E5 Bakehouse – a household name in East London, sat down for an interview with Plastic-Free Hackney to discuss what drives them to run a sustainable business, providing deeper insight into what their current sustainability initiatives look like. Over zoom, PFH’s Sustainability Consultant, Jenny Mullin, chatted with E5’s Office Manager, Alice Cullen. The two lamented over the fact that the interview had to be conducted over zoom due to the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19, but alas, there they were. Thankful for advancements in technology that allow business to continue, the two forged on.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the business!
A: Well, it started in 2011, so we’ve been around almost 10 years now! Ben, the founder/owner started the business by baking bread in his home and selling it door to door, and then eventually to local businesses. We now have our bakery & cafe beneath London Fields Station (Mentmore Terrace). We typically employ around 100 people, but we have scaled back because of COVID-19, so we’re currently sitting at 20 full-time employees on the team right now. We recently reopened the cafe last week, offering a selection of loaves and cakes for takeaway, you can also purchase a few things from our shop!
Q: Any sustainable business trends you can highlight?
A: The ‘no plastic’ movement is really building momentum. While I appreciate the motivation, it’s really hard to get things from suppliers that don’t have plastic packaging! We also try to source locally and organic as much as possible. Our owner, Ben, started a small farm in Suffolk where he grows grain, we even mill our own flour there, too! We have another primary supplier in Kent, but a lot of the crops are seasonal, so we have to source from elsewhere Europe when possible.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about the farm?
A: Well, the farm has been there for 4 years – it’s a beautiful piece of land in Suffolk. Ben and his family live there. The whole process to get certified as organic takes about 3 years, so Ben just finished with that certification. They grow wheat at the farm, and even more recently they started planting fruits and vegetables to sell at the cafe. They’ve even offered a few community workshops at the farm where employees of E5 as well as customers can volunteer to visit for a day to help plant trees. We’ll be doing more activities like this in the future – so stay tuned!
Q: Is the eco-product trend driven more by your customers or more by you/the business owners themselves?
A: A bit of both. We live in an area where people thankfully are often aware of and somewhat concerned about sustainability, and they’re often willing to pay more for it when presented the opportunity. A lot of our initial motivation to be sustainable came from the owner, Ben. He’s hired a lot of like-minded people over the years who really care about the business and the environment.
Q: How does E5 handle waste?
A: We try to reuse things as much as possible to minimize waste. For example, we bring the excess coffee grounds from the shop up to Ben’s farm in Suffolk, the grounds can be used in the soil. Additionally, bran is waste that comes out of the milling process. We collect and resell this bran to farmers to use as cattle feed.
Q: Do you think it’s possible for Hackney (or London, for that matter) to become a zero-waste society? Is east London an anomaly?
A: With all kinds of movements, it always starts in a small area, within a community that strongly believes in it and it builds from there. The concern about the environment is definitely strong throughout East London. We’re headed in the right direction, but it will definitely take a while.
Q: What does your personal relationship with sustainability look like?
A: Recycling everything as much as I can, I cycle to work, I reuse a lot of things, I don’t buy many new things. A lot of people that work here have a similar mindset, lots of us cycle to work, it’s really nice.