Green Caffeen: Two dads and a green coffee cup

In this episode of Plastics Revolution, I chat with Damien Clarke and Martin Brooks, the founders of Green Caffeen. Both of them were stay at home dads struggling with mental health issues until they decided to start a business that essentially rents reusable takeaway cups.

In 15 short months they have taken their idea across Australia with interest from overseas as well. And in this episode the guys also make a big announcement which explains why they’re in Canberra, the nation’s capital that day. I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Damien Clarke and Martin Brooks of Green Caffeen.

Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:

Green Caffeen website
Planet Ark
Take 3 for the Sea

Credits:

Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2019


PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

KEY

T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
D: Guest Damien Clarke, Co-Founder of Green Caffeen
M: Guest Martin Brooks, Co-Founder of Green Caffeen

The Green Caffeen Coffee Cup
The Green Caffeen Coffee Cup

Introduction to Green Caffeen

T: Damien and Martin, welcome to Canberra.

D: Thanks for having us.

M: Thank you.

T: I have such an interest in your coffee cup – which is the Green Caffeen green coffee cup. It’s something that has been in the news quite a bit here in Canberra lately, just because of significant initiatives to try to reach some targets by our local government around recycling and less waste going into the landfills. Can you tell us about your program here?

D: Yeah excellent. Thank you for having us firstly. It’s really exciting down here in the ACT. It seems to be very progressive around heading towards zero waste particularly around takeaway packaging and takeaway coffee cups are one of the big elements that they’re trying to work on at the moment.

D: I think within the ACT – if you look across the problem across Australia, we have significant impacts being had by people just having single-use takeaway coffee cups. So, we congratulate the ACT government (for) actually sort of being one of the first people to progress towards a zero-waste policy with single use cups.

How Does the Green Caffeen Program Work?

T: Now for those people that aren’t familiar with the Green Caffeen system, let’s walk through it. If I was someone who is a heavy coffee drinker, which I am – how would I use your program?

D: Yes, it is really, really simple. So, all people do in this day and age is go to their smartphone, they download the app through the Google Play or Apple store. Once they’ve done that,, they enter their details. They do sign up with a credit card but what that enables us to do is actually give people access to our scheme for free – being like a library book where if you use our scheme and do it correctly and do the right thing with it, you’ll never be charged.

D: So, we wanted to remove all the barriers towards having access to a Green Caffeen reusable coffee cup. So, we’ve made the scheme completely free so you can now download the app, walk into any participating cafe and check out a Green Caffeen cup and then you can actually swap, drop or grab a fresh cup at any participating café. And you’ll never be charged and that’s the big thing that we’re very proud of that we’ve been able to achieve in our business model.

T: So, this is basically a, “Oh man, I forgot my coffee cup again. So, I want to take away a coffee. Can I get a Green Caffeen?” How many of these cups can I take out at any given time?

D: You can take two cups out at any given time, and that’s again controlled through the app on your phone. We knew that ideally our target market is that person that’s trying to use a reusable cup and struggled to do so. So, we know that if that person goes to the cafe on Monday and uses Green Caffeen, there could be a strong chance that on Tuesday they’d forget the cup. So, they’re allowed a second cup out with the app.

T: Okay so this is more like a “transition program for people that want to be more environmentally conscious but still haven’t gotten into the habit of bringing their own cup?”

D: Yeah, and I think it’s also – Martin puts it really well, sort of the lazy person’s reusable cup because you never actually have to remember your cup. You just have to remember your phone and from all the research and sort of analysis we did of the marketplace nobody leaves home without a phone these days. The phone is the sole source of everything. So, we thought, “Shy can we just build the technology into the phone and then enable people to have access to two reusable coffee cups through the technology and the phone?”

T: So, if I was an office worker, and I had more than one coffees a day – which a lot of people do… Do I just bring the coffee cup back with me at that time? Do I have to wash it?

D: No, not at all. No, no you can leave it sitting in your car for a week dirty. You just take it back, and all the cafes that we work with are very, very willing and happy to wash the cups. So, we make sure there’s a sanitation process that’s involved with every cafe coming on board. So they actually have to have access to a commercial dishwasher. So, all the cups are clean and sanitized correctly, stacked and then ready for you to walk back in and grab a fresh one when you’re ready.

Who’s Paying for the Cup?

T: It’s interesting to me that the customer’s not paying for the cup. Is the cafe paying for the cup?

D: No.

T:  Who’s paying for the cup?

D: Great question. We’ve been very, very fortunate. So, initially when we launched Green Caffeen now just over twelve months ago, about 14 months ago we realized that we had a business model that was going to be providing value to corporate universities, councils across Australia and across the world. What we wanted to do is to test that model and actually show the value in the model.

D: So, we had to sort of pay for the cups ourselves initially, and that was the outlay that we had and the belief in ourselves that the model was going to work. So, we spoke to our wives very, very nicely and asked if we could invest some money into this crazy idea and from there we developed the app.

