Today I’m speaking with Jonathon Draper and Olivia St-Laurent of Local Press Café + Wholefoods in Canberra, Australia. Local Press began with sustainability in mind from the day they opened their first café in 2016.
And yet since then, they’ve continued to add practices that have reduced their waste by 90% and encouraged an amazing loyal following from both staff and customers alike – showing that you can be both a profitable and sustainable.
This episode is truly a case study of what food businesses could do just about anywhere if they consciously chose to reduce their own impact on the environment.
I hope you enjoy this episode of Plastics Revolution with Jonathon Draper and Olivia St-Laurent of Local Press.
Companies, Organisations and Products Mentioned in this Podcast:
Local Press Café + Wholefoods
1% for the Planet
Check out the full transcript on Tammy’s blog page.
Hosted by Tammy Ven Dange
Produced by Jonny Puskas
Theme Music by Joseph McDade
All Rights Reserved 2019
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
T: Host Tammy Ven Dange
J: Guest Jonathon Draper, Owner of Local Press Café and Wholefoods
O:Guest Olivia St-Laurent, Sustainability Coordinator
T: Jonathan, Olivia, welcome to the show.
O: Thank you.
J: Thank you very much.
T: I’ve known about the Local Press for a while because you’re one of my local cafes. I actually brought one of your jars with me, which looks like just a fancy little jar. But what I had bought with this was one of your fresh juices, and that was years ago. And I thought that was right away something that distinguished you guys from most of the other cafes in the fact that you would give me a glass jar that I still reuse for nuts and things like that.
T: Then if you look at the top of the lid, you’ll see that I’ve actually been in your store, your Whole Foods store. That allowed me to refill it with some of your other ingredients, and then I think you had a weight it.
J: Yeah. That’s right.
T: …to tell me how much the glass weighed so that you can subtract whatever your product was inside of it. So, you can tell that I’m actually a customer of both of your businesses.
J: It’s great to see those jars have spread far and wide to our customer base, which is good. I often go to friends and families’ homes, and I see those jars with flowers or grains or what have you in them. So that’s good.
T: It’s good advertising.
J: It’s good advertising, yeah. Good to see they’re getting second lives too.
The sustainable food beginnings
T: So Jonathan, you started your first café. Was that 2014?
J: Yeah. That’d be about right.
T: And did you have a sustainable set of goals at that time?
J: The sustainable set of goals we had were predominantly based around keeping things as local as possible, reducing our food miles wherever we could and keeping everything small and controlled.
J: We wanted to stock quality stuff and keep things as green as possible too really. So we had very limited meat offerings on our menu at the time. That’s gradually changed as our customers have demanded a bit more of a comprehensive menu.
J: But initially we were about being big and green and salads and clean and local.
T: So, it’s more about sustainable food at the beginning.
J: It was. That’s right. I was pretty naive about the whole sustainability thing when I started. But it was definitely on our radar. A lot of what we sourced in the café – if you go to the cafe, you’ll see there’s a lot of recycled timber. There’s a lot of recycled bricks. As a matter of fact, the whole cafe is more or less built from recycled materials. That was almost more of a budget concern than anything else. We set out to reuse whatever we could from local tips (garage dumps) and create sort of a comfortable, warm aesthetic.
T: It’s so trendy now. It’s funny because you go into your cafe and it’s actually quite amazingly trendy and it always has been. So the fact that you did it on a budget and that’s the reason why you did it that way is kind of funny if you think about it.
J: It is funny, isn’t it? Yeah. I’ve been labelled with that trendy moniker a few times, but I wanted to fill the place up, as I said, with sort of recycled things. And I also wanted to put as many plants as functionally possible. I actually wanted there to be an unpractical amount of plants throughout the venue.
O: As there is in our home.
Local Press moving towards a more sustainable cafe
T: You’ve obviously moved on from more of a concern of sustainable food to looking at other things within your environment. I mean, one of the most recent interactions I’ve had with you here was with one of our other (podcast) guests, Green Caffeen – you guys are carrying their coffee cups. Do you want to talk about some of your newer practices?
