Beyond Net Zero Hero: Louisa Ziane, Co-Founder of Toast Ale

Left side text in dark blue reads 'Louisa Ziane, Co founder and COO, Toast Ale', above white text which reads 'Beyond Zero'. Right side has image of Louisa in cropped circle - she is smiling and holding a glass of Toast ale. Turquoise background

“The positive impact of taking action is so huge… It’s about cleaner energy, and breathing cleaner air, having access to cleaner water… It’s quite exciting.”

Louisa Ziane, Toast Ale

Toast Ale is a small company with a big mission, and the voice to match. The business uses surplus bread to brew its beers in place of virgin barley, and donates all profits to charity, helping to fund systemic change to fix the food system. Toast’s ethos centres on the idea that if you want to change the world, you have to throw a better party than those destroying it. This sense of positivity shines through Toast’s comms – and through our chat with Co-Founder Louisa Ziane.

Echoing a number of our Beyond Net Zero Heroes, Louisa makes it clear that collaboration is key. She points out that whilst Toast is a relatively small business, it can have a big impact through working with and inspiring others. “One of the strengths of the B Corp movement is in the way that it is collaborative. The businesses are very open to collaboration. And often those collaborations are happening between competitors. I think that’s really vital if we are to achieve the very ambitious goal to get to net zero by 2030.”

Toast is magnifying its impact through its Rise Up range: a series of limited-edition beers, brewed in collaboration with B Corp brands Divine Chocolate, teapigs, Hobbs House Bakery, ODDBOX, Flawsome, Rebel Kitchen, Rubies in the Rubble and Cafédirect. “We’ve got seven different beers and seven different topics that range from forests, oceans, rivers, soils, climate, biodiversity, and food justice as well. And with each of those beers, we’re partnering up with a B Corp that is working in those areas, to use their ingredients in the beer.”

Louisa concedes that there can be confusion for businesses around the definition of net zero, with many interpreting it as absolute zero – when in reality, offsetting plays a part. She is wary, too, of the vast differences in quality of offsetting programmes, and maintains that B Corps committed to net zero have a responsibility to help the public and other business understand the complexity behind the term ‘net zero’. 

“A lot of tree planting schemes have been about planting monocultures of trees that don’t really bring the benefits of biodiversity with them. I think the term itself is complicated. There’s a lot to unpack… And I think we as businesses have a role to play in helping to communicate to people what it means.”

Hear more from Louisa Ziane, Co-Founder of Toast Ale, on making a big impact with a small business, by listening to the full interview:

Jenny Briggs, Greenhouse PR (00:08)

Welcome to the Beyond Net Zero audio series. We are at a critical moment. According to the IPCC, if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it’s essential that we cut net global carbon emissions by 45% in the next decade, reaching net zero by 2050.  But what if businesses could go one step further, reaching net zero and beyond by 2030? We’ll be interviewing game-changing organisations throughout B Corp month to find out how we can create and communicate a net zero future. The B Corp accreditation has huge potential to inspire more businesses to drive positive and meaningful action on climate change. So please tune in and listen to a series of business pioneers leading the way. 

Hello, today I’m joined by Net Zero Hero, Louisa Ziane from Toast Ale, an award-winning craft beer brewed with surplus fresh bread that would otherwise be wasted. Toast are founded on the principle that to change the world, you have to throw a better party than those destroying it, which I love. And driving positive change in sustainability is at the heart of all that they do. And 100% of all profits are distributed to charities fixing the food system like Feedback. Welcome, Louisa. 

Louisa Ziane, Toast Ale (01:38)

Hi, Jenny. Great to be here. Thanks for inviting me on. 

JB (01:43)

Thanks for being here. I’m a big fan of Toast Ale. And I really enjoyed going to one of your launches back in the day. So I’m so glad to see you thriving. 

LZ (01:53)

Thank you so much. It’s so great to have support of the community. And yeah, we’re only five years old. But we’ve had a few parties along the way. So good to hear you’re with us! 

