Chocolate is good for us, body and soul, a source of copper, antioxidants, and joy. But good for the planet? Often not. Chocolate has an unfortunate association with child labor, slavery, deforestation, and habitat loss.
But there’s more to the story. Pressure on the industry has led to change, with some big names like Hershey and Lindt leading the way. Smaller local companies are also doing stellar work, leading to good chocolate choices for every budget.
In 2019, Hershey embarked on a Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) aimed at reducing the company’s greenhouse gas footprint in alignment with limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C, the most ambitious designation available through the SBTi process. Hershey has entered into purchase power agreements enabling construction of three utility-scale solar farms. The most recent is a 140 megawatt solar and storage installation in Texas. Significant investments in manufacturing efficiency have reduced emissions and operating costs. 77% of electricity used by Hershey in 2021 was renewable or zero emission. The company phased out coal in India plant, transitioning to using rice hulls as biofuel.
Since 2015, the company has reduced packaging weight by 25 million pounds and has set a new goal of having 100% of plastic packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2030. It has also committed to ending deforestation across its supply chain by 2030 and to protecting water sources. Locally, employee volunteers recently planted 75 native trees at Hershey’s technical center campus to filter storm water going into Chesapeake Bay. These will absorb over 200,000 lbs of CO2 over their lifetime. Volunteers also planted 600 trees on a nearby dairy farm, part of a project to create riparian buffers to protect streams on dairy farms supplying Hershey. The company is in its 25th year of supporting the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s educational programs; it has been part of large scale reforestation projects in the Chesapeake Bay watershed with the Arbor Day Foundation. The cocoa supply chain is 100% independently verified, and Hershey is partnering with dairy and sugar suppliers on sustainable practices.
Lindt-Sprungli also emphasizes traceability. Since 2020 their cocoa bean supply chain has been 100% traceable and externally verified. Knowing the source of the beans allows Lindt, through its Farm Program, to help growers improve productivity, conserve biodiversity and natural ecosystems; diversify incomes, and reduce of the risk of child labor.
Lake Champlain Chocolates of Burlington, VT, a certified B-Corp, uses 100% fair trade cocoa and buys cream, maple syrup, and honey from local farmers. A new line of chocolates, the Restorative Moments Collection, features organic ingredients and donates 10% of net profits to the Conservation Nursery at the Intervale Center, a tree farm that grows hardy native tree varieties that thrive in the Vermont environment. The Conservation Nursery, with the help of 100 volunteers plants over 30,000 trees a year, creating riparian buffers that will help sequester over 4,000 tons of carbon over the next five years. Lake Champlain Chocolates has been using Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper and cardboard as much as possible; they now plan to use 100% post-consumer recycled fiber from New Leaf Paper for all chocolate bar wrappers, saving trees, energy, water, and carbon emissions. Lake Champlain also participates in the Raise the Blade sustainable lawn care campaign. Consolidating manufacturing to their Williston site is also reducing emissions, eliminating trucking to the company’s Burlington site.
Jouvay, a new chocolate manufacturer in Walpole, NH, is taking the Bean to Bar concept a step further. Jouvay is the project of the Burdick family, founders, and until recently, owners of L.A. Burdick Chocolate. Their relationship with Jouvay goes back nearly 20 years. On a trip to visit a friend in Grenada, the Burdicks sampled chocolate and talked with farmers about the economics of the business. Typically buyers pay pennies on the dollar for cocoa beans, then ship them to Europe, where they are turned into couverture, a finely-ground confection high in cocoa butter which is used for enrobing bonbons. Couverture sells for $10 per pound to bonbon makers, who work their magic and sell the finished product for $60 per pound. Larry Burdick wanted to create a more vertical model that would leave more of the profits on the island. He worked to find a building and second-hand chocolate-making equipment. His wife Paula, meantime, founded the Cocoa Farming Future Initiative, with a model organic farm and composting facility, educational resources, and community programs. In 2014 the Diamond Chocolate Factory opened. It is majority-owned by the growers, with the Burdicks and one other funder owning 30%. The processing emphasizes flavor, with superior ingrediants and a long extraction process, selling couverture and other ingredients worldwide.
In November 2021, in a small factory in Walpole, the Burdicks pulled their first bars made with the products of their factory. The bars are striking, with special ingredients like rose petals and ginger pressed into the surface rather than mixed in. Jouvay also sells cocoa tea balls, a mix of spices and cocoa nibs designed to be boiled in hot water and sweetened to taste. Islanders use condensed milk; New Englanders might consider maple syrup or honey. Jouvay products are sold at the Putney (VT) Coop, King Arthur Flour (Norwich, VT), Claremont (NH) Spice, and Yolo Cafe (Keene, NH). They can also be ordered online.
Tavernier Chocolates in Brattleboro uses traceable, single-origin, direct trade chocolates, sources other ingredients from local farmers and foragers, and pays particular attention to the impact of its packaging.They use no plastic bags or box dividers. Boxes are 100% recyclable, and made from recycled materials. Cellophane bags are 100% biodegradable and compostable, and the company recycles or composts all food and paper waste. Farmhouse Chocolates creates organic, fair trade, soy and corn oil free chocolates in Bristol, VT., and uses environmentally friendly packaging. Primo Botanicals of Troy, New York, creates chocolates using cocoa grown sustainably by indigenous farmers receiving a fair price for their crop and gives one percent of profits to organizations promoting rematriation, reparation and regeneration in North and South America.
Other environmentally-aware brands can be found at food coops. There are many delicious choices.
Jessie Haas lives in an off-grid cabin in southern Vermont with husband Michael J. Daley. She is the author of over 40 books, most recently The Hungry Place.