J: Yeah, sure. As I said, when we opened Local Press, the main emphasis on sustainability was using more recycled elements throughout the building process and using local and greener items on the menu, sort of lower footprint items.
J: But we started to realize that there is a lot more that we could do, and we started to look far deeper into the business and see the impact – the direct footprint that the business had. And it was a substantial one.
J: It was a high turnover business. We were very busy, and we saw the amount of rubbish we produced was huge. And we very quickly figured out that most of that was food waste. So, one of the biggest steps we took initially was to find some way to compost that. And so over the years, we’ve had a number of different composting partners.
J: And that’s basically the first step we took until we sort of took the plunge to open the new business, Local Press Whole Foods, which was a real step down the sustainability path further with the business predominantly based around sustainability.
T: We’re sitting in your Local Press Whole Foods cafe right now. Could you describe what we see around us right here?
O: As you walk in, the first thing you see is a bunch of bulk food bins with little descriptions and codes. The idea with that is to bring your own jar or use some jars that we’ve got on hand and fill up with bulk foods. And the idea is to avoid all kinds of plastic packaging – often soft plastic packaging, which is very hard to recycle. And apart from that, we’re also a regular café. So, we offer food and coffee and drinks.
For the love of plants
J: I think one of the first things that people comment on are the vines that creep across the roof. They are a really funny story. We planted them in what are called Woolly Pockets. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them, but they’re basically they’re made out of recycled, plastic bottles.
J: Whoever’s come up with the idea, I think they’re an American company. They’re fantastic. Basically, they wick the water away from the wall. So, the unit is mounted on the wall and it doesn’t get wet outside the unit. And you fill it with soil and fill it with plants. And the plants have a very happy there.
J: When we opened – we’ve got a bit of a drab roof – it’s an office roof. And we were contemplating different ways we could fix it. And I thought, well, let’s get some vines and see what happens. And we put them in these woolly pockets and they’ve just taken off. So one of the first things I think people comment on is these vines that sort of creep across the roof, which is great.
T: I’ll take some pictures and put it on our show notes page so that people can see it. But what I do think is interesting is that if people don’t understand what you’re trying to do, it actually looks fake.
J: Right. Can we get that.
O: I can see that. Sure.
T: It just looks almost too perfect that you can have this many vines growing in an office-like looking place.
O: We get an incredible amount of sunlight coming in. So that probably helps.
J: It’s great. You might have noticed across the road we have a huge big old basket at the front, which we found at the tip and we filled with a bigger singular woolly pocket and planted plants. And that also is just gone berserk. So, I think the plants know that there’re friends here, and they are they seem to flourish.
T: Other than the bulk food, you also have other things in this shop that are good for the environment. Do you want to talk about those a little bit?
Sourcing sustainable products
O: Yeah, sure. So the retail items we have, although some of them may not seem necessarily eco items, in the sense that they have some kind of packaging, the idea behind them is that,
We’ve really done our research to find companies that support our values.
O: So, for example, they’re either are B Corporations or 1% for the Planet or they have some kind of accreditation that we believe in and support. And we try to make that known to our customers as well when they come in. We let them know that whatever they’re buying in our shop, they can be confident that it’s a good choice and that it’s got sustainability standards. And it’s also a socially responsible choice that they’re making.
T: I see some soap. You can actually just refill it?
O: So, we do sell some things in bulk. They’re not necessarily food – things like dishwasher, liquid, laundry, powder, etc..
J: We also offer you cooking liquids in bulk, although we don’t have the dispensers out front. But maple syrup and oils and all those sort of things, you’re able to bring your bottles in and get them filled up by us.
J: It’s been a really interesting process going down the rabbit hole of finding more environmentally friendly, sustainable orientated companies. Olivia’s done a great job sourcing some really, really good stuff. And it’s been really interesting to see what customers take on and what they’re a bit shy of.
