2021 Impact Reflection: Where We Are & Where We Want to Be
2021 has been a rough one: we’ve been plagued by new Covid variants, workforce shortages, supply chain logjams, rising prices, rampant inequality, and threats to democracy. Most importantly, we lost hundreds of thousands of friends and family members to Covid, and we’re ending the year more divided than ever as a society. Amid the negativity, we at Luke’s continually asked ourselves what we needed to do as a seafood company to leave our world better today than we found it a year ago. As a Certified B Corp™, we’re committed not just to surviving financially, but to working tirelessly to improve our impact on our stakeholders, community, and environment.
If 2020 felt like a million different battles we needed to fight all at once, 2021 brought us more clarity as we focused our efforts on three broad categories of impact:
Climate Change: Measure our greenhouse gas footprint and decarbonize our company operations and our supply chain to slow climate change, and encourage fishery diversification to better withstand the devastating effects of the Gulf of Maine’s warming;
Waste Management and Trash Reduction: Examine every source of waste and landfill trash in our company and better reduce, recycle, and upcycle;
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Examine barriers to success for BIPOC individuals and communities within our company and throughout our industry, and dismantle them.
Our work culminated this fall in our celebration of our new Certified B Corp score of 104.5. This is an increase of over 30% from our 2018 score. Given the damage the pandemic has wrought on our business these last two years, our ability to persevere and continue to leave our world better than we found it each year is a huge source of pride. We are now the highest scoring restaurant group, and highest scoring seafood company, among all B Corps in America! We’re excited to see thousands more companies, including our neighbors and industry friends at Atlantic Sea Farms and Bristol Seafood, following this path and nearing their own B Corp Certification!
We were able to make great strides in each of these categories, and more importantly, we laid groundwork for ongoing commitments with impact that we believe will snowball through 2022 and beyond. Transparency is one of our core values, so read on below for all the details of what we did well this year, and where we need to do better in 2022!
Climate Change is the gravest issue humans face today. Its consequences will be felt across the globe, but the Gulf of Maine is currently warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans. That will mean huge risk and change to Maine’s fisheries and coastal communities. At Luke’s, we simultaneously work to build resiliency to change in these communities, and to do our part to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and slow climate change.
We can’t predict the exact effects that warming will have on Gulf of Maine fisheries, but we’ve already seen some devastating results: the shrimp fishery that used to be a major resource for Maine and fill our shrimp rolls (we now source from a sustainable fishery in Quebec) collapsed a decade ago, due to Maine shrimp’s difficulty reproducing in warmer water, and the sudden appearance of voracious longfin squid that were previously not found in the Gulf. We’re also now seeing black sea bass in great numbers, which feed on lobster larvae–a disconcerting development to be sure.
To help build resiliency, we made a major effort to support diversified Maine fisheries this year. In partnership with the Island Institute, we identified eight species outside our typical lobster, crab, and shrimp to feature through our Online Market. We built relationships with fishermen and amazing Maine supply chain companies like TrueFin, which processes high end fin fish species that are currently under-fishing their quotas; Atlantic Sea Farms, which works with lobstermen and other fishermen to start kelp farms, buys their kelp, and makes amazing value-added kelp products; American Unagi, which buys baby eels (elvers) from Maine fishermen and grows them to market size in sustainable recirculating tanks, then processes them locally, rather than shipping them to Asia, which is the high-emission fate of almost all Maine elvers.
We invested in major marketing efforts and recipe development and introduced our audience to these eight species, which we highly recommend you check out:
Some of the effects of climate change are already irreversible, but so much of the worst to come can still be halted if we all do our part to drastically reduce our GHG emissions. Luke’s is committed to doing what’s necessary to making not only our own operation, but our entire supply chain, carbon neutral as quickly as possible. Here are the steps we’ve taken this year:
GHG Assessment: In partnership with the Island Institute and working with fellow B Corp Council Fire as a third party assessor, we launched and have nearly completed a GHG assessment of our lobster and crab products for all three scopes of emissions. We’ll learn where the greatest sources of emissions come from in our supply chain, and what our best opportunities are to reduce those emissions quickly. Importantly, we’ll be publicizing all our results and our plans so the rest of the industry can copy our plans, and we can tackle our footprint together. As we always say, this is a race we will all win or lose together.
