Green Element Weekly Podcast Interview with Nigel Parkin of Institution & Matthew Sawyer of SEE Sustainability

Matthew Sawyer is the MD of SEE Sustainability, a sustainability consultancy helping SMEs improve their triple bottom line.

Nigel Parkin is the owner of Institution is a multi-award winning boutique cafe located in the Georgian Market town of Bedale.

In this episode, Matthew shares his experience working with Nigel and they chat about their experience turning Insitution into a more sustainable business:


  • Understanding of SDG and getting the team on board
  • “Within a period of 6 weeks we were able to reduce our waste bill by 60%.”
  • Using social media to shout about sustainability campaign
  • SDG 12.3 Reducing Food Waste
  • Reducing coffee waste, sourcing more local produce and reducing packaging
  • Closing the information gap between knowledge
  • Biggest challenge of reducing carbon footprint.

Useful link:

Nigel Parkin

Institution Cafe in Bedale

Matthew Sawyer

SEE Sustainability


[03:00] Understanding of SDGs

[05:00] Improving waste management of the cafe

[10:00] Environmental impact from customer’s perspective

[15:00] Asking questions of suppliers

[20:00] What has been the biggest struggle?

[25:00] Once piece of advice to audience

Full Transcript:

[0:00] Will: Welcome to the Green Element podcast, Nigel and Matthew. Now this is a bit of a different podcast because we have a cafe bistro owner, Nigel, who has been helped by Matthew, a director of SEE Sustainability Consultancy, on trying to reduce the cafe bistro’s environmental impacts. I’m really looking forward to understanding more about what it is that you guys have done together and how you’ve worked together on reducing your environmental impact. And I guess, to start off, it would be great if you could introduce us to, Institution is the name of the cafe bistro, and introduce us to what sort of hospitality you do, how many covers, you know, cross how many floors, so, we understand that, have more of an understanding about your business. And then we could speak to Matthew and just ask how his business fits in with businesses like yours.

[0:57] Nigel: Yeah, sure. Well, we have this cafe in a very old building in a market town in North Yorkshire, the town is beat out. The cafe is called Institution, we have approximately 72 covers, and 72 customer seats. That’s spread across three different floors but within that space, it’s subdivided into a private dining area, there’s a gin lounge, a private reading room. So, we try and create spaces for people that depending on how they’re feeling on any particular day, or what level of hospitality they want. So, whether it’s lunch, or just coffee and cake or meeting for a few friends and a glass of Prosecco in the afternoon, we try and cover all those bases, that’s essentially our makeup. And we just try and be a little bit different from competition, keep ourselves ahead of the game, look at what’s happening in a more metropolitan area Burnham, in a market town and make sure we’re still delivering what people really want.

[2:03] Will: Brilliant, I really want to go. Too far away at the moment, in Edinburgh. And Matthew, where did you fit into this? How did you come across Nigel? And where do you fit into his plans.

[2:19] Matthew: So, I run a sustainability consultancy, and part of it is helping small and medium sized businesses to really have a think about their impact, environmentally and socially, but also considering financial sustainability. So, it’s trying to take some of the global issues and the global goals set out by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and translating them into practical bits of advice and ways to change business models so, that actually small and medium sized businesses can play their part in the overall global picture. So, for example, UN SDG 12 looks at sustainable consumption and 12.3 specifically looks at waste and food waste. And the goal is to reduce this by 50% by 2030 and actually, this is going to be a huge portion and many initiatives are going to come out of this and it’s trying to help cafes and restaurants and bistros to understand that they are actually part of that bigger picture. And each one was able to reduce its food waste by 50%, that actually on a global scale, this would achieve great results. 

[03:28Will: Brilliant. And Nigel, did you understand what the SDGs were before you met Matthew or was it something that you’re starting to learn about? 

[03:36Nigel: No, I have no real awareness of it, other than, I guess what the general label does have and it was only through Matthew, that– And I think his clear way of putting the message across, that we became a little bit more sort of involved and actually thought, well, you know, if we’re doing our best and we can get somebody else to do their best, but we come back to that aggregation of marginal gains to grow up famous, Dave Brailsford say that all of these sort of component parts everybody achieving a little bit makes it makes a big difference and it was Matthew that really, through his enthusiasm and his energy with it, but also his very, sort of smooth communication and being able to talk to a business and pull those right triggers and talk about luck, you know, this will impact on your bottom line in a positive way, things that as a business we want to hear.