D:   We bought a whole heap of cups, and we were able to form partnerships very early with councils that saw the problem that they had which is a commercial business, a cafe having waste go back into a council’s collection. So, for them it wasn’t just the council, but the business collecting that on site. What actually happens with a lot of these cups is they leave the café; people walk down the street, and they put it into a council bin. So, councils and universities across Australia have massive problems with waste. So, we’ve been very lucky to come in and solve a problem that they’ve had that they’ve had no real alternative solution to.

T: So, there’s a business case then for governments to get behind this program because they’re saving money on the landfill side.

D: Yea, and that’s the whole aim of it. We’ve worked out really, really quickly that mixed waste costs within Australia are on the increase. We have a recycling stream that people aren’t having as much faith in these days because of the news. We’re not sending it off to China and mixed recycling is going out of fashion. So, yeah we saw that really early on that if we could sort of target the market of the consumer, the cafe but also the council to come together as a collective solution to the problem, then we’d be on a bit of a winner and that’s why we haven’t stopped for the last 15 months.

This Start-up’s Growing Up Fast

T: Well you have been quite busy. I’ve been watching you on social media and it seems like you’re getting…

D: Sorry about that.

T: Were you on Planet Ark the other day? You got a nice plug from them. So, that was really good and the SBS, I saw that as well.

D: Most definitely.

T: So, you guys have been getting around. I am actually thinking about, from a business model perspective, how complex this is. You have so many stakeholders. You have all these cafe coffee drinkers, and they say, “Oh, I lost my cup. Do I got to pay for mine?” versus the cafe owners that are in and out of stock probably and then trying to bring them on board, and then you have all these government councils. Is it just you two managing all this?

D: At this stage it is. We’re just in the process of now actually expanding the team. But, to keep up with the demand we’ve had to. One thing that we realized really quickly is that we had to bring a model to the market that was very, very scalable. So, we eliminated all of the touch points that we could possibly to start with.

D: So, when we touch something to start with, we would go, “How can we streamline this so we never have to do that again?” So, we’ve done that, we’ve built a model where most of the efficiencies are actually built into the technology and through the back-end. So, we don’t really have to do a great deal once it’s all up and running except for continuing to motivate people to jump on board and encourage the use of the cup.

T: Yeah. Okay. Who spend the most time dealing with cafes right now?

M: It’s probably joint actually. 

T: It’s probably joint.

M: We’re lucky now. Very, very early on, at first to get the model up and running, it required us to go into cafes and almost sell it I suppose. But within six months that stopped pretty quick, and now we have cafes reaching out to us all around Australia. So, the fact of finding cafes isn’t hard. We’ve got plenty of cafes that we’re trying to get cups to. So, it’s just word of mouth. It’s pretty much gone viral around Australia, and every day we have cafes register.

How to Register as a Cafe?

T: So, if somebody wants to register as a café, then basically what? They jump online?

M: They jump on jump online. You just fill in the details, register your café. We send out some instructional videos and a little “How To” email, and they get the cup sent out to them. They’re ready to go.

D: An exciting part for us is that we’ve tested that model multiple times and different ways of doing it. We’ve got it nailed because we know that there’s cafes, and we’ve never met before. We ship them out the cups and all instructional details and information and then two minutes later they’re up and running, and they’re already checking cups in and out of the cafe with their customers.  

D: And there’s some that even get too excited and before they’ve even got their cups start announcing it on social media that we’re going to be part of Green Caffeen and we’re like, “Oh, quick! Let’s get the cups out really quickly!” Because they start getting a following, and people start saying, “Hey, when’s it happening?” and they all get excited and there’s no better time to take advantage of change in the marketplace than when people are excited.

M: And we’re starting to really attract those cafes that want to make a change which makes it easy for us.

Day and a Life of Damien and Martin

T: Tell me about a day in your life. I keep thinking you guys are on the road all the time because I’m watching your social media, and it seems like you’re always in a different cafe and you have pictures of young and old who are drinking out of a Green Caffeen cup. What’s a day in a life like for you right now?

D: Well, this morning, my morning kicks off. I go to the gym every morning. I try and remain disciplined and structured. So, I get up at 4:40 every morning regardless, and I go to the gym, train for about an hour and a half. Start with a coffee, finish with a coffee and then get home do the dad duties, the family duties and then by that sort of eight o’clock, 8:30 ready to roll and get Green Caffeen. This morning we left home a little bit earlier. We’re on the road down here to Canberra, but I try to be as structured as I possibly can and as disciplined as I can in that order.

T: What about you Martin?