J: One of my favourites is a big bunch of honey that we have here, which is actually salvaged by a local character – who’s a real character. He’s contracted by the government to remove beehives from domestic houses. So, he basically removes the beehives and puts them into national parks and areas where they’re safer and more comfortable and not going to sting little children.
J: He takes the honey and packages it up, and we sell it as recycled honey. So, it’s a great initiative.
O: So every jar of honey comes from a different place.
T: Is it mostly all local?
J: It’s all local, yes. So if you’re from Weetangara, you’re buying your honey from your local area, often the wetlands, or vice versa. It’s a great initiative.
The challenges in reducing plastic in a cafe
T: Now, with the cafe side of it, I actually grew up in a restaurant. My mom had restaurants when I was a kid. I know that just some of the health requirements require lots of plastic in terms of how you keep your food safe. What are some of the challenges that you’ve had in trying to reduce your plastic footprint?
J: Bakers are the hardest actually. Bakers love Glad Wrap. So, they’ve been a real challenge.
J: But by and large, a lot of what we get is produce – fruit and vegetables. That doesn’t come in plastic. It comes in boxes, and we can recycle them. No problem. So that’s great.
J: There are things like meat, obviously, that are going to come in plastic. But with REDcycle and a few other awesome companies like that, we basically to rinse that, wash it and put it in our soft plastics recycling. We take that up to Coles and it gets a second life as well. There’s nothing glamorous about it. No.
T: You must have a lot more in your soft plastic bags than most.
O: Yeah, we always feel a bit embarrassed when we to bring a load of soft plastics every couple of weeks because we just feel like one day we’ll be told off for bringing so much soft plastic.
J: Yeah, we walk into Coles with about six huge garbage bags of soft plastics that accumulate over a few weeks, but they don’t have a problem with it. And I presume it goes to a good second life, which is great.
O: Yeah, that solved a big problem of ours because soft plastics can be recycled. Sometimes it’s really hard to avoid for things like health and safety like you say. For example, Glad Wrap – we’ve avoided it in most cases by using containers and whatnot, but there are some cases where you just can’t do without. So, having that option when we can’t reduce or avoid – to recycle is fantastic.
T: I’ve heard someone say recently that they felt like aluminum foil was a good option instead of Glad Wrap.
J: Absolutely. And I believe aluminum foil sort of has an infinite life if recycled properly. It could be returned back into its (original) state. So that’s great.
T: And it still has value. People actually want it.
J: Absolutely. We’ve got a second-hand aluminum foil section where we basically use aluminum foil that hasn’t been tainted and, you know, fold it up and give it a second use in the kitchen where possible, which is good.
T: Are there any kind of regulations that you wish that might be different to allow you to maybe run your operations slightly more green?
J: No. I mean, I’m sure there are, but all in all not really. Certain suppliers – when you go back in the produce chain, you find difficulties in convincing bigger suppliers to provide things with less plastic. For example, mushrooms always seem to come in Styrofoam trays and fish as well. It obviously comes in styrofoam packaging with ice to keep it cold. So, we’ve had a few troubles with some suppliers in terms of their unwillingness to budge on that.
J: But apart from that, by and large,
Most people, staff and suppliers are sort of happy (to reduce their plastic consumption). It just requires a little bit of education, a little bit of direction, and they’re usually quite willing to jump on board. They can see the need to do it, and they’re sort of happy to be part of a positive initiative.
T: I know when I go by your cafe, especially on a Sunday morning, there’s a line out the door with people still waiting on the dock to get in. I imagine that you guys actually have quite a bit of influence with your suppliers. And if there’s other cafes doing the same thing, then you might actually be able to reduce the amount of styrofoam that’s been used because that is one of the hardest plastics to recycle.
J: Yeah, absolutely. Look, I like to think we do have a bit of an influence. Certainly, we have found a lot of suppliers are very happy to try to help out and work with us, but as you say, we’re all quite well-known and we are quite popular. And it’s one of the big reasons we’ve opened this second place to demonstrate that you can run a cafe successfully and be aware of your environmental footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible.