[4:33] Will: And do you think understanding the SDGs and being more okay with them, has helped you as a business and conversely also helped you as a person being more environmental?

[4:48] Nigel: Without a shadow of a doubt. I think, firstly, as a business we were able to very easily, to sell that to the rest of our team and get them on board, that was remarkably simple, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how that went. But you find it rolls on into your private life, into your personal life, quite seamlessly, you know, you find yourself being so much more aware about how you’re disposing of things, about what you’re buying, do I really need to buy all this equipment, all these items with all this packaging? You know, there might not be too much you can do about it initially, but what you are doing, is you’re registering, your awareness is increasing all the time. So, yeah, the business and the personal side, go hand in glove really.

[5:41] Will: And I think that’s really important, isn’t it? Because too many of us, in our work lives have and I mean, we see this a lot is, people almost separate themselves and go, yeah, we’re absolutely recycling, we’re doing everything at home, and then they get to work and almost everything just disappears out of the door, or the window and they become a different non-environmental person.

[6:07] Nigel: I think similar to that responsibilities, so some of it seems to be almost devolved with developed personal responsibility. So, that actually when I’m at work, I don’t need to think about these things and it should be work that does it. But of course, they then forget, they are the member of staff who is placing that, you know, item of waste in, you know, the wrong bin or not segregated. And it’s partly trying to work out how to have this sort of, you know, the enthusiasm and the ability that people do at home to recycle and transferring that into work or waste reduction, or, and if you’re the boss of a small business, actually, you know, how the waste bills are going to impact on your bottom line. But a member of staff might not recognize that if they, you know, dispose of food waste in the general way, actually, there’s a financial cost to the business from doing that.

[7:03] Will: Yeah. And so– Sorry, Nigel, go ahead.

[7:08] Nigel: Just to add to that, if I may, I think it’s also worth, I was really pleasantly surprised when I, sort of, after my initial chat with Matthew, the following morning saying to the guys, right, this is it, this is going to happen. I thought I might come up against, you know, a couple of brick walls, maybe the black knight but actually, my team of young people that I work with were so enthusiastic, it was an absolute joy, that, you know, there was a bit of a, yay, we’re saving the planet moment. But they grabbed it by the horns, they were making little notices about what bins we were sorting out for this, where can we put that? What do you want to do with this? And that really built the momentum to get things going and getting these people on board was critical to making this happen. Because you’ve got to rely on those people to do their job, you can’t be on top of them, 24/1, and it was such a pleasant surprise, I think because there’s so much more awareness around in the younger generations nowadays, that they’re very on board, they’re very easy to convince that this is the right thing to do.

[8:30] Will: And when did you start this campaign?

[8:34] Nigel: So, we’ve probably been going about three or four months, I would imagine now, with, you know, with real sort of energy, and we’ve not taken our foot off the pedal at all. You know, we’re looking for more and more opportunities, as we become, we settle in and we bend in with a particular process. We’re saying, right, what else can we do? What else can we do? I mean, we they’re all factors that limit us and can, on occasions, frustrate us but whatever, whenever we spot an opportunity we’ll grab it.

[9:13] Will: How do you continue to engage your staff? And I’m going to go into customers in a bit, but initially, I’m really interested in listening to how you keep on engaging your staff 

[9:24] Nigel: I think it really, we’re just constantly talking about it, you know, I give them feedback. And I’m quite happy to declare some numbers here and again, it was Matthew that sort of said, have you thought about the impact on your bottom line? Very quickly, and I’m talking within the period of, one month, six weeks, we were able to reduce our commercial waste bill by 50%. That’s how dramatic, it was on the bottom line. And again, in terms of numbers, we were paying around about 1000 pounds a year, in just commercial waste collection, that’s already reduced to around about 500 pounds, and feeding that information back to the guys and said telling them look, we’ve saved ourselves 500 pounds, telling them the actual results rather than just keeping them in the dark about it, helps to engage them, helps to keep them signed up and committed to what we’re doing.