JB (02:07)

B Corps are 11 times more likely to be carbon neutral than ordinary businesses, which puts us in the driving seat when it comes to reducing our impact. This audio series is all about talking to trailblazing B Corps just like yourselves. And I wanted to kick off and ask for you to give us a little bit of a 30 second, intro around toast and why you founded it, and what your mission is. 

LZ (02:31)

Sure. So we launched Toast Ale five years ago. We’re a craft brewer. We brew with surplus fresh bread that would otherwise be wasted from the bakery industry or the sandwich industry. And then all of our profits go to charities that are fixing the food system. And we set up with the objective to reduce food waste, which is one of the most impactful things that we can do in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss. We know that a third of food is wasted all around the world, despite the huge environmental impact of producing that food in the first place. So by reducing food, we can have a hugely positive impact on the planet, but also in a fun and engaging way. Because food is what brings people together. It’s something that everybody has in common. And we don’t want to waste that food, we want to be growing it and producing it to enjoy it for its nutritional value, and positive cultural aspects as well. And so turning it into a beer for us was just a win win solution. Taking a project that would otherwise be wasted, giving it a longer shelf life through preservation fermentation, which is the age old technique of preserving foods, and creating a great drink so that people can come together over a pint at the pub or at home and have a conversation about some of these bigger issues. 

JB (04:06)

Thank you, Louisa. That around a third of food being wasted has always haunted me ever since I heard it, I think about eight or nine years ago. And it’s just not left me. So I’m so glad that you’ve taken that, and then you’ve created a really optimistic business model all about trying to find that solution. And I’ve seen firsthand the sheer level of bread waste because I used to work at a surplus food charity called FairShare. And it was astonishing. So the idea that you’re taking that bread waste and then making something beautiful and delicious out of it is just really really inspiring.

LZ (04:43)

Yeah, so in the UK up to 44% of bread is being wasted. And that’s fresh bread. It’s not the bread, that stale or mouldy, it’s breads that’s left on bakery shelves at the end of the day or supermarket. shelves. And like you say there is so much of it, that even the bread that is donated to food charities often is surplus because they can’t hold on to it for a long time. It does have a short shelf life. And the just the sheer volume of the surplus means that often charities are either having to turn it away, or they end up with a waste problem themselves. So, yes, with we’re turning it into something positive that we can hopefully use to influence wider impacts on food waste. 

JB (05:33)

Brill. I’d love as well, if you could just give us a little bit of an explainer about your Rise Up series, because what I love the most about that series is the fact that you’re really looking into how you can work and collaborate with other B Corps. And so I wondered if you could just give us a little bit of a explainer on that one?

LZ (05:53)

Absolutely. So we launched Rise Up last year, as a way of educating and raising awareness about the connection between the industrial production of food, and climate change and biodiversity loss. We are leading up to COP15 this year, which is around biodiversity, and then COP26, which is the coming together of national governments from all over the world to update our plans for mitigating and adapting to climate change. And so we launched this series to try to explain what we mean by a broken food system, what the various impacts are on the on the planet. We are using a series of beers to tell that story. So we’ve got seven different beers and seven different topics that range from forests, oceans, rivers, soils, climate, biodiversity, and food justice as well. And with each of those beers, we’re partnering up with a B Corp that is working on those areas, to use their ingredients in the bay. So that is a really interesting and tasty element that that those partnerships bring. But it also helps us to tell a broader story about the food system beyond food waste. We now have three beers that have been launched. And we are leading up to the next one.

JB (07:35)

Well, I really recommend everyone check out Rise Up and take a look at your website to have a little bit more information on the series and all of the different topics that you’re covering. It’s super interesting, and bringing that story to life through beer is a really revolutionary and different way of thinking. So thank you. Could you perhaps go into what role the B Corp movement has in achieving and exceeding our net zero targets within the UK?

LZ (08:08)

Yeah, so many B Corps, over 500 of them, took a leading role at COP25, so almost 18 months ago, and made a commitment to be net zero by 2030. And I think the B Corp movement as a whole does have this leadership role. We have a role to acknowledge the fact that business has caused many of these emissions, and to also accept the responsibility that as businesses, we need to be investing in quite dramatically reducing the emissions that we’re emitting today. And also removing emissions from the atmosphere. But also investing in adapting to a climate that is changing. And I think one of the strengths of the B Corp movement is in the way that it is collaborative, as we’re doing with the Rise Up series. Businesses are very open to collaboration. And often those collaborations are happening between competitors, not just businesses in different industries. 

