Sustainable and Environmental Sourcing and Purchasing Policy Guidelines – February 2024

Sustainability and environmental sensitivity always have and always will be at the heart of our business at The Gardens Group.

These policy guidelines apply to the sourcing and purchasing of all goods and services; whether for resale or internal use; across the garden centre including farm shop and catering; and look back up the supply chain to our suppliers as well as forward to our customers and how they use the products they purchase from us in their homes and gardens.


General principles:

  • We strongly subscribe to the principle of “Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” – adopting this as the starting point for all purchasing decisions.
  • We must ask ourselves the question – “What is the end to end environmental and sustainability impact?” for all products as part of our decision-making process. Raw Materials > Supplier (Manufacturer/Grower) > Retailer > Consumer.
  • We actively seek to reduce unnecessary packaging – especially plastics and any others that use significant amounts of fossil fuels to produce.
  • We will pay particular attention to product packaging and outer packaging as well as supplier provided display stands to minimise the environmental impact throughout the supply chain.
  • We will also continue to explore and extend the packaging-free/unpackaged product options across the business.
  • We will proactively stock an authoritative range of environmentally positive products – even though they may not currently be amongst the highest selling lines.
  • We will not stock any products scientifically proven to harm other wildlife or leave a significant residual impact on the environment – where there is a significant body of evidence.
  • We believe it is right to allow customer choice when selecting between alternative solutions – but we will guide them to the most environmentally and sustainably positive option.
  • We adopt a hierarchical approach to sourcing, starting at the top of the list; aiming to minimise product miles but without compromising quality, as follows:
    1. Own production – on site
    2. Own production – within group
    3. Local – within 25 miles
    4. Regional – South West: Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Somerset and Wiltshire
    5. National – English then British then UK
    6. International – Worldwide
  • We must abide by all existing legislation impacting on what we source from where – including Plant Passports, Invasive Species, Forest Stewardship Council, CITES
  • We favour organic over inorganic – where there is no perceivable difference in terms of quality or efficacy.
  • We will apply specific attention to any products that are deemed to be single use rather than repeat use items.
  • We value long-term relationships with our suppliers and prefer working with them on these issues – but this does not imply we do not challenge them to improve what they do.
  • We will constantly apply pressure and challenge our suppliers on explaining, updating and strengthening their eco-credentials, including sourcing, production and transportation.
  • We will keep under review our approach to producing signage and point of sale material throughout the business
  • We will be exploring opportunities to offer additional services rather than just products

The above principles apply equally to all goods not for resale including all consumables used throughout the business


The Gardens Group peat policy: Our path to peat-free gardening

Peat is nearly gone from our entire range of composts and other bagged goods. In 2023 as stock sold through in the early part of 2023, reduced-peat recipes were replaced with peat-free versions. We start 2024 with sales at 98% peat-free by volume and will quickly get to the completely peat free as there is just one peat reduced product left to clear.

We are peat free in our own nursery

All the soil conditioner and soil improvers that we recommend are peat free and the same applies to products for mulching and top dressing.

Many of our plant suppliers are now entirely peat free and we are encouraging the remainder to complete the transition. This helps us increase the proportion of our plants sold in reduced-peat and peat-free compost thereby further reducing our peat.
We continue to offer help and support for peat free gardeners via talks, leaflets, product labelling, staff training and QR code information.

Education is essential to the success of transitioning to peat-free growing. Our garden centre staff complete online training modules to ensure they are fully informed, we work hard to monitor the latest research and grow trial batches of plants in all of the new compost formulas while monitoring results onsite and actively gaining customer feedback. This helps us provide clear and full advice to support customers who are making the switch to peat-free gardening.

We embrace the Responsible Sourcing Scheme labels on compost bags, explaining to our customers that the labelling scheme helps them make more informed choices about the eco-friendliness of the compost they buy. Whilst learning to garden without peat, it is important that we retain an awareness of the environmental impact and sustainability of all potential peat substitutes to avoid falling into the trap of replacing peat with something equally harmful to the environment.