[10:27] Will: Brilliant and do you study your customers? And how much of an impact has that had on them? And recycling, is it easier? Or is it what they purchase off you?

[10:46] Nigel: There are always challenges around in the food industry anyway, with recycling, there’s so much packaging in the supply chain, frustratingly so but, you know, you’ve got to understand that further down that supply chain, they’ve got regulation, environmental health and hygiene regulations that are tying their hands that they must meet to, you know, to make sure that they’re following the same standards. What we’ve done on the customer front, we’ve use social media a little bit to, A, shout about what we’re doing but, B, we’ve also, we’re using some of our customers to help us in our recycling. So, we also, as well as our general waste, a large component and this is just one example, is our coffee grounds, we generate a lot of coffee ground waste. And this is, I don’t claim to be the first on this, I believe Starbucks have been doing this for a number of years, but we put a Facebook post out there saying if anybody’s interested, gardeners, particularly in taking on some of these coffee grounds off our hands. And we show them what can be done with it, we link them to various weapons information about incorporating coffee grounds into their composting can introduce extra nitrogen into their soil, how it can help deal with pests and slugs and that sort of thing around their gardens. 

[12:18] Nigel: And now we have managed to reduce our waste further because we’ve got customers who messaged us on Facebook and say, you know, I’ve gotten a lot of grounds, I’ve got a small garden, can I come and get some grounds and we use the same bags that the beans come in to repackage the grounds and it’s no trouble at all. But because the grounds are so voluminous, you’ll appreciate that, that now isn’t going into our general waste either. And so, it makes us feel good about being able to pass them on to somebody else, we know they’re getting reused in a different form and we’ve got probably a good dozen or so customers who come regularly and there’s coffee grounds office as well.

[13:02] Will: And suppliers, they are going to be a big part of this, aren’t they? Are you finding, I guess, this isn’t necessarily around the waste reduction that we’re currently talking about but over the years, have you noticed a difference in suppliers and the relationship you have and what they’re sending to you? Do you think they’re understanding the bigger picture?

[13:25] Nigel: As I said earlier, I think they are aware of it, but I suspect in some areas, their hands are tied, the practicalities of moving perishable goods, you know, until solutions are found to those. I’m not sure what they– And that comes, the depth of down, the problem with that is, because businesses like mine need products in volumes that you wouldn’t necessarily see on a domestic level. So, when you and I go to the supermarket, you know, we can or to grocery or whatever, we can pick, you know, one loaf of bread and that impact is quite negligible. When I’m doing it for the cafe I’m buying in 20 or 30, or I’m buying in 8 kilos of tomatoes and things like that. Now, we’re trying to address it in certain ways by using local suppliers where we can, so we have a couple of local allotment suppliers, oddly enough, who are giving us a few products. Because they produce on a level that they can use domestically and they’re happy to offload them to us. I mean, it’s a great benefit to that, you know, it helps us with season. 

[14:44] Nigel: So, we’re in North Yorkshire, we’ve got a glut of rhubarb flying around at the moment and we’re tweaking our menus to accommodate that. So, there’s a lot of rhubarb scones that are being developed, that are being baked at the moment, there’s a lot of rhubarb compote being made that we can use in other menu items. We try and use the local market so that we’re not, you know, we haven’t got delivery trucks coming to us but there’s only, at the moment, in terms of the biggest suppliers, the difficulty, I think we fail as a small businesses, as an individual, you don’t have that weight to be able to influence them. You can register your concerns, and you’ll get the polite replies but actually, you wonder how much of an impact you’re making to them.

[15:30] Will: I would say that, by registering your concerns, you’re probably making more of an impact than you think. We’ve put an event on recently, it was a film night, and we had a guy talking at it and he, really interested he said, the best thing that you can do after tonight is, write to your bank and ask them, what they invest in. And do they invest in fossil fuels? And if so, why? Because, look, they were actually a banker and what they were saying was, by asking questions, that’s how we start to solve the problem. If no one asks anything, and we are the customer of those, and you’re a customer of their suppliers, so even though you say you’re a small cafe bistro, if lots and lots and lots of small cafe bistros all say it, to the same supply. Actually, we want you to change, and probably more likely to all know.