M: I’m almost identical. Yeah, I go to the gym every morning, same time 4:40. Do a workout, come home breakfast, get the kids off to school and then start the day. And it’s a busy day. There’s a lot of e-mails to answer, a lot of inquiries. A lot of cups to get shipped out. There’s a lot of back-end work because it’s not all the glamour. But it’s tough sometimes, but it’s rewarding, and it doesn’t stop does it. You can be answering an e-mail at 10 o’clock at night. I mean Damien does the social media, and he’ll do things all day. So, it’s a good job though. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

D: We’ve always sort of worked it out. When someone’s sitting staring at their phone in silence not engaging or talking to each other – but we’re working on something or something’s happening or someone’s shouted us out or you’ve got to react to something like that. But, we get a real buzz out of it.

The Green Caffeen Movement

D: We wondered, when we first started this, we said,  “Wonder if we can create this Green Caffeen movement? Can we start a movement where people got so excited they’d start to share it on social media and engage with their friends about it?” And that happens multiple times throughout a day now.

D: We started really, really early on with our hashtags for social media which was “Green Caffeen Team.” And we said, “Well, this is a problem that we can’t solve ourselves, but if we all join in together, we’ll be able to nail it on the head.” And that’s proven very, very effective and exciting for us because we now have people, cafes, councils, celebrities. People grab a green cup and say I’m part of the team. I’m doing my bit for, you know, single use plastics.

Dividing-up Duties

T: Yeah. So, Damien you work on the social media.

D: Try to.

T: It’s obviously just a small piece, but a very important piece of your entire day. How else are you divvying up your roles?

D: Yeah. When we first started we did a bit of everything. In the last three to four weeks, given the volume of work that we’ve now got coming at us, we’ve actually split our roles. So, I’ve come from a sales background, pretty lucky to sort of have a bit of a knack for social media. So, I look after the engagement, the selling, the growth. All the sort of strategies around engagement for Green Caffeen and Martin’s well, what are you doing?

M: Probably more logistic. Probably just getting the cafes set up and the follow up in regards to that.

Working from Home(s)

T: Yeah. And are you working out of your homes right now?

D:  Yeah. Yeah.

T: Are you sharing an office in one of the houses or are you just working independently?

D: We’re very lucky. There’s no more than 150 meters between our two houses. So, it depends on who’s doing what at home and which kids at home sick or who’s doing what, and we meet. But a lot of the cafes get a regular workout. But yeah, certainly our warehouse and distribution is within our joint garages. That’s going to hit a point, well, it’s actually going to hit a point in the next couple of weeks, so we have to change that. So, yeah we’re excited about taking that next step.

More about Damien and Martin

T: Let’s go back a little bit. I want to know more about you. There’s certainly enough written about your histories and the fact that you basically have two stay-at-home dads that started this business. First of all, how did you guys meet?

M: We met through our kids. So, I think it was our two sons become friends at school, and then our daughters became friends, and then our wives became friends, and I think it was a family barbecue one day.

T: So, how long ago was that?

D: Eight years ago

M:  Eight years ago.

T: Eight years ago. So, you’ve known each other for a while.

D: Yeah, a little bit now.

The Business Idea

T: And the business idea. Who came up with the idea?

D: Well, it was quite funny. My own sister was originally involved in the in the sort of the conception of Green Caffeen and what was brought to the table and the idea say 18 months ago looks completely different to where it stands today.

T: What was her original idea?

D:  Well it was just that, “Can you have a swap and go coffee cup? Can you give people cups and they can swap them and drop them in any participating café?” We looked at that and went yeah that’s probably the basis of the idea but the development of the app, the cafes, the back-end, the reporting the system, all these other things we’ve had to sort of develop on the fly.

T: So, Martin’s sister originally had this idea and then how did you two get involved?

M: She gave it to us and said hey guys have a go at this, have some fun. She knew we were both stay at home dads. My sister knew that we both had some mental health problems and were probably looking at getting back into the real world if that makes sense. So, she said here, I’ve got this bit of an idea. Have a run with it and have some fun and it’s probably like any brother/sister relationship. You can’t give my sister too much credit. I think we, as a brother, sort of tuned it and fine-tuned it a bit better. 

T: It certainly is front of mind for most people right now.

D: It’s exploded Tammy. I mean it’s really exploded. We set ourselves a little bit of an internal target for our business to be in front of the message before the message started, and we were very lucky to get pushed to launch by our local sustainability and waste manager there in Kiama, and we’ve just ridden the wave and we’ve been very lucky to be on the forefront of the messaging at the moment.

D: It’s changed significantly, and what we thought was going to take three years probably took six months and the last six months have seen significant change in the way people talk about it. I mean just during the last weeks, we’ve had Boris Johnson, the leader of the UK walking down the street, walking down to a press conference where we might have been, and his public aide holding a single use cup and so I was told, “You can’t be seen with that! Give it back to me!”

D: And you know, you had a Greens member that’s had a single use cup photoshopped so that it was a reusable cup. The messaging is out there now –  twelve months ago was not around at all. That was nowhere to be seen whereas in the last six months it’s now being seen to be an image that you don’t want to be seen with having a single use item.