Renewable Energy: beginning May 1, 2021, we buy renewable wind energy for every one of our properties (production and restaurant) where we control our electricity. That means, a reduction of nearly 250,000 kg of GHG emissions.
Energy Efficiency: it’s not enough to just buy energy from the right sources–it’s imperative that we all look to reduce what we use so the renewable energy we’re able to produce goes further. We’ve worked with Efficiency Maine to conduct an Energy Efficiency Audit to identify the best opportunities for our production plant to reduce its energy use, and have joined an incredibly successful pilot installing Phase Change Material in our industrial freezer, which allows us to hold steady subzero temperatures while shutting off our freezer mechanicals at peak hours for our local electric grid.
We’re continuing to sell and promote diversified species on our Online Market. We’re also investing donation dollars into a non-profit called MicMac Farms, farming brook trout sustainably in Presque Isle. We are increasing the presence of these diversified species on our Portland Pier Menu: look for a rotating local underutilized fish on our menu starting this spring, and more kelp additions beyond the kelp buttermilk dressing we’ve had since day one. Check out amazing recipes for all these species here!
In 2022, we’ll be activating the recommendations for emissions reduction and efficiency that we received in 2021. Here’s what that looks like:
Expanding our phase change material program and making upgrades to our heating and cooling systems in our production plant to reduce consumption of both electricity and propane;
Connecting our fishing coops and buy stations with energy efficiency audits and funding opportunities so they can make upgrades, reduce their emissions, and reduce their energy costs to keep more profit;
Working with our partners at Maine Standard Biofuel to bring 20% recycled biodiesel (made from fryer and grease trap oil from our and other local Maine restaurants) to our fishermen’s engines, making a serious dent in one of the greatest sources of emissions in our supply chain;
Partnering with the Island Institute and our friends at Maine Electric Boat company to help bring electric boat engine pilots to several diverse coastal seafood businesses
Starting January 1 moving forward, Luke’s will be offsetting 100% of the emissions associated with our UPS shipping, so every order you place on our Online Market will ship Carbon Neutral. We aren’t asking you to opt in and pay extra yourself; the cost is on us, and automatically applied to every shipment.
We can’t wait to see our annual supply chain emissions this time next year. They won’t be as low as we need them to be, but they will be significantly lower than 2021, and it’s those big concrete steps that we all need to be targeting starting now!
Waste Management and Trash Reduction
We’ve spent 2021 scrutinizing every type of waste we create, and where it goes. Why? Everything that we waste, throw away, or put down the drain is something that took energy (and GHG emissions) to get to us, and will take more energy (and emissions) to dispose of properly. Worst case, it won’t be disposed of properly and will wind up polluting our ecosystem. So it’s important that we cut waste as much as possible. We’re attacking this goal in three ways:
Turn what used to be waste into valuable upcycled material
Reduce things that we use that wind up as waste
Improve the disposables we do use so that they can be recycled or composted
Lobster and Crab Upcycling
Our biggest strides this year have come in the first category and focused on the parts of lobster and crab that used to be trash. When a normal person eats a whole lobster, 75% or more of that lobster winds up in the trash–the easy-to-extract meat is a small portion of the whole. That’s traditionally been the case in lobster processing as well–the valuable tail, claw, and knuckle meat gets extracted and the rest gets chucked. We’ve developed systems to derive value from almost every part of our live lobster, rolling meat out of the legs, mincing and centrifuging meat from bodies, and drying and crushing shell to make environmentally friendly fertilizer and pesticide alternatives. All that’s left is viscera and dissolved solids and fats (and we have a future plan for that too), or valuable parts that escape our system, all of which we send to compost each day. This year, from what used to be waste, we’ve created:
286,592 lbs of lobster and crab mince and spinshell meat from bodies that adds incredible flavor to value-add products like our lobster cakes;
29,437 lbs of meat from lobster legs that makes its way into our lobster bisque and lobster corn chowder among many other lobster dishes;
2,811 lbs of lobster hemolymph that we extracted for our friends to use making skincare products that fight eczema and other common afflictions;
278,370 lbs of crab and lobster shell that we dried, crushed, and used as a green replacement for fertilizers and pesticides that would otherwise rely on petroleum and harmful chemicals.