J: We drive twice a week to drop off soft plastics and to drop off compost. And, you know, it takes time out of your schedule. And most small business owners don’t do that. What we’re trying to suggest and show is that you kind of have to and you’ve kind of got to make it work. It’s kind of their responsibility.
I think the cafe and restaurant industry is a huge, huge industry. And if every one of them starts to make more positive steps, it’ll be a big, big difference. And, it’s necessary and it’s possible.
O: A lot of the time, it seems to be as simple as asking. I know it’s not always the case. But, for example, that’s with our customers and with some of our suppliers. We’ve got some people who bring in some cakes for us. And if we asked them not to use any Glad Wrap, they’re usually more than happy to abide.
O: Same with the suppliers when they’re on a smaller scale, or they’re people we know and meet face to face, and they understand where we’re coming from and why we’re trying to do what we’re doing,
They’re happy to change the way they do things sometimes for us. As well as customers. We simply try and give them as many options as possible rather than make them feel limited.
Small sacrifices add up
O: For example, you know getting a takeaway cup is an option, but they also have about four other options. So sometimes you just also want to make it seem a lot more accessible because I think a lot of people have this idea of sustainability as the impossible thing to do or a lack of convenience and losing your comforts.
T: Yeah, well, it’s certainly hard to do.
O: Yeah, but not impossible.
T: No, not impossible. But you do have to change some things in your life to start to do it.
J: You have to make small sacrifices. And people seem unwilling to make small sacrifices sometimes. And…
I think you just need a gentle reminder that they are just very small, and they just require small sacrifices on a regular basis. And when you get used to them, it’s just not that big of a shift.
So a lot of people are sort of unwilling at first, but they gradually come around to it.
T: I can see that you have paper straws. That was one of the very first switches that a lot of cafes around here did. Do people care anymore? Did they complain about not getting a plastic straw?
O: It’s interesting because at the beginning we’d often get told something like, “The paper straw in my smoothie will kind of mush up and crumble and dissolve in my smoothie.”
J: We got a lot of criticism. We were very early on takers with that. And we got a lot of criticism. It was quite funny.
O: And it’s a fair argument. And another thing that we got criticism for is not giving the straw right away and just allowing the customers to take one if they decide that they need one.
J: You put a smoothie in front of them and they say, “How do they drink it?”
O: They look at you like you’re a bit crazy. So it’s definitely an adaptation for the customers, as well as for the staff and figuring out how far can you push it before you turn your customer away? Because obviously, that’s the last thing we want to do.
O: But actually today, we just had someone come in and bring in straws made out rice. Rice, water and oil, I think were the three ingredients. And I try to put it in a glass of water, and it didn’t bend until about an hour. So, there’s many other things, and we’ve seen things like pasta straws and things like that. So we’re open to options. I think with time as well, there will be more convenient things that’ll come out as it becomes more trendy and financially (sound).
J: Yeah, but these rice straws we received, they’re terrific. They’re a sign of everyone having now made the transition to cardboard. And the innovators out there are looking to improve that, and they can see that cardboard is obviously not very good – still requires trees, it gets pretty sloppy in a drink pretty quickly.
J: And these rice straws, I think they’re all organic. They’ve got a lot of positive certifications – I can’t site them off the top my head, but they look terrific. They’re multi-coloured. They’re great.
T: Do you want to mention them by name?
O: They were called. I liked it. It was Go Strawng, but strong was spelled s t r a w n g. And I thought that was very clever.
T: We’ll try to go ahead and put all the companies that may been mentioned. We’ll put them in the show notes as well, to give them a bit of a plug as well.
T: Do people actually complain anymore about the straws?
O: No, it just goes after a while. I think people start realising that that’s the way we do it here. And they adapt, and they realise it’s just not that bad.
J: I think everywhere does cardboard straws right now, which is great. So, it’s become part and parcel.