Finding Purpose Again

T: So, you guys started the company 15 months ago is that right?

D: That’s correct.

 T: A lot’s happened in 15 months. I mean you guys definitely were ahead of this curve. What actually gave you the inspiration to start this business?

D: I was a stay at home dad with some mental health issues, so I spent probably five or six years of the prime of my life being a stay at home dad. Stay at home dads involve running kids around but also involves having a lot of time to yourself when the kids are at school, and I spent a lot of that time just sitting and watching the world go by,

D: And here in Kiama, we had a couple that every morning they’d be walking past with one of those claws you pick up rubbish with, and they’d have a bag and they’d be picking up rubbish. I sat there and watched them multiple times until the curiosity got to me. I got out the car and said, “Can I ask you guys why you’re doing this?” And they said, “We just love Kiama, and we want to keep the place clean.”

D:  And it was that moment that I went, “Geez, that’s a really cool thing to do, and I should be part of it.” So, I think the switch flicked a little bit for me where I started picking up rubbish. We started doing beach cleanups. We started following people like Take 3 For The Sea, some of these really cool organizations. So everywhere, we’d go, we get a chance to do a little beach cleanup.

D: I’ve made a pact to myself personally that I’ll never walk past a single use coffee cup on the ground without picking it up, and I’ve picked up some pretty ordinary looking ones in some pretty silly places, and Martin’s like, “Oh here he goes again. He’s off to pick up a cup.” But…

That passion was instilled by us by watching what other people were doing and realizing that if we all did it together the world would be a much better place.

T: So, the interest right away with the rubbish and the plastic pollution and certainly the coffee cups that we see on the beaches. Now for people who are not from Australia, Kiama is how far from Sydney?

D: It’s two hours south and you should visit it’s a beautiful part of the world. You’ll thoroughly enjoy it.

T: It’s quite famous for the big…

D: The blowhole, the world’s largest blowhole.

Kiama Blowhole
Kiama Blowhole
Credit: VisitNSW.com

T: Yeah. What exactly is a blowhole for people that don’t know?

D: It’s just the geo-formation. I can’t really explain that properly. It’s a hole that water comes out makes a big spout.

M: It’s like a whale spout.

T: But it’s made out of cliffs?

D: Yeah, it’s just natural over the years, and it’s a lot of volcanic rock down in Kiama and it’s just been formed naturally over the years.

T: It is great, as I have been there a few times. Okay. So, we understand your passion. I’m curious to know given how crazy your business is…

D: Can I just mention one thing on passion because this story sticks with me? Martin was very lucky. He and his family in his last few years spent a fair bit of time on a boat. So, they actually went live on a boat for nine months, and I was very lucky enough as a mate to be able to go and spend a bit of time on that boat as well.

D: And we had multiple stories where we’ll do sailing along, and you’d see a thong (aka flip flop) in the middle of the ocean. You’d go, “How the bloody hell did that thong just get out here?” Or you’d see a bottle, you’d see a bag, or you’d see something. So, I think for me the impacts were sort of starting to notice something. Once you start to notice something, you become very hyper vigilant, and you see it everywhere, and I know you sort of say the same thing from your journeys.

M: Yeah. We’d sail up the east coast of Australia and you’d go to remote island off the coast of Queensland and there would be plastic on it, and it’s not little pieces. It was big bits of plastic on this beach and beautiful remote island and every island we went to there had plastic on it.

M: And, in going back to that when we lived on the boat. You’d go into a food shop, and we were pretty tight for space on the boat so you do a food shop for a couple of weeks and we put everything on the big table and all the kids would help us, and we’d unpack things. Just to make more room –  you’d unpack it from the box. 

M: And the rubbish that was left over from our food – our food was a third of the size compared to what it was when we bought it. So, you’d be carrying three lots of trolley loads back to the boat and at the end of the day you’d probably have a trolley load of food. So, it just sort of makes you realize we use a hell of a lot of waste, and nine times out of ten that stuff can’t be recycled.

T:  And if we go back to your sister basically handing you an idea. Why did she think that you’d be interested?

M: I think she knew that we probably needed something to get out of the house. So, I think we were stuck in a rut and we’ve known each other for eight years. We know both of us went through some mental health problems. We both know how bad we were, and we were in some pretty bad places, and I think at some points we were lucky to get out of those places.

M: Some days, I couldn’t get out of bed to make my kids lunches, and my wife actually wrote me a list of what went into school lunches, and even though I’d done it weeks before I just couldn’t. I’d get stuck at putting things into lunches. Couldn’t get over that. So, once we had this project, and it has taken off, we’ve never looked back.

D: It’s also how we met. We met through our kids and then one day I said to Martin. I said, I’m thinking about getting back into the gym, feeling a bit down and out. And so we started training together, and then those training days we’d get up at 6:00 and train at six and then we’d train again at 10 and then we’d run around.