[16:31] Nigel: Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, in that sense, you know, we find those, you get the polite replies, but I think it’s getting the time to follow up on those. And just saying, right, you know, so, what about it? What are you doing? What can you do? And equally, if they’re then, because obviously, you know, there are wholesalers and there are manufacturers, if they’re then having to ask those questions further down the line, ultimately, you know, we would hope that message is getting through. We want to be in a position where we can say to our customers, when our customers are coming in, what are you doing about this? We can say we’re doing, what we think, is within our power, and everything that we can. So, we want to make sure we’ve addressed as many areas as we possibly can. 

[17:23] Nigel: And that’s why I also think people, like, you know, Matthew, and his wider knowledge and skill set come in. Matthew is able to start, to pull like-minded businesses together and actually start to build, you know, a little bit of a force multiplier, if you will, you know, where you can get three or four people who are using the same suppliers to say, you know, to say, well, you know, we know, so instead of written to them, how about you getting onto them as well.


[17:52] Will: I mean, Matthew and I were chatting a couple of weeks ago and to bring you in Matthew, I mean, you’ve got a very different back ground that I usually come across in this industry, whereas you were a GP. Therefore, you dealt with people, and you didn’t just deal with people regularly, you had, well, a GP has to see someone every seven minutes. Therefore, you really know people because you do have to get to the crux of it in such a short amount of time.


[18:27] Matthew: But it’s also I think, trying to persuade people to change their lifestyle so that you know, we get a lot of people who you know, smoke or drink or directly needs are different. And so, part of it, as a GP, trying to say to people, look, actually, there are some better things that you can do than this. And they may be quite resistant to change some of them but it’s trying to find the different hooks, the different people or different businesses or different customers need to have to be able to say, actually, yes, I can see some benefits of doing this, it may take a bit more time and effort. But actually, I’m going to look there, less heart disease, I’m going to produce less waste, I’m going to lower my environmental impact on and improve my diabetes. Actually, I see a lot of these things as overlapping each other and it’s just trying to find the right ways to motivate different people with different factors.

[19:18] Will: Do you think it has helped having the background you’ve got doing what you do now?

[19:23] Matthew: I do because I think that it’s given me sort of, you know, 20 years of experience of being able to talk to anybody and everybody and understanding that each of us have got different motivations and different things that are going to float our boat or get us to change. And so, yeah, I think that without having that sort of person-centered focus, I think you’d miss out on quite a lot. The advantage now is that I get much more than 10 minutes per person, so actually you get the issues and the problems and actually ask further questions until you get to the absolute bottom. The reason I do this or don’t do this is because of reason X. And I think that it’s having that time to be able to explore the barriers from each individual and each individual business, it’s essential.

[20:15] Will: And Nigel, what would you say your biggest struggle has been so far with what you’re trying to achieve and if you could let us know how you’ve overcome it?

[20:24] Nigel: I think my biggest struggle is knowledge, specific knowledge to this, what I would view as an embryonic sort of topic or subject area. But I’m fully aware of it, not is my own personal knowledge, my own personal awareness of what else I can do, to continue. And again, I’m coming at this from, A, a business angle, but, B, you know, the knock on is the very comfortable feeling that you’re getting that you’re doing your bit but what I can do that will ultimately help my bottom line, but ultimately also has a positive environmental impact. The difficulty I find with gaining this knowledge, and there’s so much information out there, is knowledge that is specific to my area and my industry. So, I want to know what other restaurants, other cafes, other bars have done and are doing because they’ll be something in there that I’ll, you know, I’m looking for best practice something that I’ll get, that’s a cracking idea, we can do that. So, but to gain that knowledge and spend that, is time that if I’m doing that on that, I’m not doing it, I’m not working on other areas of the business that I can’t be doing.