That’s almost 600,000 lbs of valuable product created from what would wind up as trash in another business. Overall, our yield of valuable lobster products was up to was up to 44.6% of our incoming live weight in 2021, up from 39.1% in 2020 and compared to the typical 20-25% yield a person gets when eating a whole lobster. Still, that means we’re wasting more than half of our incoming weight. In 2022 we’ll aim to improve our systems to make sure less valuable meat or shell winds up in compost, and work towards implementing a system that allows us to derive value from even the seemingly useless viscera and dissolved protein in our effluent.
Beyond lobster waste, our production facility also uses a ton of water to cook and cool lobster products and then clean our facility so it’s as sterile as an operating room each day. This water is important, but not everything that goes down our drain is necessary. By implementing simple steps like easier shut off valves for our hoses and managing our sanitation team to ensure faucets and hoses aren’t left running unnecessarily, we’ve been able to bring our daily water usage down by nearly 10,000 gallons. This shows the power of simply paying attention, measuring, managing, and setting goals to reduce waste.
Our 2022 goal is to drastically reduce the dissolved solids, proteins, fats, oils, and greases that go down our drain, put stress on our local wastewater treatment facility, and (you guessed it!) increase our overall GHG emissions that come literally downstream at that treatment plant. We’ll do this by installing an innovative water filtration system that uses gravity and physical screens to remove the vast majority of solutes and then a tiny fraction of the chemicals (and green chemicals at that) that are typically used in water filtration technology. Look out for a count of how much we’ve removed from our water next year!
Packaging and Disposables
Our one bright spot in this department has been our Online Market packaging. Whereas most of 2020 we were grabbing whatever online cold shipping containers were available as we launched our Online Market, we were able to use fully recyclable eco-packaging for the entire year of 2021 for all Online Market products except for live lobster. Supply chain issues have kept us from obtaining a proper eco-box for live lobster in 2021, but that is an absolute priority in 2022.
We’re frankly not proud of our performance in the waste our shacks created from packaging and disposables this year. The heavy swing for consumers away from dining in restaurants towards takeout and delivery has meant that so much food that we used to serve in-house in reusable baskets and ramekins has had to use disposable packaging instead. Moreover, the insane supply chain logjams we’ve all faced in 2021 have meant that we have not always been able to get the environmentally preferred disposables that are our standard: 100% post consumer recycled utensils, recyclable cardboard clamshells, etc.
We’re kicking of 2022 with a full packaging audit of every stream of our business: our shacks, our Online Market, and our branded grocery and wholesale business. We’ll be upgrading our packaging in each part of our business to make sure that more of it comes from recycled or upcycled materials or is fully compostable so that we greatly reduce what we send to landfill in 2022. We’re also challenging our shacks to convert any remaining disposable items they use for dine-in orders to reusable items by the end of the year.
Finally, we’ll be focusing on upgrading our overall waste management program so that every single one of our shacks achieves the maximum possible recycling in their region–currently we have some locations where the landlord or the city has no recycling program, so we need to take it upon ourselves to find independent contractors who can help us keep valuable recyclables out of landfills. And by the end of 2022, we’ll aim to go from two shacks with full composting programs (Portland and San Francisco) to 100% of our shacks.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
While fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace was always incredibly important at Luke’s, the events of 2020 showed us that our status quo was not good enough, and we made much deeper commitments to both our internal and external efforts towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
We began holding monthly D&I committee meetings in mid-2020, but we set out in 2021 to institute more formality in our program. We established a significant budget for our D&I department and promoted two wonderful long term teammates, Eddie Greene and Addie Fisher, to the positions of Co-Chair of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee as well as D&I External Affairs Liaison (Eddie) and D&I Internal Communications Liaison (Addie). Together with our CFO and department advisor, Steve Song, they’ve taken Cornell University’s Diversity & Inclusion Training and brought the lessons they learned to our monthly meetings, where we tackle issues such as unconscious bias and microaggressions. These lessons have also been incorporated into mandatory D&I training for all managers.