D: So, we were probably spending more time with each other at some periods of our life for two or three years than we were with the rest of our family because our wives were out there working and doing their best. And we had a lot of time to sit around and kick some ideas around, and thankfully some of those ideas didn’t come to fruition.

T: What other ideas did you have?

D: No, you don’t want to know. Some pretty crazy elements.

M: We won’t discredit these ideas.

D: Crazy elements but we’re always talking about problems and solutions. And we’ve always looked at things and thought,  “Just how do we come up with a really easy solution to that?”  And I think most of the credit we’ve been given for with Green Caffeen is people just come up and say why didn’t I think of that. That’s such a simple solution, and we were very lucky.

D: We got a great tech developer who understood exactly what we were. He was a coffee drinker, a regular takeaway coffee drinker, and he’s now switched his habits. We’ve met some fantastic people that have done all their graphics and our design – all these fun sort of things. They have just understood what we’re trying to do.

D:  We look at ourselves daily if not hourly sometimes. You go, “Bloody hell, how have we come here?” And I think it’s been from the last six years of dark, deep terrible places where, as Martin said, we may not have come up on the other side of, to now having a passion. We’re doing good, we’re creating community, we’re bringing change to people’s lives, we’re creating positive impacts across the world. And why wouldn’t you get want to get out of bed? We spring out a bit now. We’re like,“Oh, what have we got today? Let’s go do this!”

We’ve got a new passion for life.

Business Qualifications?

T: What were you doing before that made you qualified to start a business?

M: To start this? I probably had no qualifications to start this. I think that’s probably why it’s gone so well for us because you sort of come in with no expectations, and we just learn along the way.

D: Certainly not an eco-tech start-up as we call ourselves sometimes. We had zero qualifications. I drink a lot of coffee and realised the problem that I was having personally. That was probably my best qualification. Before that I was a real estate agent, so I ran a couple of franchise real estate offices for a number of years in Sydney’s North West.

D: I worked 80 hours a week. Had the European cars and the big mortgages and all these sort of fun sort of things that led you to push harder and go bigger and go stronger and unfortunately for me that was my down-bringing as well. All these hours I just couldn’t keep up with and sort of ran me into the ground, and I realised I had some underlying issues there as well.

T: What about you Martin?

M: I was a police officer for a few years.

D: Which is his best strength because he’s logistic, he’s task orientated, he ticks things off and he doesn’t give himself enough credit for that. But that police officer, report writing, bringing things to the table, making sure it’s diligently done and handled properly is one of his great strengths.

M: He wants a pay raise.

D: Granted!

Working for Purpose versus Money

T: Are you paying yourself right now?

M: Everyone involved in Green Caffeen is on the same wage at the moment.

T: Zero?

M: Yeah.

D: We laugh and say we’ll put you on the CEO wage if you would like to be and everyone goes, “Oh, that’s fantastic! What is it?” We go, “You don’t want to know.”  Now, we’ve got a massive passion in what we believe, and we’ve got some strategies around that. We really do now and even in the last few weeks since we first spoke with you, Tammy we’ve now got opportunities reaching out across the world. So, we actually have five international partnerships now lined up for Green Caffeen.

T: Oh, that’s fantastic.

D: And people just say, “Can we bring it here? Can we do this? Can we do that?” And we’re like, “Yeah, we’ll make that happen.” If you really believe in what we’re trying to do, there is a way, we’ll make it happen. It might take us another six months, but we’re working overtime to form allegiances with the right people – to understand what your passions are, who you are, and what’s your environment, and how can we help you have a similar impact as to what we’re doing across Australia.

T: So, you’ve been a business for 15 months. You haven’t paid yourself. You must have some very understanding wives looking after you.

M: Well, I think they’ve seen where we’ve come from and the big change that we’ve made in ourselves mentally and physically in the last probably 18 months, two years this has been happening. And, I think they know where we’ve come from and see a different person today than it was back then.

D: I think we put that on our website. We’re getting more out of this than anybody actually really understands. If this all fell apart tomorrow, we are different people. We’ll get back in the workforce. We’ll go do whatever it might take, a new start-up whatever. We’ve changed, and we’ve come from some terrible places. So we do get a lot more out of this than people realise, but that’s also part of our driving force, as well is we don’t want this to stop.

We’re just going to ride this little green monster, as we call it, and give it as much as we can and make it as big as possible.

M: You know what? You go to work on a Monday morning on any other job, and you got 20 or 30 emails to open.  At Green Caffeen, with the head office at the dining table, most of those e-mails are people reaching out telling you how good they love it, and how much they want to bring it to their cafe and so forth. So, it’s a great reward. Every day you are rewarded definitely.

T: I think it’s so interesting how both you, having some challenges with mental health have found some relief in starting a business with a cause, and how that, even though you’re probably working crazy hours right now, that’s actually energizing you. A lot of people when they start a business, it’s incredibly stressful, and if you had a mental health issue a lot of people would go backwards. But you guys are just going strength to strength right now.