[21:56] Nigel: However, what I try and reconcile with myself is that if ultimately spending time on that will result on a better bottom line and a smoother operation, then actually, that’s good time invested in your business. And I think that’s what I’m constantly trying to do now, is make sure that the time I spend on this is not just about being environmentally correct, but it’s also having a positive impact on my business. So, that we get a win-win on, you know, both sides of that argument.

[22:33] Matthew: If I could just interject, my granddad always told me that you can only do the best that you can with the knowledge and skills that you have at that time. And I think that people do the best that they can at that moment, until they learn a different way or some new information. And suddenly they go, what? But that’s obvious, why didn’t I do that before? And it’s that making sure that you don’t beat yourself up, because you didn’t know what you didn’t know. But you’re suddenly able to make those changes after you’ve found out that bit of information. And fortunately, we’re putting together a pack precisely for, sort of catering and hospitality businesses to try and help give that information and the practical advice, such as you know, joining up with the local campus buddy scheme, or, many other sorts of initiatives that small and medium sized cafes and restaurants and bistros can then put into practice themselves. And that’ll be coming out a bit later on this year.

[23:40] Will: Brilliant, and we’ll definitely link to that on our websites but how will people find out about that?

[23:49] Matthew: And there’s going to be all sorts of different ways. So, one of the things that we’re hoping to, or we will be doing, a sort of industry sector specific training sessions. Now whether these are going to be face to face or online, it depends on the take up but will be, sort of, 30 or 60 minutes, or if it’s face to face, sort of, a couple of hours of background information, training and an education and knowledge so that people can then go back to their businesses and actually start to implement the stuff that they’ve learned. So, that, to go with sort of, you know, the up to date and current thinking, there’s a lot of information, particularly on the Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, and Champions 12.3, where there’s the research starting to be published about what businesses have done across, particularly Western Europe and America, in the catering sector to address some of these issues. 

[24:52] Matthew: So, one example is having a kitchen audit, so that before something gets put in the bin, it is listed, actually, you know what’s going into that bin. So, what proportion of it is food that’s come back from the tables? What proportion of it is the inevitable food waste at the ends of cucumbers or tomato plants or banana peels, etc.? How much of it is food that has been around for three days and therefore from a safety point of view has to be disposed of? And that then has knock on effects, on sort of portion size, portion control, how things are presented. So, having, sort of a three-day kitchen audit can actually help businesses in the catering sector to recognize where their waste is coming from, and then put things into place to try and start tackling that 

[25:34] Will: Brilliant. That sounds really good, I look forward to hearing more about that. What would be one piece of advice that either both of you could give to people listening to this podcast?

[25:47] Nigel: I think from my point of view, I would say, don’t overthink it, just start doing something. And just to quickly recap, after my afternoon conversation with Matthew, a couple of months ago, we did a quick, sort of back of an envelope audit of our waste, what do we throw away? What don’t we need to throw away? How can we do this? What do we need to do to put something in place? We actually happen to have all the facilities to do it, we had a little bit of space, we had a few sped plastic bins lying around, we said, alright label them up, let’s put and just start doing something small, that makes a difference. 

[26:30] Nigel: Because out of that, bigger things will roll. And very quickly you’ll start to think about other areas. But they the number one thing that’s got to happen with this, is once as an owner, you’ve got to show commitment. And you can show commitment for the first week and that’s great, you got to show it for the first month. But the first day, you lose interest in it, everybody else who works for you, loses interest. So, you got to maintain that energy and that commitment and that enthusiasm for it until it becomes an automatic way of working.

[27:07] Matthew: I think that from my point of view, and the businesses that I speak to, the knowledge and education, there is definitely a gap there. And it’s working out the best way for businesses to sign up to the right newsletters or the right information giving forums of whatever description that is, whether that’s sort of you know, to add breakfast training course or an online course. And it’s having that baseline of actually, I know what we need to do and then the practical advice is actually how to do it. I think that staff engagement is absolutely vital across all businesses, because it’s the staff that actually do the work. And if things need to change from, waste segregation, waste disposal point of view, actually, it’s the staff that need the motivation and the enthusiasm to do that. 

