About Sharpham Dairy
Sharpham Dairy makes and sells award winning artisan cheeses and accompaniments to wholesalers, cheesemongers and delis, and direct to consumers.
Cheesemaking began 40 years ago on the Sharpham Estate, near Totnes and along with several other small cheesemakers, Sharpham led the revival of British artisan cheese across the country in the 1980s.
In 2019 Sharpham’s wine and cheesemaking operations were separated and the Dairy was bought by Devon couple Greg and Nicky Parsons.
Food Drink Devon spoke to Greg about what sustainability means for Sharpham Dairy.
What have you done to make your business more environmentally friendly?
For us, the idea of being sustainable wasn’t just about being environmentally friendly. We wanted to look at it more holistically.
When we took over the cheese business it had already been running along fairly sustainable lines, but we wanted to make changes which would tackle today’s pressing issues and help to secure its future for the next 40 years.
We decided that aiming for BCorp certification would provide us with a framework to achieve this.
B Corp measures a company’s entire social and environmental impact across five areas – governance, workers, community, environment and customers. It makes you look at things more forensically and you make decisions that are for good. It really encourages you to look at all elements and at how you can approach things differently and sustainably.
In fact, the underlying BCorp commitment to ‘purpose beyond profit’ had to be legally embedded in Sharpham’s company articles in order to complete the certification.
Embracing this sort of holistic, ethical approach resulted in Sharpham Dairy becoming the first cheese dairy in the UK to achieve the BCorp certification in 2021. It was a rigorous and challenging process which took almost two years; and was particularly difficult to reach as a mature business, with one foot in dairy farming and one in food production. To have achieved it during such a difficult period was credit to the hard work and enthusiasm of the small team, including our farmers.
Practically speaking our work on minimising our environmental footprint includes introducing responsibly sourced, recyclable packaging and insulation and reusable ice packs. We’re about to introduce Flexi Hex sleeves to protect the bottles in our Christmas hampers, which we’ve sourced from a fellow BCorp in Cornwall.
We’ve created a better place to work; invested in training; secured Living Wage accreditation and we’ve maintained fair and respectful relationships with suppliers. We also recognise that to reduce your carbon footprint you need to know what it is, so we employ carbon accounting specialists Blue Marble to monitor and report back.
We’re artisan cheesemakers. Our business is all about provenance and quality. South Devon is our USP. We craft the best cheese we can using local milk, mostly from our own herd or local family farms who all meet the highest standards of animal care and hygiene.
Our staff live nearby. Our supply chains are intentionally as short as possible for both raw materials and services. Our design, labels and packaging, accountants, IT, carbon accounting are all sourced from the Devon, or just beyond. We do our best to encourage a resilient, sustainable, circular economy here by spending our money with local, sustainable businesses and supporting local charities – including the marvellous Food In Community in Totnes and Hospiscare.
We’re proud founding members of Made In Devon – a major new scheme by Devon County Council – and part of their network of businesses who’ve been vetted and approved by Trading Standards as legal, honest and fair and go out of their way to support local.
We were also really proud to win the inaugural Sustainability Award from the National Virtual Cheese Awards last year.
What would you like to change in the future to improve your sustainability credentials further?
Certification is only the beginning really. Being a B Corp recognises the positive impact we have now, but it also commits us to improvement.
It commits us to keeping these high standards up for the long haul and to grow in a way which balances profit with purpose.
We will be assessed again in a few years. If all goes to plan by that time we’ll have moved from our current home on the Sharpham Estate to a new cheese dairy on the Dartington Estate. We have a long history with Dartington and their environmental ideals align very closely with our own.
In our new home we will have a larger production capacity. We hope to install renewable energy including solar panels, grey water capture and green space with plants for pollinators and sustainable drainage. The fit-out of the new building will use sustainable materials, a local supply chain and local tradesmen.
We’ll continue to improve our disposal of leftover and waste products including water, whey and cardboard, and to make our packaging even more eco-friendly and reusable.
What tips do you have for other businesses that would like to become more sustainable?
Look after your staff, consider BCorp, shop local and invest in your local economy – all things which come naturally to small independents but can get a little lost as a business grows.
Greg is Chair of Food Drink Devon and is happy to share his experience and knowledge of Sharpham’s BCorp journey with fellow members.