I think that’s really vital if we are to achieve the very ambitious goals to net zero by 2030. We need to obviously invest in innovative solutions and come up with creative ideas for how we get there. That might be technology, it might be behaviour change, but we need to do it at pace and also at scale. And Toast is a very small business. We have limited ability in what we can do, but working with others, we can magnify that impact and that that is the same for the entire movement. As a group of businesses that all share a common commitment to people on the planet, we can work together. And I think we are showing that it is an inspiration to other businesses. And not all businesses within the B Corp movement have made that commitment, but we’re increasingly seeing more and more sign up to that net zero by 2030 target. But also encouraging other businesses to join the B Corp movement. We’re seeing greater awareness with consumers as well, and people seeing the positive possibilities that exist. And I think also putting pressure on some of those businesses that are not yet taking that that leading role. 

JB (10:50)

I completely agree. I think what really comes across in lots of these interviews that we’re having throughout the series is that there’s a sense that the B Corp movement is all about fostering collaboration, to achieve these targets, and getting the best businesses to join together to think about how they could tackle them. And not that competition, because competition won’t get us anywhere – we will never achieve anything, if we’re competing to be the best. We need to all try and bring everybody alongside and bring us bring people with us. So I love the fact that B Corp actively tries to recruit as many people as possible and support them on their journey with accreditation, and how they can be a B Corp. So it’s not an exclusive movement.

LZ (11:38)

Yeah, it’s great to see at the moment, as well, so many new businesses that are joining the movement, and making very leading commitments as part of becoming a B Corp as well. 

JB (11:51)

How have you approached your net zero targets as a company?

LZ (11:57)

We are still only a very small business, but we are growing. And so for us, although our carbon footprint is relatively small, we wanted to make sure that as we grow, we invest in doing so in a carbon neutral way. And preferably, you know, that’s about reducing absolute emissions, not just relative emissions to the size of the business. So as we consider our strategic growth, we’re looking at how we can do that in in a way that will reduce our emissions. And that might be as we’re looking – although our plans were somewhat delayed by COVID, and the lockdown – how we can look to [reduce emissions] if we’re going to have our own physical space, for example. Because at the moment, we contract brew, so we’re using up slack in the industry that already exists, which was how we felt was an appropriate way for us to start without creating a footprint of our own. So as we grow, and if we’re going to have our own space, how do we find a space and create a space that is energy efficient, that is using renewable energy, etc. And has as positive an impact as possible. 

But I think the key thing for us has been about measurement. So understanding what our footprint is now, and so that therefore gives us a baseline. And that includes Scope 3 emissions as well. So your Scope 1 and 2 emissions are typically your own business, your own controlled operations. Scope 3is looking across your whole value chain. And for us – because we contract brew, because we work with a fulfilment partner for our deliveries, because we sell to a lot of retailers, and pubs, restaurants, etc. – lot of the emissions associated with Toast are actually occurring with somebody else. So we wanted to make sure that we fully understood what our full footprint was. And then from that baseline, we’re able to identify where we should prioritise action, where are the biggest source of our emissions. And as we grow, how we therefore work to eliminate preferably, or significantly reduce those emissions. We made that commitments in Madrid at COP25 to be net zero by 2030. We publicly have talked a lot about about that commitment. We’re not communicating that we’re there – we’re communicating that we’re on a journey. That public commitment for us is about holding ourselves accountable, and making sure that in every key decision we’re making, we are factoring in that commitment that we’ve made. We will look at carbon removals as a way of netting the emissions that we do release. But I wanted to prioritise reduction before offsets. 