[27:58] Matthew: And I think that leadership from the front is absolutely vital there are many initiatives that fail because the head of the company or the owner of the business, exactly, as Nigel says just loses interest. And all of the other cards fall as well at that point and initiatives fail because of that. And I got to, that as opportunities for businesses to become increasingly aware, sort of, start to multiply that actually we can get to have a bit of a snowball effect and businesses joining with other businesses and passing on good practice. I think it’s also recognizing that the competition is not necessarily the cafe or restaurant next door, it’s, you’re fighting against yourself if you keep throwing things away, if you keep burning your money and putting it into a bin. Actually, your battle is with you, not with the neighbour. 

[28:56] Will: Yeah, Okay. And when it comes to reducing the environmental impacts in carbon footprints of your business, what would you say your biggest challenge or frustration is?

[29:10] Nigel: Apart from as I already covered? Well, being fully aware of all the opportunities.

[29:18] Will: Well, more around the whole environmental impact and carbon footprint? Would you say there’s been frustration around that or as they think 

[29:27] Nigel: Yeah, I think about, you know, not being able to source as much as I would like to locally, as I’m sitting here talking to you, at the corner of my eye, our food delivery guy is going past. You know, we happen to live in a fantastic part of the UK, with a terrific provenance of not, you know, of local food products. But being driven sometimes by the bottom line, I’ll be perfectly honest, you’ve got to, sometimes you’ve got to look at that bottom line and go, sure I can buy that locally, but it’s going to cost me five times as much. And therefore, it’s those sorts of factors that drive you to pull that from further away, because they, you know, maybe these bigger businesses have got those economies of scale looking good and can sort of blind you a little bit with the bottom line. So, I think, mostly frustrated that I can’t source as much as I would like to as locally as I can 

[30:34] Will: So, is there any advice or anything you can share with us listening to the podcast?

[30:41] Nigel: For me personally, I would say, if the environmental benefits are not triggering you, well, think about the bottom line, the financial benefits, because as a business, we’re all there to make a hopefully a profit, and have got to be able to pay those bills. And if you can find ways because to me, it’s a no brainer. And again, Matthew sold something very quickly to me, he was able to demonstrate to me, look, you know, you can half your waste bill, just by doing these very simple steps. So, I would say to anybody who’s considering this, or considering taking some activity, there are financial benefits to your business, this is not a cost to you, this is a massive saving to you in terms of your bottom line. It’s money that you’re not paying out to waste collection, or whatever your methods of disposal are so keep that at the forefront of your mind and it’ll help drive your life.

[31:47] Will: And good relationship building with your customers as well, by the sounds of it coming to pick up the coffee granules and being able to, you’re help helping them more as well.

[31:57] Nigel: Well, that’s right, you know, you get a good warm feeling with all that that’s happening, you know. And so, it keeps you engaged with them, it gives you another reason to have a conversation with them, you know, you’ve got a moderate how, you don’t want to sort of saturate your social media profile with all of this, but at the same time, you’ve got to let people know what those opportunities are. And I would hope that fellow cafe owners in my town would pick up that particular bat also. I mean, my little vision, if you would, be that our small market town that has about four or five cafes in it, you could go into any one of them and pick up coffee granules for your garden, you know, it’s a small town, unless you can achieve that. That will be terrific, just one of those but what it does do is it leads on to bigger and better things.

[32:44] Will: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for both of you being on this podcast today and sharing your knowledge and experience of how to reduce your environmental impacts in the cafe bistro, Institution. Where can we learn more about you? And all the links will be on our website. Where can we find you? What can we learn more?

[33:06] Nigel: Sure. I mean, as I said, we do a lot on social media. So, we’re on Facebook, just Facebook and search Facebook for Institution cafe, we’ll pop up there. We’re very loud and vocal on that. Our website is, And we, you know, all the links to our social media pages are on there as well.

[33:30] Will: And Matthew?

[33:32] Matthew: And for me, so I’m available through LinkedIn, if you search either Matthew Sawyer or SEE Sustainability, that’s S-E-E Sustainability, or the web address is

[33:49] Will: Brilliant. Thank you both very much. I’ve really enjoyed our talk, so thank you very much. 

[33:55] Nigel: Thank you very much.


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