KeepCup - Co-FOUNDER ABIGAIL FORSYTH ON SUSTAINABILITY AND PURPOSE BEYOND PROFIT
This is NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine’s exclusive interview with Abigail Forsyth on creating the world’s first barista-standard reusable coffee cup and constantly changing consumers behaviour towards sustainability
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
05 November 2019
It was 1998 in Melbourne, Australia. Jamie and Abigail Forsyth opened a café and quickly noticed how much their business was contributing to landfill. In their ambition to lower their environmental footprint was born the idea of a company, which would completely revolutionise the disposable cup narrative. Within years KeepCup evolved from an idea born out of necessity with a simple hand-painted prototype into a multimillion-dollar global company. Today the focus of the business falls on transparency and sustainability.
The coffee shop culture was taking over most developed countries across the globe. With that came an all-consuming waste, which was too hard for Abigail to ignore. At least 500 million disposable cups are used every year in the UK alone, and around one billion non-recyclable cups are wasted yearly in Australia. This is when the idea of KeepCup was brought to life, soon to turn into a reusable coffee-cup empire. Today one of Australia’s best-known and most beloved brands is a company that continues to challenge the status quo more than a decade after its foundation.
‘‘Many small acts make a phenomenal difference.’’
Abigail Forsyth, Co-founder and Managing Director of KeepCup for NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine
KeepCup Co-founder and Managing Director, Abigail Forsyth, spoke to NOMADSofORIGIN Magazine's Editor-in-chief Aleksandra Georgieva about the business, sustainability and the company's future aspirations.
NOMADSofORIGIN: What were the difficulties you faced with sustainability and creating such an innovative business?
Abigail: It is a total myth that a responsible business is more difficult or less profitable than any other. However, endeavouring to doing the right thing is only part of the puzzle, you need to provide a product or service that is functional, beautiful, fit for purpose as well as solving a problem people care about. We’ve always approached the problem of disposable cup waste as one of education. I have great faith in my fellow humans and believe that once people understand the problem – that we use over a million disposable cups a minute and they are not recyclable or recycled – that they will want to do something about it.
Our strength is our future focus. We ask – what do we want the world to look like? By contrast to the age-old excuse for bad behaviour and pernicious marketing, ‘we’re just giving consumers what they want’. This is just not good enough. Our difficulties are the same faced by any business – finding the right people, growing the culture, staying nimble and finding the courage to let our principles guide the journey.
NOMADSofORIGIN: What are your plans for the company in the near future?
Abigail: Our plan is to continue to challenge the primacy of convenience culture through beautiful, thoughtfully designed products that increase your enjoyment of the drinking experience. We will continue to campaign to ensure the world no longer wants, needs or uses single-use cups and continue to be an exemplar of what a responsible business with a great culture looks and feels like.
Keep up with the KeepCup story
KeepCup is all about inspiring people to reduce and reuse. In 2007 Abigail followed into the footsteps of existing reusable cup companies, only she aimed for appealing designs, usability and sustainability. Not without many challenges along the way, the vibrant colours and practical approach of KeepCup began changing the independent coffee scene across Melbourne. With the support of roasting communities and local cafés, the business began growing. The aesthetic designs and practicality influenced coffee lovers to change their consumer behaviour. Soon enough people started thinking about coffee on the go in close relation to sustainability. Today KeepCups are sold in over 65 countries across the world, inspiring more and more consumers to divert disposable cups from landfill.
In the beginning owning a KeepCup was like being part of a small secret community, a sign of support to sharing inspirational behaviour and creating positive habits. With the company making their way into the mainstream coffee scene, they took on a great responsibility to keep challenging the sustainability conversation in word. This is the story of a company founder with a purpose beyond profit and a mission to inspire consumer behaviour changes.
Since June 2009, over eight million KeepCups have been sold worldwide as the company is constantly expanding on their approach towards sustainability. The stylish and easy to wash KeepCup is not only barista-approved, but it also has a low break-even point, meaning that in 12 uses you have already saved the emissions and energy put into its manufacturing. According to Abigail there is enough plastic in the lids and lining of 20 disposable cups to make a single KeepCup. The company makes their cups to last long by using carefully considered materials with better lifespan. By featuring replaceable components, KeepCup lovers are also encouraged to create fewer waste.
KeepCup and sustainability
The reusable coffee-cup business embraces practices that testify for the company’s ongoing efforts to put a major focus on sustainability. In 2014 KeepCup became one the founding B Corporations in Australia, pursuing transparency, employee well being, improving communities and lowering consumers environmental footprint. Beyond the iconic cups is a functional and aesthetic design, achieved by precise engineering work, careful manufacturing and responsible supply chain.
KeepCups are the result of long-term relationships with suppliers and manufacturers alike. The company strives for assembling components in local hubs to build better communities and to reduce the environmental footprint of the business. Coffee lovers are also given the opportunity to visit the manufacturing warehouses in London, Los Angeles and Melbourne to see for themselves how the cups are assembled by hand with the intention of reuse and waste reducing. The company encourages customers to consider buying KeepCups in their local coffee shops rather that ordering from the official website, in attempt to reduce the delivery and shipping impact on the planet.
‘‘I have great faith in my fellow humans.’’
Abigail Forsyth, Co-founder and Managing Director of KeepCup
Alongside sustainable manufacturing and delivery practices, KeepCup goes above and beyond to ensure that the business complies with as many eco-friendly approaches as possible. They commissioned Edge Environmental to assess the company’s environmental footprint against single and multi-use alternative products. The Life Cycle Analysis study was conducted in mid-2018 and the results are now available online. According to the CEO Magazine, when compared to a disposable paper cup “a KeepCup brings about a 36–47-per-cent reduction in global-warming carbon emissions, a 64–85-per-cent reduction in water use, and a 91–92-per-cent reduction in landfill waste annually.”
KeepCup strives to reduce their environmental footprint not only through their products, but with everything they do. The company’s Australian office has been solar powered since 2015, and their UK office followed in the same footsteps in 2019. The retail boxes and brochures are also made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified cardboard and paper, manufactured locally, in the UK and Australia. On their 10th anniversary KeepCup also joined 1% For The Planet, committed to donating a percent of their global sales revenue to charities that support biodiversity and the environment. Today positive changes happen around the world daily as more and more nations support the ban of plastic packaging, straws, bottles, disposable cups, bags, etc.
In a world where plastic went from miracle material to a global catastrophe, KeepCup continues to challenge the status quo. The company measures their multimillion-dollar success ‘in use and reuse’. Ten years in, KeepCup continues to thrive and above all to encourage sustainable practices. The reusable coffee-cup empire is proof that collective individual actions can change the world. They offer customers the means to shape the future by influencing consumer behaviour, culture and societies across the globe to believe in the power of impact.
Shop the products online
KeepCup also encourages customers to consider shopping locally to reduce their environmental impact.