For many people, doing our bit for the planet includes shopping for reusable water bottles, avoiding plastic straws and recycling diligently. However for Charlie Bigham, founding father of the ready-to-cook meals empire that bears his identify, the problem is on an altogether completely different scale. He has been on a 25-year, hurdle-strewn journey that’s in the end prevented hundreds of thousands of items of plastic from being despatched to landfill.
“We began utilizing picket packaging 15 years in the past,” says Bigham, as he exhibits me across the kitchen at his north-west London HQ. “We felt it was incongruous to be making this beautiful meals and promoting it in plastic containers, and thought it will ship a sign to consumers that we’re a bit completely different.
“I feel companies can get caught worrying, ‘that can be too tough, too costly’, however I’m not afraid of taking a threat. I made a decision we’d simply do it, and fear concerning the issues later.”
The lengthy means of discovering a viable various to plastics started with Bigham getting in contact with a household enterprise in France that made cheese containers from poplar, which he hoped may be used for his meals. “We needed to show the wooden was hygienic, and verify it was food-safe and that it wouldn’t catch hearth within the oven. We, in fact, needed to discover a glue that wasn’t going to soften. It took us a very long time to excellent, however we’re very pleased with our containers, that are fully pure and biodegradable.”
The containers are maybe probably the most seen of the corporate’s sustainability initiatives, nevertheless it doesn’t cease there: Charlie Bigham’s has been putting in photo voltaic panelling and shopping for renewable power for the previous 15 years, and has been zero-to-landfill for greater than a decade. “We’ve additionally just lately modified how our ceramic dishes are made, utilizing extra native clay and firing them as soon as moderately than twice to halve power use,” says Bigham. “We’ve decreased the load of our cardboard sleeves by 30%, which provides as much as 135 tonnes of cardboard saved every year. However the extra you look, the extra there may be to do. We’re continuously considering of recent modifications we are able to make.”
This dedication to steady change has resulted within the enterprise’s latest kitchen – constructed 5 years in the past in a disused quarry close to Wells in Somerset – being designed with environmental concerns in thoughts from the bottom up.
“We took on a spot that had been desolate for 25 years and breathed life again into it,” says Bigham. “We labored with some nice architects to create a spectacular constructing that’s as much as 25% extra power environment friendly than our older kitchens.
“We’ve planted 20 acres of wildflower meadow round us, we generate round 10% of our electrical energy utilizing photo voltaic panels, and we function our personal water-treatment plant. We gained an structure award for the constructing, and we’ve had fairly a number of companies visiting us to see the way it’s achieved.”
Thanks partly to those efforts, Charlie Bigham’s has been afforded B Corp standing, which recognises its dedication to a triple bottom-line – not simply revenue however folks and planet too. Alongside the meals he’s impressively obsessive about, persons are on the coronary heart of his enterprise, which turns into abundantly clear as we tour the kitchens.
In between Bigham greeting his employees, we watch a pool match happening within the subsidised employees cafe, stroll previous indicators asserting long-service milestones (the checklist of people that’ve labored within the kitchens for greater than 5 years is reassuringly prolonged) and chat about how his enterprise provides again to the group. “The core of what we do, from the day we began 25 years in the past, is making scrumptious meals,” says Bigham. “Within the early days it’s important to be very centered on that, however because the enterprise grows you’ve obtained time to take a breath and ask: ‘What can we do in the case of doing the correct factor? How do we glance after our workforce and the broader group?’
“For instance, fairly a number of folks in our London kitchen are initially from Nepal, and after the massive earthquake there in 2015, we began donating to a charity known as School rooms within the Clouds, which was rebuilding colleges in remoted communities. We actually care about getting issues like that proper.”
In addition to supporting his folks – “We rent folks, not operatives,” he says firmly – Bigham donates time and income to group tasks and charities native to his kitchens. “Our hyperlinks with the group are an necessary a part of who we’re,”
he says. “There’s an infinite variety of unbelievable causes on the market, so we love to do issues which might be linked to meals or our communities, or are private to our workforce.”
The enterprise has put its weight behind supporting three key charities. City Harvest London collects surplus meals from eating places and producers, and distributes it to group organisations feeding folks in want. Chefs in Schools exhibits college kitchen groups methods to cook dinner tasty, nutritious meals from scratch, with a concentrate on seasonal meals and sustainable sourcing, whereas Heads Up is a psychological well being charity situated near the Somerset kitchen.
“We’ve all turn out to be rather more conscious of psychological well being points over the past decade,” says Bigham. “We’ve achieved a lot of stuff internally to recognise that, together with appointing psychological well being champions, so it felt like a pleasant hyperlink to accomplice with Heads Up. In addition to donating, we’ve additionally achieved some voluntary work with them, which is one thing we’re hoping to do extra of in future.”
Twenty 5 years after his enterprise was born, meals continues to be Bigham’s chief ardour in life. However what’s much more outstanding is his dedication to go the additional mile in each space of his enterprise – from the annual events he throws for workers, to the kitchens inbuilt a approach that provides one thing again to the planet.
“I’ve a perception that enterprise is a power for good in society, and there are many tasks that include proudly owning one,” he says.
“Sure, we’re about making scrumptious meals, however we’re a few bit greater than that as properly. We’re attempting to be a enterprise that does issues the correct approach.”
Even the perfect dwelling cooks just like the occasional evening off, and that’s the place Charlie Bigham’s dishes come into their very own. With every part from steak pies to paella and salmon en croute, it has by no means been simpler to feed your loved ones properly