D: Still got a mental health battle. I have to keep in check regularly with how I’m feeling in my moods and all that sort of thing. So, the mental health stuff doesn’t go away. It actually probably gets exacerbated sometimes. But I’ve learnt personally to handle those, and I’m a much smarter and more insightful person.

D: So, if I need time, I take time. If I’m struggling, I’ll take the moment to switch off and tune out a little bit but then I keep structure and discipline and surround myself with routine and always find the sort of things that enables us to keep forging forward. And as Martin said when you get a little pat on the back every five minutes of the day by someone saying, “I really enjoy what you’re doing.” That’s a little dopamine release, and that’s a little kick, and it’s another little move forward. So, it’s really, really exciting.

T: It probably helps too that both you understand that same challenge. So when one needs a day off, the other guy can…

D: There’s no days off, Tammy! What are you talking about?

T: You guys told me you took time out.

D: I know. We take time – maybe half an hour or so, go for a swim, go for a run.

T: Ha Ha! But, at least the other person could kind of understand where you’re coming from.

M: Yes, I think so definitely.

D: For sure.

T: What do your children think of all this?

D: They laugh. Two 40-year-old blokes on social media. We had zero budget for media when we first started this. So, we thought, “Let’s just go to social media and make it a bit entertaining and engaging.” I don’t know whether we’ve successfully have done that, but people have given us a little bit of feedback to say that, “We really enjoy watching your travels and enjoy what you’re up to.” And we’ve toned that back a little bit, but more people are crying out for this silly stuff, and we’ve got a few more fun things planned in the near future. But our kids, what do our kids think?

M: Well, they’ve changed. I think without sounding too common, we’re good role models for them now. Well, most parents are good role models for the kids, but they see an environmental side, and they’ve seen the change that we’ve made, and I think they’ve definitely changed the way they use things. I think they’ve change the way they consume things. I think they stop and ask themselves, “Do I really need that before they buy it or is there another option or is there a better way for the environment?” So, they’ve definitely changed.

T: And also, they’re probably impacted by your personal changes as well, not just the business?

M: Yes.

D: Yeah, for sure. With parenting, so I won’t go to too deep into parenting –  but parenting is one of those fun things, and you can tell your kids what to do or you can show them what to do, and the last two years we’ve shown them what to do. And I think they’re very, very proud of that, but that’s given us an element of pride to share with our kids that no matter what you’re going through at any particular stage of your life, there’s always a way out of it.

M: And I think we’ve changed that – you just tell the kids now, “If you’ve got a passion, just do it. Still go to school and still try hard but if you’ve got a passion, follow your dreams.” I think if anything, that follow your dreams is probably being not pushed onto them, but shown to them that, “I don’t need to leave Year 12, and think about my career and buy a house and so forth. If I’ve got a passion or a dream, I’ll go chase it.”

Experts on Not Being Experts

T: Probably also, it shows that you don’t actually have to be an expert in something to make something happen, right?

D: No, we are experts at not being experts.

M: Very, very early on we realised that there was a lot of fields we weren’t experts in.

T: But, you figured it out?

D: We made smart decisions. We realised that we weren’t experts, and we outsourced that information or skill, and brought people along with us that shared our passion but also had the skills to fill the holes. And, I think that’s why we’ve once again by default – we were talking about this, this morning – why have we been able to achieve what we’ve been able to achieve in the last 12 to 13 months.

D: That is because if we don’t know the answer, we go find the solution to it straight away. But, not only find the solution, we find the person that has the passion and energy that we do, but is also an expert in the field, and that’s a winning formula that’s working well so far.

M: And it’s everyone that we’ve worked with just love the idea. They love it, they get it. They are coffee drinkers; they know they’ve tried to have reusable cup and it’s too bloody hard sometimes. They forget it, they don’t wash it. So, they look at this and think that’s a really great idea.

M: So, our app developer, we met a couple of people to develop an app and the first couple it was really hard to sell it, and they really didn’t get it. Then, we met our current developer and within less than a minute, you could just see his brain working it out going, “Oh, this is what I’m going to do!” And it’s like his baby – It means, (us to him) “You have it. You do the things that you think to do with it because we aren’t app experts at all.”

M:  It’s like the graphic designer was saying to us, “We want to do this.” And then when they started to work he (app developer) would go, “Can you tell the graphic designer to give me a call?” And we’re like, “Do you guys just want to talk by yourselves because if it goes through us we’re bound to stuff it up?” So, they just worked in the background, and we’d sort of roughly tell them what we want to do and then couple weeks later it’s done.

T: Well, you obviously found partners with common values.

D: That’s key. That’s definitely key, and I know our app team regularly saves us. “Sorry guys, we’ve got just another little thing for you.” And they go, “No, we enjoyed working on this one because we watch the cup count to go up, and we watched the people join, and we know that you guys are leading the way and having a bit of an impact and somehow we’re a part of that as well.”