T: A year ago though, it wasn’t.
J: No. That’s right.
T: So, things have changed fairly quickly around here.
O: It is great to see. It’s really nice. Often times I’ll go out to get a smoothie myself, and I’ll always say, “No straw.” They’ll be like, “But we’ve got paper straws. It’s good we got you covered.”
J: Yeah, we had a long period there of insisting wherever we went, “no straw” because obviously they’d give you a plastic straw. But now everyone just gives you the cardboard. You don’t even have to worry.
T: Yeah. At least locally. .I know internationally, that’s not the case.
O: Sure. We’ve travelled a fair bit and we find that travelling is one of the biggest challenges for sustainability because as much as things are a certain way in Australia, it’s not like that everywhere.
T: And probably the capital cities are a little bit more knowledgeable about these challenges than some of the other places.
Can you be green and profitable?
T: Questions then about your business, because as we were talking about, just briefly – when you’re running a business, and you’re trying to be sustainable, there are some additional costs, if nothing else, from a time perspective. So how do you make it work?
J: Yeah, it is tricky. It can be tricky from the get go convincing your business partner who may not be as sustainable minded. It is an additional cost. Plastic is cheap and it is convenient and works really well – something we’ve realised going plastic free. Now if we get plastic fall into our lap, we sort of keep it. It’s like a hot commodity because it’s so useful. You just keep using it.It’s great.
J: But it does come with an extra expense, and the problem is that you don’t get immediate notice from the customers. So, it does take a while to build a reputation for a certain thing. So, if you’re an early on taker, as we sort of were with the whole sustainability thing, you are making sacrifices in terms of costs and you’re not really getting a boost in customers or a boost in awareness from customers for your efforts.
It’s just important, I think, to maintain a long- term vision on the thing. Remind yourself why you’re doing it, and why it is ultimately more important than any other solution.
J: And at the end of the day, it does cost extra. But it’s a high turnover cafe. There is a lot of money coming in and out, and there are areas where you can squeeze a little bit tighter in order to make those sacrifices work, and I think it’s totally necessary.
T: How about this bulk store cafe, because it’s a totally different location? I mean, it’s in the same neighbourhood, but it’s not on the waterfront like your other restaurant, and it has a different focus in terms of the bulk foods. And also you have a little store where you can buy things like reusable coffee cups and alternative utensils and things like that. How’s that going in comparison to that fast turnover restaurant?
J: It’s been a slow take up, honestly. We’re in a bit of a secluded location, and it’s taking a while for people to get to know us. But those that have found us have been really pleasantly delighted, and it’s been really nice to see we’ve attracted – a really sweet customer base. We find the customers that we get here, they come here because they care. And that’s great because we care. So we get along really well, and they always come back. So it’s really nice. It’s nice to see.
J: It’s, as you say, a new concept and it is a little bit different. There’s a whole mix of things going on in here from environmentally friendly products to cafes. We also do wholesale of a lot of things, and we do catering and all sorts of stuff. We’ve also just introduced recycle boxes where we take in old stationary, old clothes or old electrics and cords and things like that and take them to proper recycle drop-offs.
J: And it’s been an interesting process to watch people learn and realise that they’re there. I’m looking over, and the electric box is full, which is awesome. I don’t know why that happened. But it was empty for the longest time. And, you know, people are starting to realise, and they’re bringing them in. Which is great.
O: I think our customers are inspiring our customers as well. Oftentimes people come in and they see some of our customers coming in with their jars. Or having some of our regulars, who know exactly how to go about the shop, and what they need to do. And they’ll open minds because I think a lot of people who do come in are of that mind state, and they’re all about the sustainability, and they know about it.
O: But for some customers who come in and have no idea, they don’t know that you could buy in bulk, or they don’t know that you could recycle your old cables and things like that. They find out and they’re usually, as you said, quite happy about it and pleasantly surprised. And we’re spreading a little bit of awareness, which can be very rewarding at times.
What about the Local Press employees?
