The Yorkshire cafés putting sustainability at the heart of their business
Last updated Apr 19, 2024

(Image: Yolk Farm and Number Thirteen)

From dutifully separating plastics and glass for recycling, to thrifting second hand clothes and furniture, there are many small ways we can be kinder to the planet.

As consumers it can feel we can only go so far; extensive research suggests that it is businesses that need to adopt more environmentally conscious methods.

And it’s not only the larger enterprises; while the 2017 Carbon Majors Report revealed that just 100 companies have been the source of 71 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, smaller businesses also have a part to play.

But investing in a greener approach can be costly and time-consuming, especially when plans have to be applied retrospectively to the way a company operates. However, there are plenty of thriving independent businesses that have embraced sustainability from the offset, leading the charge when it comes to greener business practices – especially here in North Yorkshire.

‘I think Knaresborough is quite eco-conscious as a community’

For Sarah Ward, founder of Number Thirteen in Knaresborough, owning her own coffee shop was a dream she’d always held. However, it wasn’t until she moved to New Zealand for a year and experienced their café culture that her vision took on a more environmentally friendly approach.

She explained:

“New Zealanders are very eco conscious anyway, and I noticed that the UK was a bit behind the times in aspects of sustainability, especially in the hospitality industry.”

However, it was important to Sarah that sustainability was an integral cog in the wider machine of running of a café, in order to normalise choosing greener alternatives.

“I wanted to try to create a business that had a focus on sustainability, without shoving it in people’s faces. I wanted it to be engrained in the day to day running of the business, making it work for the business rather than against it.”

(Image: Number Thirteen)

Since Number Thirteen opened in 2018, Sarah estimates they’ve sold over 500 of their own reusable takeaway cups, with many of those customers returning regularly for their caffeine fix.

“Some quick maths will tell you that even if those 500 customers used that cup only once a week, that has stopped 26,000 disposable cups ending up in landfill or being incinerated every year. That’s 156,000 cups since we opened six years ago.

“Many customers use their cups daily, most of them not purchased at Number Thirteen, so that number is unquestionably much higher.”

While she believes that customers primarily seek them out as a coffee shop, the fact that sustainability unpins the operation is an added bonus to many – and encourages them into a greater awareness of the environment in their own lives.

She explained:

“Most customers visit us because we have a good reputation as a local coffee shop, but once they are through the doors and see all the different ways we try to be better for the planet, I think it makes them want to return.

“We have lots of customers commenting on our pre-loved crockery and retro ephemera, taking them back to bygone days, as well as our home compostable takeaway cups or the fact that we use glass milk bottles from a local dairy, making our coffee 100 per cent plastic free.”

Number Thirteen’s efforts certainly haven’t gone unnoticed; this year they were recognised with a Sustainable Business accolade at the Stray Ferret Business Awards.

Number Thirteen at the Stray Ferret Business Awards 2024

In the future, Sarah would love to explore further ways that sustainability could be embraced by not only her business, but the wider community.

She added:

“I would love to set up some kind of commercial composting scheme involving all café businesses in the town. As a lot of takeaway coffee cups are only commercially compostable rather than home compostable, it is difficult to recycle them properly.

“However, setting up this kind of scheme takes a lot of negotiation, compliance and cooperation from both businesses and the public, as well as local authorities, so it’s not something that is achieved overnight.”

‘We always consider sustainability in our approach’

Fundamentally, the nature of Yolk Farm’s business lends itself to sustainability, and it’s a concept they’ve wholeheartedly leaned into.

Located on Minskip Road on the outskirts of Boroughbridge, the farm, shop and café describes itself as a‘young, vibrant, high welfare hen farm run by a new generation of entrepreneurial farmers’.

Emma Mosey of Yolk Farm explained:

“We source all our produce from within a close a radius as possible from our own back door. All our amazing free range eggs and some of our fresh produce are even grown on site, meaning lower food miles.

“93 per cent of everything we sell comes from within 30 miles, which is better for the planet and for the local economy too.”

(Image: Yolk Farm)

Other eco-conscious tactics include using solar panels on the farm, reusing produce boxes from the market for customers’ shopping, and stocking packaging-free options in the shop on dried goods, frozen goods, and household cleaning products.

“We are able to reduce our waste as much as possible by utilising produce from the farm shop in the restaurant and Yard At Yolk too.

“Yolk Farm Bakery makes loads of delicious products for the shop and cafe, including all our home baking made with our eggs. We also have specific dishes on the menu to help use up any waste from the shop.

“Just because fresh produce isn’t quite good enough for sale, doesn’t mean we can’t make something out of it to sell in the restaurant.”

It’s not just human colleagues that are pursuing the environmentally friendly agenda; Yolk Farm has three ‘waste warriors’ in the form of their Kunekune pigs, who consume an estimated two tonnes of fruit and vegetable waste from the farm shop per year.

(Image: Yolk Farm)

According to Emma, many customers do express an interest in the environmentally conscious aspects of the business.

She said:

“I think our customers definitely care about the environment and doing their bit for their patch of the planet: that’s why our ethos of local produce really rings true with them.

“[In the future] we would love to add more solar panels to the farm. As we continue to grow, we will always consider sustainability in our approach.”

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