T: I think that’s really good advice for any entrepreneur, “If you’re not an expert in something, just find the best person you can with the values aligned.”

D: Values aligned is one of the key elements. We have definitely said no to people over the time. We’ve gone, “Yeah, we’re probably not quite suited to each other even though you might be the best person in that field.” (And then)…

Let’s go find somebody that’s you know equally as best but has the same sort of passion as we do.

The New Cup

T: Let’s talk about some of your future developments. I’m looking at a cup here. It is a special cup.

D: It’s still white. It hasn’t been colored yet, Tammy. It’s a prototype.

T: It’s still white compared to the green one which we’ll put on the show notes so people can see what your cup looks like. But tell us more about this cup that’s sitting right next to it.

D:  Yeah look, when we first started Green Caffeen we had an idea to implement a circular economy. So we never wanted to use virginal material.  We wanted to sort of bring waste as a resource, and 18 months ago in the Australia marketplace that wasn’t much of a discussion point and it wasn’t actually able to be implicated within a business. So, we weren’t able to do what we wanted to do originally.

D: So, we came to market with a cup that we could get made here in Australia from a virginal polypropylene. We made sure that we could handle that cup correctly at the end of its life and turn it back into new cups. So, we were trying to go circular and move towards that waste free, zero waste model, but deep down we always wanted to push towards a model where we could actually use waste as a resource. So, we went out to source and secure supply of FDA approved food grade recycled content now here in Australia which is massive.

T: That is new, isn’t it?

D: Yeah, it’s brand new and we’re lucky to form allegiances with the right people that we’re at the forefront of this but also had a passion to work with us and bring change to the marketplace. So, yeah this this new cup will be made from food grade recycled plastic here in Australia and waste will be then turned into a resource which will be turned into a reusable which will go around, around, around, around the end of its lifespan. It should be turned back into a reusable and closing the loop on the whole process. So, it’ll be a zero waste reusable coffee cup.

T: So, this food-grade product, which wasn’t available until recently, will be actually recycled when enough people use it. And how many how many uses do you reckon a coffee cup can use?

D: So, we’re just still testing. The cups that we currently have at the moment are three to four years (lifecycles). We still hope to achieve the same target with the new cup, but we’re still just in the process, so you’ve caught us very early. We’re still just testing that at the moment, but there’s no reason why we won’t be (able to)  get three years plus from the cup in the commercial environment.

T: And that’s with how many circulations do you reckon? How many?

M: Numerous.

D: We have to think 500 a year.

T: So, we’re looking at 1500 times that coffee cup is used, and then you’re recycling it again back into another coffee cup.

M: And the current (virgin plastic) cup (only) has to be used 15 times before it has a positive impact on the environment. So, one of our current green cups is equivalent to 15 paper cups.

T: Paper cups?

M: Yes.

D: We haven’t actually even looked at the statistical data on what a reusable cup from a waste resource will have because that’s just not been available. So, we’re just in the process of looking at that now.

T: Well also, the energy required to make that new product is actually less than a virgin (plastic) product.

D: 100% and one thing we’re really, really proud of, Tammy – we looked at how we’re going to implement this model, and when we first started we said, “We’ll go build a factory. We’ll set up washing facilities there. We’ll collect all the cups on a daily basis.  We’ll transport them back to our factory. We’ll wash them, and then we’ll ship them back to the cafes ready for the next day.”  And it was just massive resource waste going around, around, around creating new infrastructure for these cups to be handled.

D: So, we looked at the cafe and said, “Cafes have everything we need there. If they’re willing to partner with us and work with us to reduce waste and make an economic saving for themselves as well, let’s just roll within the model that already exists.” And that’s exactly what we’ve done. So, our model is very, very resource light and it’s even resource lighter – can I say that – and we’ve got this new cup coming out very shortly.

T: It’s really interesting that the solution that you came up with, which was the simplest implement, is also the greenest in terms of carbon emissions.

D: Yeah. Once again, we look at them. We’re not geniuses. It was just a simple solution to a big problem, and we’ve been very lucky to have the execution available to us to pull it off.

An Exciting Announcement

T: Yeah brilliant. Let’s go ahead to talk further about the announcement that you’re about to have with the ACT Government. Go ahead and tell us more about that.

D: So, let’s go back a little bit about 18 months ago the ACT Government started talking about banning single use coffee cups. They sort of put it out there a little bit. It got momentum. The press got a hold of it, and it really ran some big stories. It was very similar to what we’ve achieved in the Inner West of Sydney. The mayor came out there about the same time and said we want to implement a reusable coffee cup scheme.

D: So, let’s go back 18 months ago. We hit Twitter like we’ve never hit Twitter before. We started tweeting all the ministers involved. We started getting anybody that could get our story and message. By then, we were only weeks into business, and we thought we’re the perfect solution to this problem, but we were not maybe two or three weeks into our existence. So we had to go and get some runs on the board before it happened. But very luckily enough we won the inner west trial…

M: In Sydney.