T: What about your employees? Between the two cafes you probably have – how many employees do you have?
J: About 30.
T: 30. So that that’s a pretty good team. Do you find that you’re attracting a certain kind of employee because of the sustainability interest?
J: Yeah, it’s been a really interesting cycle to watch. When we first started, we obviously had an employee base that was there because we were a successful cafe and the kind of food we were doing was attractive to them. And so that was a similar kind of person in the sense that it was a very vegetarian friendly menu. So, they were sort of all already of that mindset.
J: But since opening the second store, it’s been fantastic revelation. We’re getting the kind of staff that want to be a part of something like this. So, the staff have been great. They love the chance to take a little bit of new knowledge on about what they can do and little bits here and there.
J: They can help whenever we have an environmental initiative, like a fundraising evening or a church or a charity dinner, for example. We’ve always got lots of people volunteering to help out. So, the staff have been fantastic. They’ve required a little bit of education, a little bit of assistance, but all in all, they’ve been very willing to take it on and learn.
O: They’re always happy to ask questions if they don’t know whether they can recycle something. They’ll always come up to us and ask us, “What do we do with this? Is it soft plastic? Is it recycling?” And then (we’ll) tell them all to do the scrunch test, and then you’ll know and things like that.
O: But they’re always really interested, and as you’ve mentioned before, some events – we have a clothing upcycling event coming up at the end of the month, which we’re starting to organise. And fortunately, I’ve had two of our front of house employees come on board and help me organise it. We’re all just volunteering our time doing it because it’s something that we believe in. But it’s so nice to know that
The staff are interested, and they really see the team as their family. And they want to be part of the sustainability initiatives we’ve put forth, and they believe in what we do.
T: How does that affect your turnover?
J: We’ve been very fortunate here. We’re a good family, and we have a very low turnover. We keep staff until they regretfully have to take a more serious jobs when they finish uni (university) or they move interstate. So,
We have very low staff turnover, which is excellent.
T: I ask that question because restaurants are notorious for turnover. And it does seem like with you guys bringing on something more, something with purpose, a mission – I just imagine you attract a different kind of employee.
J: Absolutely. And I think that applies to the whole business. It provides a more stable foundation. You get a loyalty from customers and from staff that you probably wouldn’t otherwise get.
There’s more than just a financial imperative for them to support the business and to be around, and they’re there because they love what we’re trying to do, and we love having them here and vice versa.
J: And it’s so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship in many ways. So, yeah, it definitely helps with staff retention. And similarly, it really helps with giving the business, on the whole, a stronger foundation, a stronger place in the community, as a company that’s not just providing food and coffee, but trying to provide a little bit of good, and upcycle and recycle whatever they can, wherever they can.
T: Well, I know you have a very loyal customer base. It’s interesting to think about how the additional costs that you’re taking in to try to create this environment that’s greener than most cafes is probably reducing your cost for employees from that same perspective. And it’s hard because it’s a different number. So you don’t notice a cause and effect as much.
J: Yeah, absolutely. That’s definitely the case. And it’s been a lovely revelation. It’s not something you think about when you start to go down this path. But it’s just one of those lovely positive offshoots that you get.
O: And I’ve worked as a barista in many places, and I worked in many cafes. And I feel like the environment here is the nicest I’ve ever worked in because there’s – making coffees as a part time job just because that’s what you do during the day and then you go home and don’t think about anymore. And then there’s – making coffees in a place where you feel at home, and you really enjoy the staff, and you feel like you guys are inspiring customers and hopefully inspiring fellow businesses and trying to do something that’s truly good.
T: Between the two restaurants, do you have the same sustainability footprint in terms of your practices?
J: Yeah, absolutely. They’re one and the same – so the recycling efforts and the composting and recycling of the soft plastics, what we do with our milk bottles, all that sort of jars. Yeah, it’s all one in the same which is good. Makes it easier.
T: Have you ever tried to count the impact that you’re making by doing these things?
