jane Dalton.

However, this does not mean there’s no hope for sustainable sweets yet. The company Tony’s Chocolonely is an example of success in this area, having been awarded the most sustainable brand in the Netherlands for the fourth year running in 2021. The company’s goals are to share knowledge and help those that want to be sustainable by inviting other businesses to join what is known as Tony’s Open Chain.

Tony’s Open Chain is an initiative that brings up issues with chocolate into the public eye, and makes the production line more sustainable. The end goal with this is to end modern slavery and child labour through cocoa production, by aiming to ‘structurally change the industry’ and reduce the dangerous conditions that people have to work in.

So chocolate may be tasty and convenient, but we must all appreciate the fact that production and sale pose many challenges both for the environment and those involved. However, the big brands are now taking initiatives to combat these issues, so hopefully one day, our favourite chocolate bars will not only be delicious but also sustainable. 

About the Author: Ani Talwar is the Deputy Wildlife and Environment Editor at WILD Magazine. Ani can be found at @Mischief.weavers, she wrote the book ‘ATRO- CITY THE FLOOD’ and cares passionately about sustainability.

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