“Offsets Aren’t Enough”: One Company’s Race To Net Zero Goes Beyond Buying Carbon Credits

By Chong Seow Wei

Adrien Desbaillets of healthy food chain SaladStop! Group discusses how the company plans to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2030

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Cover  SaladStop!'s first net-zero store at CapitaSpring in Singapore sports a feature wall made from upcycled plastic bottles (Photo: SaladStop!)

From Amazon to Nestlé, more and more companies are pledging to help fight climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. One of the most common ways they’re doing so is by buying carbon credits, which are used to offset the emissions that they are unable to get rid of through other methods. 

One carbon credit represents an emission reduction of 1 metric tonne of carbon dioxide. The goal of carbon offsets is to reduce a portion—if not all—of a company’s carbon footprint; to achieve near or fully net-zero status.

The revenue generated from purchasing these carbon offsets is often used to invest in environmental projects globally, which may involve developing clean energy technologies, planting trees or removing plastic waste from the environment. 

The billion-dollar carbon offsets industry, however, has its limits, with critics arguing that it doesn’t address the root cause of climate change.

In the case of SaladStop! Group, a Singapore-started healthy food chain that runs 69 outlets across 11 cities worldwide, carbon offsets play only a small role in its mission to become carbon neutral by the year 2030.

Read more: SaladStop! Group Launches First Net Zero F&B Store

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Above  SaladStop! co-founder Adrien Desbaillets (right) at the brand's new net-zero store with his brother-in-law Frantz Braha and sister Katherine Desbaillets Braha, both of who co-head the business with him (Photo: SaladStop!)

In June 2022, the company launched its first-ever net-zero store at CapitaSpring in Singapore. Its aim is for all of its existing and new stores in the country and worldwide to be carbon neutral.

“As a business, we always try to push the boundaries,” says Adrien Desbaillets, who started SaladStop! in 2009 with his father Daniel. “When we first started, we wanted to serve healthy food in a different format at a more affordable price point. Now, we’re challenging the definition of net zero. We’re saying it’s not good enough to say you want to offset. We’ve got to do more than that.”

Desbaillets shares that SaladStop!’s net-zero journey began two years ago when the company decided to assess the carbon footprint of its supply chain. 

“We were already sourcing a lot locally and regionally, about 80 percent of our ingredients in fact. Our customers also have the option to offset the footprint of their food through our app. All this then led to the conversation about the [impact of the] rest of our business, including our construction, which is something we didn’t know much about at the time.”

Desbaillets is referring to embodied carbon, which is the emissions associated with the construction of a place, building or infrastructure throughout its entire life cycle, from the building materials to the construction practices used.

To understand its embodied and operational carbon footprint, SaladStop! brought in climate-tech company Unravel Carbon to conduct a comprehensive assessment.

Read more: Climate Tech Startup Unravel Carbon Raises US$7.38m In Seed Funding

The thing about going to this level of detail with sustainability is that we see it as a long-term journey
Adrien Desbaillets

Desbaillets was introduced to Unravel Carbon’s co-founder Grace Sai by his wife, Ho Ren Yung, whose family runs the hospitality company Banyan Tree. When Sai started her company in 2021, she shared with Ho her vision to help businesses reduce their emissions by converting their accounting data into carbon data using machine learning and data science. That’s when Ho told her about SaladStop!’s net-zero goal and connected her with Desbaillets. 

Sai jokes that SaladStop! “is our guinea pig”, as when it first came on board, it was only Unravel Carbon’s second client after real estate rental platform PropertyGuru. 

In order to ensure SaladStop!’s new CapitaSpring outlet is truly net zero, Sai’s team used the brand’s existing Great World City outlet as the proxy. From there, they were able to obtain nearly 1,600 accounting line items and their individual carbon footprint. Unravel Carbon also worked closely with Pomeroy Studio, the architectural firm behind the new store, to obtain information about its construction process and practices.

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Above  Grace Sai is the co-founder of Unravel Carbon, which offers enterprise software to help businesses track and reduce their carbon emissions (Photo: Darren Gabriel Leow)

With all this information, SaladStop! was able to rethink the design and functionality of its stores. For its net-zero outlet, it worked with Miniwiz to upcycle plastic bottles into tiles for a feature wall. It also used upcycled logs for the furniture. 

In time to come, Desbaillets wants “every store’s design to be modular, where we can reuse its parts in a new store or somewhere else if we want to”. 

On the operational front, food deliveries from the CapitaSpring store will be made by foot or bicycle, while food waste will be converted on-site into fertiliser by a biodigester.

For the 106 tonnes of emissions that the store is unable to avoid, such as that of the energy used to power the CapitaSpring building, SaladStop! has purchased offsets from Verra, a global carbon registry. 

Read more: 6 Singapore Entrepreneurs Making The Food Industry More Sustainable

The SaladStop net-zero store’s carbon footprint is 30 percent less than the Great World City store, says Desbaillets, and about 23 percent of a typical restaurant.

Sai believes that green procurement—the purchase of goods and services with minimal environmental impact—will become a more common practice among businesses. 

“Everyone’s value and supply chains touch someone else’s. A company’s high carbon footprint may not be a direct fault of theirs, but because of the suppliers or vendors they work with, it becomes their problem.”

“The thing about going to this level of detail with sustainability is that we see it as a long-term journey, to which every one of our stores will contribute,” Desbaillets says. The company has already identified a few areas to improve with its next net-zero store, which is set to open its doors in Indonesia by the end of the year. 

“In business, we’ve always believed that with scale comes impact,” he says. “It's great to see more restaurants experimenting with more local produce and that’s an interesting topic of conversation, but it’s often not a daily kind of consumption.” 

“The impact needs to be made through the food that’s feeding the masses. SaladStop! is in that space and we want to help make this change. We want to make sustainability part of people’s daily lives.”

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