In 2022, we’ll seek to build on these lessons and bring D&I training to all of our teammates, not just our management level, to better fulfill the department’s mission statement:
To instill a culture of community, where everyone is valued for their differences and are encouraged to bring their authentic self and their varied perspectives to work. To promote this culture throughout our organization, which will help foster an inclusive and representative environment for all our stakeholders (Teammates, Guests, Suppliers and Partners).
We’re proud to have grown into a company that has real influence in both the seafood and restaurant industries, and we see it as our duty to use that influence to provide better access for folks who encounter barriers due to systemic racism, homophobia, and prejudice–access to healthy food, and to opportunity within our industry.
To tackle the problem of healthy food access in food apartheid areas, we’ve partnered with several community fridge programs to bring free nutritious seafood to Harlem through the Barrio Fridge, to the Bronx through the Mott Haven Fridge, and to DC through the DC Fridge Collective. We also contributed food to members of New York’s elder LGBT population through SAGE NYC, and to the food insecure in Maine through donations to Preble Street Resource Center and Full Plates Full Potential, and to Philly through Everybody Eats Philly. All in all we have contributed over $20,000 worth of food and dollars to these organizations in 2021!
To address needs beyond food access, we’ve also contributed money to BIPOC, Immigrant, and LGBTQ+ communities through donations to the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, Khmer Maine, Stop AAPI Hate, AAPI Women Lead, Equality Maine, and Wabanaki REACH. We’ve also advocated loudly on behalf of immigration reform to offer more rights, benefits, pathways to citizenship, and dignity to immigrants to the US–a broad community that makes up a significant portion of our team and is critical to achieving every accomplishment in this report. And we donated over $1000 and ran a month-long donation drive for Maine Needs, an organization that provides necessities to communities in need, particularly asylum seekers, generating a truckload of donated winter coats, hats, gloves, toiletries, and more.
Lastly, the fact that we buy significant amounts of seafood and operate many restaurants means we can have an influence on diversity, equity, and inclusion in our industries. BIPOC and LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs face significant barriers to starting food businesses ranging from difficulty fundraising to institutional barriers in permitting. Part of our mission is to make sure we are supporting the businesses of underrepresented communities with our purchases and beyond.
We grew our black-owned brewery partnerships this year to include:
Green Bench Brewing in Florida
Speakeasy Brewing in San Francisco
Harlem Hops/Brooklyn Brewery in NYC (through which we also donated to Harlem Hopes, a non-profit that provides scholarships to Harlem students to attend HBCUs to help close the opportunity gap for students of color
We held an Indigenous Peoples’ Day dinner in our Portland Restaurant sourcing from and featuring all three of Maine’s Indigenous-owned food businesses:
MicMac Farms, a recirculating aquaculture farm raising brook trout sustainably
Passamaquoddy Wild Blueberry Company, raising, hand-raking, and processing wild blueberries
Passamaquoddy Maple, tapping premium maple syrup
We continue to source blueberries and maple products from the two companies above for cocktails, and donate a portion of proceeds from those cocktails to Indigenous non-profits.
In 2022, we have major plans to expand on these initiatives. We’ll be working with and donating money to MicMac Farms’ non-profit to help them grow their farm to commercial scale; we’ll be partnering with an amazing company for our Spring/Summer special roll that we don’t want to give away just yet (stay tuned!); and we will be launching a major initiative to help BIPOC teens overcome structural permitting barriers to entering the commercial lobster industry in Maine.
We’re proud of the great strides we’ve made in 2021, but we’re also very cognizant of the ways that we still need to improve in managing our GHG footprint, our waste management, and in creating better opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our industries in 2022 and beyond. What we’re most excited about as we look back is all the groundwork that we’ve laid for bigger improvements this coming year, and we can’t wait to get started. Thank you for your continued support of our business, and everything we strive to do beyond business, and Happy New Year!