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KeepCup and the Reusable Revolution

Ahead of the Impact Summit in Glasgow on 15th May 2019, we caught up with one of its main speakers - Chris Baker, the General Manager (Europe) of KeepCup, to find out more about how KeepCup are leaders of the reusable revolution.
Published —
05.14.19
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Ethos: Tell us about what KeepCup does.  Where are you currently as a business?

Chris Baker: KeepCup is really a mission for behavioural change against single-use products, and this is then supported by our own product range of coffee cups.  We like to say that we’re a mission supported by a product, but really, what it is that we’re trying to do is work with consumers, cafés, corporates to instil new practices in mind, so that they no longer want, need or use single-use coffee cups.

Ethos: Where has this come from? Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the company?

Chris: 20 years ago, our founders were running a café chain in Melbourne.  It was a group of six cafés in Melbourne, and during that time, they were using disposable cups.  When they launched, reusable cups weren’t even on the radar.  They introduced disposable cups, but ten years on, they could see first-hand the effect they were having on the environment, because they realised that these cups just simply weren’t recyclable, and nothing good was coming from them.

So, they went out there to source a reusable that they could use for people wanting to have on-the-go coffee, and it just simply didn’t exist at the time. There was nothing that was barista standard, by which I mean it replicates the form and function of a disposable cup, essentially.  It just didn’t exist.

Originally, they were reluctant to produce it themselves because they weren’t product manufacturers, but what swayed them is when they realised this was really about behavioural change.  A coffee cup isn’t a necessary item.  It’s not something that we actually need.  The same can’t always be said for food packaging, which sometimes protects the food or extends the shelf-life.  A coffee cup is only there to facilitate the convenience of moving the coffee around. So, they realised that this was not just about reducing waste, but really was about behavioural change, and that’s exciting, and that’s what spurred the idea to launch KeepCup.

Ethos: Since then, KeepCup has expanded globally from its original Melbourne base.  Where is it now trading across the world?

Chris: We have offices in Los Angeles, London and the headquarters in Melbourne.  We have around 100 staff worldwide, but mostly based from those three hubs. We also try to manufacture as locally as possible within that.  So we do have the UK and Australian manufacturing as well, and supply 65 countries around the world from those three hubs.

Ethos: Your website makes great use of the phrase ‘responsible business’.  What does responsible business mean to you in practice, and how you implement those values and that ethics in your day-to-day working lives?

Chris: Responsible business is really looking at the practices, not just within our own business premises, but also for our entire supply chain.  For us, it goes beyond looking at just sustainable practices.  It’s also about how you treat the staff, how our suppliers treat their staff.  It’s about the type of energy or products we use within the businesses.  We’ve got solar panels on our buildings, for instance. It’s really looking at not just sustainability, but people, culture and ethics throughout that entire supply chain, and living by that because we launched a product that is ethical by nature, and it’s just ensuring that we practice what we preach throughout everything that we do as well.

Ethos: KeepCup is a B Corporation. Could you tell us a little about why KeepCup has decided to make that choice to become a B Corp, and what do you find that it brings to the business?

Chris: Being a B Corp has really helped us assess the processes that we have.  We were one of the founding Australian B Corps, and we’re now globally certified, but it comes back to the responsible business piece.  B Corp is really about community, about the environment, and about transparency as well.  So, it’s primarily about being transparent with what you do and looking after the people. It gives us a measure of how we can improve and gives us areas that we can seek to improve, but it’s also given us structure and helped us to ask the necessary questions to improve as well.  So, it’s perhaps highlighted areas of focus for us.

Ethos: And in addition to being a B Corp, you’re also a member of Sedex, and that’s to do with improving the ethical impact of your supply chains.  What does that bring to the KeepCup way of doing business?

Chris: Sedex gives us a global framework that we can work with our supplies.  It’s something that is recognised by our customers, but also, again, gives us a recognised and qualified format in order to measure our own supply chain and reach the standards that we want to achieve.

Ethos: Why are you at Impact Summit in Glasgow on 15th May?

Chris: I think for us, it’s not just sharing the story, but sharing the success of the responsible business. So, showing how you can be responsible throughout everything that you do, and have a mission-led business, and be commercially successful without compromising on any of that throughout.

Ethos: And finally, what does the future hold for KeepCup?

Chris: For us, really, we want to keep elevating the conversation around single-use.  For ten years now, we’ve been campaigning against disposable cups. It feels like, in the last couple of years, that battle is starting to get a bit easier.  There’s an awareness there that wasn’t there perhaps two years ago, that coffee cups are not a sustainable packaging format. So, we want to now elevate that conversation to be more about single-use in general, and talk about the other unnecessary materials that people use throughout their day, and keep driving that conversation forward, and getting people to change their behaviours.