Greenhouse Pioneer: Craig Sams, Carbon Gold

Organic food fans will recognise Craig Sams as the co-founder of Green & Black’s, but he’s also leading the #biochar revolution with Carbon Gold. Established to help mitigate climate change and support sustainable food production through the development of biochar-based products and projects, Carbon Gold was set up in 2007 in order to support our natural ecosystems and play a significant role in the fight against climate change.

Tell us, in 20 words or fewer, about Carbon Gold – what’s your mission? 

Carbon Gold makes biochar products that increase soil microorganisms. The result is healthier plants, higher yields, soil regeneration, reversed global warming and soil to feed future generations.

What motivates you? 

I believe in doing good and doing well. I love making positive change and there is no greater measure of a beneficial outcome than the bottom line of profitability and growth.

What is your greatest achievement to date? 

With Whole Earth Foods we were the first branded organic foods. With Green & Black’s we were the first organic chocolate and the first product of any kind to carry the Fairtrade mark. Organic and ethically sourced food is now taken for granted and I am proud that we showed that it was commercially viable when most people thought it was naive and starry-eyed.

What are the challenges you face?

My biggest frustration is how long it takes for an idea to gain traction. When something is as obvious as organic food or not destroying the world’s soil (we lose 30 football fields a minute of viable soil), it is maddening that people just shut their eyes and go for business as usual.

Craig Sams

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

The COP 22 conference in Marrakech was the launch pad for the ‘4 per 1000’ initiative from the French Government, backed by all the organic movement bodies, the Organic Consumers Association, Mercola and Vandana Shiva. It will lead to farmers who increase soil organic matter by 4 parts per 1000 being rewarded for enriching and restoring the world’s soils and it can completely offset all our annual increase in global greenhouse gas emissions.

Organic farmers can get to 7 parts per 1000, and if they use biochar they can get to 10 parts per 1000. We’re selling biochar for its benefits to yield and plant health, and it pays. When farmers and growers get the added benefit of carbon credits the whole agricultural landscape will change for the better…and Carbon Gold will do very well.

Where do you want to take your company next? 

We have gained most traction with commercial vegetable growers, greenhouse growers and home gardeners and allotmenteers. We want to get onto arable farming and pasture and forest to achieve greater scale. We’re still proving the concept for these areas and the cost barrier is a diminishing challenge. We’re getting there now and momentum is building.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

Always buy organic, never waste food, avoid fabrics that have plastic fibres and wear a jumper if it’s chilly before you turn up the heat.

Craig Sams

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do? 

I would introduce carbon pricing along the lines of the recent French government plan for 2020: reward carbon reduction or sequestration at €56 per tonne. I would also pay all landowners a proportion, probably 10%, of that every year for the amount of carbon they have stored in their soils, pastures and forests.  It would be cheaper than agricultural subsidies and would encourage good behaviour instead of destructive and wasteful farming practices.

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across, and inspired you?

I bought an Apple 2e in 1981 and was an early adopter of their subsequent products and cannot honestly think of any other brand that has contributed so much to enhancing my life, success and happiness.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers? 

I’ve just finished Annie Proulx’s ‘Barkskins’ which gives a cosmic 300-year overview of the deforestation of North America and the destruction of its indigenous peoples. We’re still doing it and we are running out of trees and people – it’s time to stop and reverse the process. There is also a book called ‘FT Gamechangers’ by Gerry Thompson that has individual case histories of pioneering business that covers most of what aspiring entrepreneurs might want to know.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

Usually it’s a playlist named ‘Organ Grooves’ that has my favourite tracks by Billy Preston, Booker T. and Jimmy Smith.  I love the orchestral sound of the Hammond organ and maybe it helps me orchestrate the right balance of flavours in a meal.

Want to find out about more eco-heroes? Head over to our pioneer page.