J: Yeah. Well, interestingly, you obviously pay body corporate fees with regards to the rubbish. And we quite surprisingly found that
Once we started to compost all of our compost and take our soft plastics for recycling, we went from about 800 litres of rubbish to like 80.
J: It was ridiculous.
J: Couldn’t believe how little rubbish we produced.
T: That is significant.
J: It’s 90 percent food waste – not waste as in food that’s not being eaten, but waste as in the off cuts of cauliflower leaves and the bottoms of broccoli and then all those offshoots of the groceries that you can’t serve customers. Onion peels, etc.. So yeah, it was a huge revelation. So now our rubbish footprint is substantially reduced. And it was all quite easy, really.
T: And that was a cost savings for you as well.
J: Absolutely. That’s right.
O: We did the tally in order to get an Actsmart accreditation for business recycling. But other things, as I’m sure you’d agree, the impact is a lot harder to measure. So sometimes we hope that we do the right thing, but it’s hard to know down the line what actually happens.
O: Which is a challenge as well, because there is a lot of – the term greenwashing where things are sold to you as being environmentally friendly and you want to believe it, but it is important to do more our research. And we really do try to do that because we know it is a trend, and sometimes it’s easy to fall in the trap of things being sold as being something when they’re not actually. So we try and look at the life cycle and the end life of the things that we have in the shop and the things that we use.
J: Yeah. Olivia is the eternal optimist, and I’m the relentless sceptic. I often question whether the efforts we go to see their end result that we hope that they do. For example, the soft plastics, you drop off all these bags of soft plastics and you just sort of putting them in the hallway of Coles, you think, “Are they really going to be used again to make something more beneficial?” But from my understanding, they do. So that’s great.
T: Well, you should listen to the last episode that I just published because I actually interviewed one of the people (Mark Yates of Replas) that actually recycles those plastics into products. So, I think you’ll be pleasantly happy to know that they are actually being used.
O: That’s great news actually.
A Canadian not-for-profit called La Vague
T: Olivia, I know you told me that you started a not for profit called La Vague.
O: Yeah. La Vague.
T: Do you want to talk about that a little bit? Yeah.
O: Well I did that back home in Canada, so I’m not from Australia originally. And, I started that actually after being at Local Press in Australia for about a year. And so Local Press really inspired me because I realised that if another cafe at the other end of the world was interested in becoming more green and reducing the environmental footprint, then it must must be the same case for cafes in Canada.
O: So I went round and just spoke to a lot of cafe owners and asked them what their take on the whole thing was. And they all said, “Yep, we’d love to do it. It’s just all too hard, all too expensive and all too time consuming.”
O: So what La Vague is really is a not for profit with the goal of bringing cafe owners and cafe goers together to come up with solutions to become more eco-friendly in cafes specifically and looking at the impact of some of their practices and doing the research that’s necessary to find the best solutions. For example, you know, all the cafes are selling reusable keep cups. But what is the best material to sell a keep cup in? Is it glass? Is it plastic? Is it bamboo? And so we look at things like that, and it really picked up quite quickly.
O: I’m no longer responsible for that. But I’ve left it in good hands, I believe, and it’s gone and done its own thing while I’m here in Australia. So it’s been really nice to see the interest in owners, and it all started up with volunteers and lawyers and people with a masters in environmental science who just came together and said, “ Yep, let’s work, and put our thinking caps on and make this happen.”
T: So, is that in all of Canada or just Montreal?
O: For now, it’s in Quebec. So, yeah, it’s in the province. I think most of the cafes who are part of it are in Montreal, but it’s definitely growing.
T: We’ll make sure we put the link (in the show notes) if people want to check out that program there in Canada that you started. Have you thought about setting up something similar here in Australia?
O: I have thought of it and I’d like to do it, but it is very, very, very time consuming. And truthfully, I did it all as a volunteer. So, I don’t necessarily think I have time to do it here, but the idea is out there and if anyone would like to do it.
T: You could teach them how.
