While research from The Shelton Group shows 90% of millennials choose to purchase from brands they trust for their social and environmental practices, carefully crafted marketing lingo and even bigger advertising budgets can make it difficult to know if their dollars are truly making a difference.
That’s why, for one company, educating consumers on the impact of their food choices is at the heart of what they do. Meet PRANA, a vegan and 100% organic snacking company founded by Marie-Josee Richer and Alon Farber that’s committed to putting the planet first. In 2017, to better understand its impact on the world, the company conducted an extensive life cycle analysis of their business and found something shocking. With the zero-waste lifestyle gaining a lot of traction, they found it is often what’s inside the bag that is most harmful to the planet. Their analysis revealed that although the company is organic and vegan, 81% of its impact was due to agriculture.
One of the biggest changes the company realized it had to make was in the sourcing of almonds from California, a major component in many of their snack products. Due to the state’s desert climate, agriculture requires a vast amount of artificial irrigation. Almonds grown in California use up to 8% of the water used for agriculture in the state — 53 billion cubic meters of water per year. In fact, it can take up to 12 liters of water to grow a single almond and agriculture utilizes 41% of the state’s available water, according to a 2018 report.
California sources much of its water from the already strained Colorado River, which led the company to make the challenging decision to source their almonds from Spain. According to Richer, almonds are native to the Mediterranean and have been growing in Spain longer than in California, relying primarily on rainfall. While on the surface one may think buying agricultural products from California would still be better for the environment due to the cost of transporting the goods from Europe to North America, the company quickly found that wasn’t the case.
"By switching to Spanish almonds, PRANA saved the equivalent of 715 Olympic pools of water within just one year," Richer explained. They also found that, contrary to expectations, transporting almonds by sea from Spain to their Montreal location produced lower greenhouse gas emissions than transportation by truck from California.
So how can one really make a difference with their snack choices? Richer recommends considering the following before making purchase decisions.
Disposal cost: This can begin with evaluating the product’s packaging. How much waste is created unwrapping the item? For example, while it’s easy to get caught up on if packaging is recyclable or not, consumers can look deeper. While many assume that the majority of a snack’s impact comes from how it’s disposed of, PRANA’s analysis suggests that production and the number of materials used have a greater impact on the planet.
Limit food waste: In the United States, roughly 40% of our food is thrown out every year and the amount of waste produced is more than enough to feed the nearly one billion hungry people in the world. This waste ends up in landfills and eventually turns into a destructive greenhouse gas called methane. To help limit food waste, PRANA uses premium packaging that keeps products fresher, longer.
Look at labels: Numerous agencies certify companies on various facets of their business. Consumers should seek to support socially responsible brands with certifications like Non-GMO verified and certified organic or that are certified by the Ecocert third party. In addition, reading labels can help you verify snacks that are full of good nutrients, which are more sustainable than a snack of empty calories.
Benefit Corporations: This classification means a company has gone through a rigorous application process and analysis to demonstrate they are actively working toward reducing inequality, improving sustainability and using profits to make a positive impact on employees, the community and the environment. By purchasing from B-Corps, you are supporting businesses with these practices and encouraging other companies to do better.
Look for Fair Trade Certified products: The Fair Trade Certified seal represents thousands of products, improving millions of lives, while protecting land and waterways in 45 countries and counting, according to the group's website. All of PRANA’s chocolate products in the U.S. are Fair Trade Certified, meaning they have gone through a lengthy process to earn this seal. It also means that the producers they work with adhere to strict labor, environmental and ethics standards that prohibit slavery and child labor and ensure cocoa growers receive a steady income.
"People think they have no power, but the power becomes tenfold when we all vote with our dollars," said Richer. "With those small actions — being informed, reading labels, knowing where food comes from — you’re improving not just your health but the lives of growers, employees and the industry. Once you become a purchaser of a sustainable business, you become an agent of change, and can inspire others to follow suit. At PRANA we call that snacktivism.”