Why is the industry not completely peat-free already?

There is a 2,000,000m3 shortage of reliable alternative raw materials to replace peat and the techniques for growing some plants and crops in peat free mixes are not straightforward. Working with manufacturers, growers and our own team of plant experts, we are committed to:
• Proactively sourcing and trialling plants grown in reduced-peat and peat alternatives
• Keeping abreast of current research into peat substitutes and techniques for using them successfully

What else?

Compost is usually sold in bags. We haven’t missed this. We have been trialling refillable bags at Castle Gardens and at all three sites we have established a compost bag reuse and recycle scheme, welcoming back unwanted sacks from all of our customers.


Specific Garden Chemical Principles

Including fertilisers, weed control and pest control.

  • We currently stock a range of pesticides for those who are determined to use them, avoiding turning customers off gardening altogether, giving us the opportunity to suggest alternatives
  • We will move away from weedkillers that contain glyphosate and pesticides that contain neonicotinoids with immediate effect
  • We will identify other potentially harmful chemicals and develop our strategy to move away from them over the next couple of years
  • We will switch from lawncare products containing weedkillers to alternatives without
  • We will train our teams to advise customers accordingly and to offer alternative solutions

Specific Plastic Pot Principles

Including garden plants, houseplants, planters, growing kits, propagation etc

  • We will continue to offer plant pot return and collection points at all 3 sites and monitor the end destination of any pots sent for recycling
  • We will maintain a proactive dialogue with current and potential suppliers of plants and other products including plastic pots and planters on the subject of possible alternative materials and plastics that can be more readily recycled
  • We will develop a positive dialogue with the relevant local councils on improving the level of roadside collection and recycling of black plastic containers, including better understanding the final outcome of all that is returned
  • We will continue to monitor the environmental impact of the proposed alternatives

Specific Timber Principles

Including landscape, furniture, containers, tools, etc

  • We must ensure that any product that is made from wood or has wood used within it is from a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited source and carries the FSC logo.
  • We will seek confirmation from our suppliers they can evidence FSC accreditation to their and our satisfaction.
  • We will ensure all of our paper is from FSC sources
  • We will increase the level of understanding within the business on the difference between FSC timber, FSC mix and FSC controlled wood?
  • We will be undertaking further work to better understand the FSC accreditation process

Excluding locally sourced kindling and firewood.

Specific Christmas/Giftware Principles

Giftware and Christmas sustainable buying policy

We will have a sustainability element to all our buying relating to Giftware and Christmas

Where possible we will have one or more of the following elements to anything we buy.

Natural product.

Made from recycled material.

Can be recycled.

Locally made/ manufactured.

British manufactured.

European manufactured.

No single use plastic in the product.

No plastic/polystyrene in the packaging.

Less packaging in general.

Less packaging in the delivery process.

Not a throw away product.

Products that are high quality and have a long life.

Fair trade supplier.

Social enterprise supplier.

Items that promote sustainable activities.

Where it is not possible to achieve any of the above, we will work closely with our suppliers to move towards these aims.

We will challenge our suppliers to inform us of their sustainability aims as a company.

We will move towards companies that have a strong sustainability agenda.

We will consider the long-term effect on the environment of the things we sell.

We will limit the use of selling volume of products e.g. two for the price of one deals.

We will challenge the use of stands and how long they are in use for. Can they be reused /recycled?

We will reduce our own waste from broken items by sending to charities for mending and selling.


Specific Garden Furniture Principles

Sustainable Buying Policy for Furniture

We will work together with our suppliers to remove as much plastic and general packaging from the product as possible

We will ask our suppliers to provide us with their environmental/sustainable policies.

We will challenge our suppliers on the aspects of their manufacturing process so we have as much understanding as possible of this, making sure that we are confidant that our suppliers are using best practice.