O: Yeah. And I’m sure that if people were interested back home in Canada, they would be here as well. I always good to join forces, and I think the reason it worked is because everyone realised that if they can put a little bit of effort in and get a big reward out of it, they’d be keen to do.
O: Whereas a small business owner realising that they have to do the whole thing on their own and go from a regular cafe to a sustainable cafe and incur the costs and whatever else – might seem like a much bigger challenge.
T: I think it’s a great idea.
A message to our listeners
T: Jonathan, Olivia. Is there anything you want to share with our listeners, or do you have any requests for them?
J: Keep using your keep cup. Don’t forget it. Don’t forget it in your car. Don’t lose it and just decide to buy a new one. They also have a big footprint. Yeah. Plastic has a footprint.
O: That one time – customer is coming in and it happens so often. You know the excuse, “I forgot it. I forgot my cup. I keep forgetting it.” But, eight billion people might be saying that around the world. I mean, it’s not 8 billion, but you know what I mean? Some people get three coffees a day in a take- away cup. So, that one time can have an impact.
J: Yeah. But I think ultimately it does require small sacrifices from a lot of people. As the name “La Vague” suggests, it is a wave and it’s growing. And I reckon the quicker you jump on it, the easier the transition is going to be.
More and more people are taking the initiative to take environmental steps in their personal lives and within the business. It’s a topic that isn’t going to go away. It’s only going to become more profound and it’s only beginning going to become more urgent. So I think the more little steps that people can do in their day to day lives, I think they’ll find personal satisfaction from it.
T:: And I don’t think they’ll look back if we’re just talking about the straw. People complained a year ago and now everything’s already changed. They’re not even thinking about it at all. Right?
O: Yeah, exactly. And once it becomes a habit, it’s it seems a lot easier for everyone.
T: Do you have any sustainability goals for the next, say, 12 months or further?
J: No. What we’re doing here is work in progress, and we’ll just continue to morph it and mould it and grow it. The few initiatives we’ve put on recently with regards to recycling the electrics and things like that look like they’re being really well received to the local community. So, we’ll keep going in that direction. And I mean, I think we’ll just continue sourcing good products that have got a positive impact on the environment and trying to introduce them to customers. And I think if there was a goal, it’s to make more customers aware.
O: Yeah. I think it’s for people to know what we’re doing and know that we’re not just a café, or we don’t just have food in here. We’ve got all these cool initiatives that they can be a part of. One thing we are pushing is sustainability events in this venue. And we’d like to have them on a regular basis coming up, because we think that’s a good way to let people know what we’re about, and how they can be a part of it. Because I feel like
If they feel like they’re part of the effort, then they’re part of the solution. And that’s very rewarding.
T: So if they want to host an event here, they just get a hold of you guys.
J: Yeah, absolutely. They can. They can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org that you could possibly post that up on.
T: Yeah, definitely put on the show notes.
J: Olivia and I will definitely respond.
T: Any other ways they can contact you.
J: Email is the best way. But we’ve got Facebook, Instagram and on our website, Local Press Cafe. Look, any of those avenues will they’ll get to us.
T: And La Vague, the website? Is just on Instagram isn’t it?
O: So La Vague – we do have the website, however, it’s in French. So, I’m sure most of our listeners in English won’t be able to understand much of it, but I guess if they want to see what we’re up to, Instagram would probably be the best way.
T: We’ll make sure that all that information is on the show net so people can follow you in and check out all the things that you’re doing right now.
T: Guys, thank you so much for being a great example about how a cafe can do some extra things just to be more sustainable from the simple things like straws which weren’t so simple at one point to the coffee cups, to all the other options that you’re providing your own customers. I think you’re also giving ideas to our listeners and other cafe owners to see that there’s actually a value in this. And there’s a cost savings too in terms of staff turnover, we’ve talked about food waste. There’s just so many good reasons to do this. And it’s not just for the environment, it’s also good for the bottom line.
J: Absolutely. Thanks very much for having us.
O: Yeah, it was lovely.