There is a lot of controversy – more in the past, I think they’re becoming much, much better now, the options for offsetting – but there is a risk that if it’s easy to offset, then you continue to emit. So for me, it’s been really important that we understand how we can get as low as we can go before emitting, and then to look at not just carbon removals, but at what the quality of those are, how through those removals we’re also looking at preserving nature and looking at, for example, rewilding projects, that factor in biodiversity as well as climate change. 

JB (16:04)

I find it so interesting as well, that when you were conducting your measurement exercise, you’ve realised that actually a lot of your impact and your influence is going to have to be on those partners. And that that outside spectrum, so it’s not going to be your operations completely, but the people who you’re working in partnership with. And I guess the transparency and your public commitment, for reaching net zero by 2030, has meant that they must be aware that they need to make dramatic changes. And I guess you’re working in supporting them to do that, too.

LZ (16:40)

Yeah, absolutely. And whenever we’re looking to work with a new partner, as part of that assessment – whereas many businesses may base it on performance delivery, or service delivery and cost – the environmental impact is really key for us. So with all new suppliers, we ask them to complete a review from an environmental perspective so we understand where they are on their journey as well. And we’re not expecting everybody to be perfect. We recognise for everybody else as well that it’s a journey. And we can then look at how, together, we can all improve. 

JB (17:22)

I’d love to have a little bit more of an understanding, just separate from Toast, and I guess your perspective as an individual, but also as a business leader, around what you think a net zero future looks like? 

LZ (17:38)

I think it’s really positive. I know, we talk about the scale of the challenge and the problems and there is a huge risk – the future could be not very rosy if we don’t take action. But the positive impact of taking action is so huge. You know, you can look at it from a business perspective of thinking about energy efficiency, which is using less energy, so putting less demands on the system. But for from a business perspective, that’s reducing costs. When you’re looking at renewables, it’s also about cleaner energy, and breathing cleaner air having access to cleaner water. So I do think it’s quite exciting, this net zero future, where we don’t have pollution, we don’t have waste. Imagine being able to eliminate food waste, and not just from a climate perspective, but from a justice perspective, as well from the fact that we produce so much food and yet a third is wasted. And at the same time, there are billions of people that don’t have enough food to eat. If we can fix some of these issues, I think a net zero future, a more sustainable and a more just future, is a really positive and exciting ambition for us to have. 

JB (19:17)

I can feel the optimism flowing out of you which is so nice to hear because I think sometimes we can get so caught up in in the urgency and the anxiety that I think many of us feel around the climate emergency, and the impact it’s having, and what we are losing essentially. But also it’s really nice to picture a future that there are so many benefits to, that will kind of bring more people together, really raise equality. So hearing you talk about that with a real energy is so good to hear. 

LZ (19:50)

Yeah, and I think you need that energy to keep working at this every day. This is about a vision of a better future for everybody that incentivizes us to keep doing this. 

JB (20:05)

Agreed. What do you think the general public understand about net zero as a term? 

LZ (20:12)

Well, it is very complex. I think even for many people that are now starting to work on this, the term itself is subject to misunderstanding. And so to expect the general public to understand what it means is really challenging. I think there’s a misunderstanding between absolute zero and net zero. So I think there’s probably an assumption that where a company declares it’s net zero, that people assume that it has reduced its emissions. Whereas for many companies, that really means offsetting. And I don’t think people really understand the challenges of offsetting. The quality of [offsetting schemes], the fact that sometimes there are financial incentives for companies to invest in in them, and the difficulties of finding schemes that also promote biodiversity. For example, a lot of the tree planting schemes have been about planting monocultures of trees that don’t really bring the benefits of biodiversity with them. So I think the term itself is complicated. There’s a lot to unpick within that term. I think we as businesses have a role to play in helping to communicate to people what it means from their perspective. 

JB (22:01)

Yeah, that moves on to my next question, which is all around how you think we could help. There’s a big education piece that needs to happen for us to reach net zero, because people really do need to have more of an understanding of the complexities and nuances around that term to make it a reality. So how do you think we should communicate net zero targets to the public? 

