Ona Coffee & Reuse Culture

By UYO

We assume that it takes guts to do something extraordinary. We believe that it takes courage to do something that no one else is doing. We assume that it takes bravery to put the planet before business.

Ona Coffee is one of Australia’s most highly regarded specialty roasters. They have started a revolution in Australia to end wasteful, takeaway culture.

But there’s no guts, courage, or bravery involved. Aiming to remove 2.7 billion cups a year from our waste stream is not extraordinary, it's neccessary. Striving to produce zero emissions does not take courage, it takes common sense, and bravery is irrelevant because Ona Coffee are not putting the planet before business.

Ona Coffee have fused their sustainable values with clever and strategic business practices that mean both their business and the planet win. When you ask Ona Coffee ‘why’, you’ll be met with confusion, and perhaps a mutter ‘because it just freaking makes sense.’

If you’re a human who’s frustrated with single-use cups (SUC), or a coffee roastery who’s teetering on the edge of being part of the SUC free revolution, let the story of Ona Coffee inspire you, spur you, and show you that change is afoot (and you should totally be part of it).

Who the heck are Ona Coffee?

Ona Coffee was established by Saša Šestić in 2008 with one goal: creating the best and most sustainable coffee in the world. Growing from a solo cafe to 5 venues and 200-ish wholesale stores, Ona Coffee has quickly expanded their footprint, all while keeping sustainability at its core.

Sustainability isn’t one of their key pillars they can show off to the world in case someone asks. It’s how they function. Their value of sustainability is seen in their decision to power their offices and roastery with 100% renewable solar energy, and reinforced by the establishment of their ethical trading company (Project Origin) which increases equality for farmers and provides transparency for customers. Their recent #giveupthecup campaign is the icing on the sustainably made cake - or the chocolate dusting on an oat milk hot chocolate.

That’s what we’re here to talk about.

#giveupthecup

 

#giveupthecup launched in February 2020 with the aim to remove single-use cups from their wholesale distributions and venues.

It all started on a team boat trip. As the team brainstormed ways to innovate, someone piped up and asked “why do we use single-use cups?” The calculations were made: Ona Coffee use and sell 2.7 million cups a year. That’s the amount of cups Australia uses every single day.

With the understanding that this statistic couldn’t be changed overnight, Ona Coffee launched #giveupthecup : an ongoing campaign, not an overnight fix (because we all know those don’t really work).

If you’re in the hospitality industry, you’ll know that when you remove a single sugar option or change the chai latte syrup… people throw their toys out of the cot.

Instead of tearing away the option of SUCs, Ona Coffee are doing three things:

  • Educating

  • Phasing into giving-up-the-cup

  • Offering reusable alternatives

Educating

Ona Coffee is working hard to educate both groups of customers: the people who drink their coffee, and their wholesale partners. Their staff are part of the revolution too.

Coffee drinkers

If a customer wishes to use a SUC, they receive one that has “no more single use cups” plastered over it with a QR code that links to their sustainability page so customers can learn more about their SUC free goals.

In all honesty, these cups have confused the online world and customers. Though when you get past the irony of this part of their staged phase out, you realise (that with a few messaging changes the team are working on) this controversial campaign could start conversations and habit changes for people who would have never been reached.

Ona Coffee has chosen not to rip SUCs out of hands, but instill a long term strategy of culture change. This includes giving alternatives- which will be described later on.

Wholesalers

Ona Coffee has 150 Australian wholesale partners and 30-40 international. Through these strong relationships, Ona Coffee inspire their partners to #giveupthecup 

Depending on the location and environment, a cafe spends approximately $20K on coffee cups a year. Telling a wholesaler “how would you like to spend $20K less on our services” may sound like a silly strategy to the business people of the world, but it works. It’s a small profit Ona Coffee is wanting to give up and pass back to the environment. Some wholesale partners understand more than others, but in general, Ona Coffee are successfully changing mindsets within cafes all over the world.

To convince their wholesale partners to #giveupthecup, alongside a long list of reuse schemes which we’ll sink our teeth into soon, benchmark examples are described. For example: French Basket Dee Why... their sales increased when they went single-use cup free.

Staff

A big part of the education strategy comes down to the staff at each of their 5 venues. How the staff interact with customers who choose single-use cups, changes things. That’s the culture shift Ona Coffee keep on mentioning.

Baristas are happy to explain to a customer when/if it costs the customer extra for a SUC, and if a regular customer continues to choose SUCs, the barista will elbow bump them and kindly push them to use a reusable next time.

“You don’t want to shame everyone. It’s not that they are evil, it can be safety, an obsession, a preference, or simply not knowing."

Alternatives

Just like the Aotearoa New Zealand People’s Campaign, Takeaway Throwaways, calls for, you cannot have a ban without pairing it with accessible alternatives. With the education and phase out of SUCs underway, Ona Coffee are working on the best alternatives for their wholesale partners and venues.

Reusable cups schemes, such as Green Caffeen, Huskee and Returnr, are collaborating with Ona Coffee to help each establishment offer customers safe and desirable reusable cups. A recent win was a Melbourne based cafe presenting 6 different cup options, with the very last option being a ceramic cup and encouragement to ‘have in.’ Ona Coffee is letting their customers know that they value the diversity, taste, aesthetics, and convenience of a cup. They will never be exclusive, and aim to provide their venues and partners with the options they deserve when they sip on a delicious brew.

Although this campaign was launched at the same time that COVID hit, at no point has Ona Coffee wanted to abandon it. While health fears have meant the campaign hasn’t been able to move as swiftly, their 12 month goal continues to be influencing the public and getting their wholesale partners on board.

“We realise it may take a while. We’re not going to change the world, but together we will.”

When asked how they balance the many aspects and offerings of their business while continuing to be on their way to becoming the poster child for sustainability in the coffee world, Ona Coffee list a few things:

  • Organic growth (not forced)
  • Not sacrificing or compromising along the way
  • Diverse teams with different specialties
  • Strong and loyal team (many have been there for decades)
  • No external or token values: all values are what is emulated daily

“It’s not just about convenience or cost, it’s a cultural shift, it’s about the planet.”

What advice would you give other roasters considering this?

  • Use your resources and do better than us
  • Considering developing your own reusable system
  • Start with your own brand culture and make a shift. Choose what makes you different, and embed sustainability in that

While continuing to use SUCs means fingers are pointed and shouts of ‘greenwashing’ are heard regularly, it seems as though Ona Coffee are in it for the long haul; they’re being strategic. Pointed fingers only make them reflect on their strategy and actions even more. They literally have a list of ideas customers or angry online-ers have suggested they do better; they are listening.

 “If we can make a change for individuals and businesses and start the culture change, we will.”

Ona Coffee is proving that business doesn’t fail when profit isn’t the only thing considered. Teams are stronger, business is better, accountants are happier, and the planet thrives when sustainability is taken seriously. Ona Coffee is doing it. Why can’t you?