We will be fully informed about standards such as FSC wood and what this means in practice.

We will investigate the possibility of buying British manufactured furniture.

We will investigate the possibility of buying furniture manufactured from recycled material.

Specific Farm Shop/Catering Principles

When sourcing any food items (ingredients and finished products) irrespective of whether they are for consumption on the premises ie Restaurants or off the premises ie Farm Shop our preferences in order are as follows:

  • Local (25 miles)
  • Regional (South West – Dorset, Wiltshire. Hampshire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall)
  • National – English then British then UK
  • International – Worldwide

We seek to ensure our food offer is seasonally focussed.

We must be satisfied of any animal welfare standards that need to be met – free range, line-caught etc,  preferring the highest possible standards at all times.

Where relevant we have a preference for RaiseTrade, Fair Trade and Red Tractor endorsement.

Where comparable products are of very similar quality and price our preference would be organic over non-organic.

We will always offer a range of special dietary needs options:

  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Free from
    • Dairy
    • Eggs
    • Gluten
    • Nuts
    • Sesame
    • Mustard
    • Lupin
    • Soya
    • Celery etc
    • Fish
    • Seafood (Crustaceans/Molluscs)
    • Sulphites

Allergens – we pride ourselves on catering for customers with allergies, will cater the best we can for them and will take extra special care when an allergy is mentioned.

Our disposable and takeaway items including drinking straws, boxes and cups are non-plastic and readily biodegradable as well as exploring all options to replace takeaway drinking cups.

We commit to explore all avenues to minimise food waste.

Supplier Interaction Principles

We must also consider how we interact with suppliers:

Representative/Agent visits:

  • Frequency – balancing business need versus environmental impact

 Trade shows, supplier showroom/nursery visits:

Balancing cost and effectiveness versus environmental impact

  • Do we really need to go?
  • Can we achieve our objectives by another means?
  • How many people need to go?
  • Can we travel by public transport? (Confidentiality issue)
  • Offsetting if flying?

Supply chain implications:

  • Fuel costs: minimum order versus load size?
  • Delivery receipt timing: early/late versus peak daytime?
  • Offsetting if importing?

We will be investigating Electric Vehicles for company use


The Gardens Group Sustainability Plan

  • Following HTA Sustainability Roadmap
  • Working with the GCA; annual inspection audit, benchmarking and sharing best practise, appoint environmental champion at each site
  • Working with Planetmark; annual audit, workshops, setting a carbon zero date
  • Leading the way with sustainable aims in giftware and Christmas
  1. Reducing carbon footprint – annual audit from Planetmark, Environmental working group, involving the whole team, publishing a carbon neutral date (Planetmark annual audit and Carbone Zero target date)
  2. Reducing stress on the local water supply – rainwater harvesting at all sites, reducing usage, working with customers on water saving, mulching, spoil improvement etc via POS, staff training, talks
  3. Increasing circularity in horticultural plastics; recycling, working with suppliers in packaging, working with suppliers in delivery/packaging, reducing products that contain plastic
  4. Increasing sustainability of growing media – peat free in nursery, bagged product peat free targets, Responsible Sourcing Scheme, peat free plants target (Peat Policy in place)
  5. Fostering innovation in pest and disease management – increase range of organic treatments on sale, biological controls, training for staff (GROW etc), talks to customer groups,
  6. Buying guidelines – sustainability in written into our buying strategy (Sustainable Buying Guidelines Policy in place)
  7. Christmas and gifts – specific targeting of the products we sell as gifts and at Christmas in terms of sustainability and environment
  8. Plants – working with suppliers on P&D, peat, delivery, local, phytosanitary,
  9. Food – farm shop, restaurants
  10. The Team – development groups, training, mental health, long term support,
  11. Community – a strong culture on supporting the local community including schools, Green Shed, customer projects, Gold Club etc
  12. Sharing the message – within the team, with suppliers, with customers and with industry colleagues and other business and community groups