LZ (22:25)

I think it’s about focusing on those positives that we talked about – that we will have cleaner air, cleaner water, a sustainable, equitable, future And exciting people about what that better future looks like. I think we can’t hide behind the reality of what will happen if we don’t. And also the impetus for doing so now, because, you know, the cumulative impact of carbon emitted today is going to have a bigger impact on the future. So we can’t delay action for another for another 10, 20, 30 years. When we talk about net zero by 2030, we’re not talking about doing nothing until we get to 2030. And similarly with other commitments that have been made by businesses and governments for 2040 and 2050 – that’s not about doing something in the future. It’s about action now. And so we have to find a way of talking positively about the action that we’re taking and how that is more fun, more exciting.  

I think we’ve seen with the switch, for example, to electric vehicles, it’s become somewhat of a status symbol, and then a  positive aspiration for people. And so people don’t feel like they’re giving something up, or they’re making concessions. And the action that is needed today is also attractive action to take, which has always been our approach. We’re saying to people with Toast, we’re not asking you to make concessions on the quality of the beer or the pleasure of drinking it. We are all about that. But also, you’re doing something positive by doing that. So it’s that kind of mindset, that I think that we need to get to net zero. The positivity of the action and the outcome. 

JB (24:35)

I completely agree. And what’s coming across, as well as that positivity, is also the simplicity. What I think is so brilliant about the Toast comms that that you share is that it’s so simple to understand. And that makes it really actionable and really clear for people, which I think sometimes it can be too complex. But actually you’re trying to approach these really difficult subjects, but with a really clear sentiment.

LZ (25:04)

Absolutely. We want to make it simple for people. We don’t want to put people off. We don’t want to make it too scary. And we’re also wanting to celebrate the small wins that we can all have, and the power that we also have as citizens, for example. So with the Rise Up campaign, as well as the series of beers, we’re asking people to write to their MPs, to ask them to be advocates for climate and nature and environmental policy around food. We all do have influence in our own lives, with our families, with our communities, but as citizens as well. And so making people feel empowered is also really key. 

JB (25:46)

I completely agree. And then it’s our collective power. And the change that that can bring about too, which is really exciting. Looking to the future, what ambitions do you have for toast over the next 5 to 10 years, beyond net zero? Well, we have ambitions of our own, which are about growing but growing in a low-carbon, sustainable way, and looking at how we can invest further. So with the Rise Up series, for example, we’ve trialed a few different approaches. We’ve used a different material for the labels, that’s based on sustainable wood pulp. We’ve used different ingredients. So we’ve been using for some of those beers, organic malts, and other grains in the beer, to look at how we move towards a much more regenerative way of operating. And I’m really keen that through Rise Up, we learn the lessons of what has worked well, and we look to incorporate that much more into the core elements of the business. 

The biggest impact Toast has had, though… We’re such a small business. We are now a team of six people. Our direct impact is limited. I think the power of Toast has been in the power to influence. To communicate our message simply to consumers, but also to influence other businesses. We open-sourced our recipe from the very beginning. And we have collaborated with brewers all over the world, and done so in a very open and positive way to try to get other breweries to look at being more circular. So, for example, using surplus breads, but other surplus ingredients as well. And over the years, we’ve seen more and more businesses join us to do that. For example BrewDog, who recently became a certified B Corp as well. We worked with them last year to encourage them to brew with bread, and they’ve now adopted that for one of their beers, which is fantastic. The size of BrewDog, they can have so much more impact at that size than we could have directly, the size we are. I’m really keen that we look at where we can nudge and influence industry, and hold Toast up as an example of the positive action that can be done, that will support others on their journey as well. 

JB (28:29)

Thank you, Louisa. You’ve really just eliminated the very concept of competition by open-sourcing your recipe and then trying to help and empower other businesses to use your business practice and the things that you’re doing. It’s a completely different approach to business, which I love. And I think it’s, we need to do more of that. So thank you for sharing your story today and for being our Net Zero Hero. 

LZ (28:59)

Thank you so much for having me. And thank you for the great work that you guys do.

JB (29:09)

You have been listening to Beyond Net Zero, a campaign celebrating pioneering B Corporations, from Greenhouse PR. Find out more on our website and sign up to our webinar on March 31, with John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development.

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