D: …in Sydney, and that trial has now escalated to a full-blown scheme. So, they’ve actually cancelled the trial program, and they’ve gone straight to a, ‘let’s just implement a scheme and have it going forever.’

T: So, how big is that scheme?

D: It will hit 60 cafes within the next couple of weeks, but the LGA – the Local Government Area of the inner west is one of the biggest and heaviest populated councils within Australia. So, it’s a big area.

T: Okay.

D: It’s a big area. Let’s get back onto the story. The story was then that the ACT Government came out and they said they wanted to run a reusable cup trial once again. So, they’ve put out some tenders, out for some information and then once again we went to Twitter. We were very lucky to come down here and meet some of the people involved and sort of share our dream and yeah, it’s been six weeks of very exciting challenges for us to sort of get this to the marketplace. But we’ve been very lucky to be, by the time this podcast comes out, announced as the successful candidate to implement a reusable cup trial here in the ACT.

M: But prior to the tender going out we had a massive interest from cafes in Canberra and when we tried to hold back knowing that this was going to happen later in the year, but we couldn’t. There was such a strong interest from cafes wanting to jump on board with Green Caffeen that we just had to roll it out.

T: And then they couldn’t get involved right away because?

D: Well there’s a scale of economies for us. We have to partner, and we need support and funding from local councils or governments or organisations. So, for us we sort of looked and said okay, let’s get 20 cafes up and running. Let’s look at the ones that are sort of crying out the most, and let’s show what can be done in the ACT prior to any of these being announced.

D: Now we’ve already got a 20, 22, 23 cafes with a lot more registered in the back-end ready to go. They’re already operating and running Green Caffeen here in the ACT. So, we put it out there. We thought, “let’s support the people that want to support us.” And we’ve been very, very lucky to win this tender for us as a little start-up from what we know of as one of the first reusable cup’s that’s state-sponsored or territory.

M: Statewide.

D: Statewide here in the ACT, (first) across the world. So, we regularly get people reaching out to us worldwide now saying, “Hey, can you do this? Can you do that? How have you done it?”  And we go, “why are they calling us?” But we’re working it out. They’re calling us for a reason.

T: Hey congratulations, guys! That is huge to convince any government to do anything new. But to be able to have a consumer-led change for the environment is even bigger than people realise. I’m not surprised that people from overseas are reaching out to you to try to figure out how to do similar things. So, congratulations on winning that contract.

D:  Thank you.

M: Thank you.

D: And it’s not just our congratulations. Congratulations to people that actually care about trying to implement reusable schemes and systems versus getting away from single use. I think a lot of the messaging over the last 12 to 18 months has been,  Now we can recycle this, we can compost this, we can do something a lot better.” But as the message gets bigger, people now are saying that’s probably still not the best solution.

D: You look at the waste hierarchy, the waste hierarchy is Refuse, Reduce then Recycle. So, recycle from what we grew up with as, “Recycle is going to fix all the problems –  just put it in the yellow bin and she’ll be alright” to now it’s their very lowest portion of the waste hierarchy. So, we look at it and go refuse. Well, you can refuse a coffee cup, and then how do you get your coffee? Well, next stage is you are going to have to reuse, and that’s where Green Caffeen fits in beautifully.

How to Connect with Green Caffeen

T: Brilliant. Is there any advice or request you have from our listeners?

D: Well I know you’ve got a worldwide market and an international market so if you here in Australia you can just download the Green Caffeen app and find a local participating café, but not to support us, support them. Go and give them a little pat on back for implementing this scheme and wanting to make a change in your local community. That’s the best thing we can do.

D: If you’re a cafe you can jump on board you can go to https://greencaffeen.com.au/ and register your cafe. If you’re a university, a council, anybody that just wants to talk to us about reducing waste and going zero waste with takeaway coffee cups, we would love to hear from you.

T: Okay, so we’ll put all those contact details on the show note in case people want to reach out to you personally, but also as you say the apps are available on Apple Store as well as the Google Play Store.

D: Thank you.

T: Guys, thank you so much for joining me today, and thank you for all the amazing things that you’re doing for coffee drinkers, for the environment, for the cafes and working with government to find a single solution for all the waste that’s going into the landfills – that it’s really generated from something as simple as a coffee cup.

D: Tammy, thank you and congratulations on your initiative and your interests as well. We really appreciate having five minutes to chat with you – maybe or little bit longer – with people that actually care about what we’re trying to do so thank you very much. 

T: You are very welcome.

M: Thanks Tammy.

T: Cheers.

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Tammy Ven Dange

Purpose Driven Entrepreneur Be kind to animals and mother nature!

2 thoughts on “Green Caffeen: Two dads and a green coffee cup”

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