Published 29 January 2018
One of the biggest barriers I have realised that society faces when it comes to addressing climate change is that we feel powerless. Living in a world largely run by giant corporations that despite efforts to collaborate and improve operations, are exploiting Earth’s resources faster than we can say “climate change”, it is easy to feel, well…powerless. Despite this, studies are showing that we want to do more. We want to contribute. But what can we really do?
I took this question and traced it back to a small coffee shop in Dulwich Hill in Western Sydney, back to a man named Elliot Hudson. Elliot works as the Assistant Operations Manager for the coffee company Campos at the Dulwich Hill store, whose socially-sustainable business concept has put a smile on various cities across Australia. Behind every cup of coffee brewed, is a network of individuals all over the world, whose personal contribution is directly crucial to the Campos story, which is wholeheartedly committed to recognising the individual impact on the bigger picture. By traveling the world to build healthy and happy supplier relationships, as well as donating large parts of profits to community development projects in underdeveloped countries, the Campos family is showing us that small-scale impact matters.
For Elliot, it all started with an observation. After having worked in Campos store in Dulwich Hill for a little over a year, he started noticing the gigantic amounts of plastic that the store was disposing of every month. So he started by sorting it by hand, putting coloured plastics in one pile, see-through plastics in another and paper in a third. After some quick calculations, he realised that over the course of a year, this individual store disposed of almost 120 kilos of waste; an amount seemingly large for one pair of hands. So Elliot started doing research and making calls, and within a few weeks, he had set up a system in the down-beat basement below the store, which divided the general recycling bin further into four separate bins depending on their recycling abilities.
Today, this recycling process has grown to become an organic part of Campos Dulwich Hill’s operations. The store has completely split up the standard categories of recycling into a web of activities, where every object disposed finds its true end station to its in-store journey. In a colour-coded Excel document, he started analysing invoices and calculated how much cost and waste is reduced every month. The result was stunning. From May 2017 to November later that year, the recycling system had yielded a 54% reduction in waste, a 33% reduction in disposal pick-ups and a 23% reduction in service fees. And as he started seeing the actual change that the system resulted in, Elliot kept looking for small ways for the store to innovate in order to become more sustainable. He found a way to recycle the circa 150 “unrecyclable” soy milk bottles every month, changed the toilet paper supplier to a company that uses recycled paper and set up an organic food waste bin where coffee and food waste is disposed directly into behind the counter.
“It’s all about the little things” Elliot explained to me. As he walks around the store every day, he studies its interactive movements, constantly looking for things that can be improved. But change takes time, and none of these recycling innovations happened overnight. Throughout our conversation, Elliot kept emphasising that everything he does has to be successively implemented to become a natural part of the business. If changes end up complicating operations or compromising customer service, it would never work in the long run. But perhaps that’s the beauty of it; it doesn’t. All these small changes have suddenly added up to something big.
So, I had to ask him, where does his interest in sustainability come from? Because surely I think, this incredible drive did not start out of nowhere. Was it something that had been with him for a long time or did he have that somewhat cliché “aha-moment” when he suddenly realised the devastating impacts humans have on the environment? But his answer somewhat surprised me; he didn’t know. He didn’t have a previous education in sustainability or a surging interest in researching the impact of plastics. All he did was look for small improvements. He told me that a lot of his friends are involved in organising protests and lobbying for government change. “I would never go to a protest and have never done much lobbying. That’s just not who I am. But I can do this. This is my contribution.”
As the interview was coming to an end, one thing was still stuck with me. Most of today’s companies who operate in a sustainable manner are constantly pumping out information to their customers about their initiatives, using even the tiniest recycled spoon as an opportunity to portray the business as sustainably conscious. But for Campos Dulwich Hill, this recycling wonderland is all behind the curtain, while coffee has the centre stage.
“Have you ever heard about Walt Disney?” Elliot suddenly asked me during our interview. Disney extensively recycles everything disposed of in their parks, constantly look for ways to innovate their waste-management systems and have even developed solar panels shaped as Mickey Mouse; but unless they are actively researching the subject, their customers would never know. This concept of making recycling and sustainable practices part of the backbone of an organisation without constantly using it as a tool to increase profit is what Elliot believes is key to real change.
Talking to Elliot, it’s hard to feel powerless, even as a small individual in such a gigantic world. Instead, I feel hopeful. In a small coffee shop in Inner West Sydney, one person started seeing things differently. The humble approach that this Campos store has taken towards recycling inspires me to believe that individuals are not powerless. Actually, when I think about it, it is in individual change is where the real power resides.
Agnes Broden is a Bachelor of Business Administration student at George Washington University, Washington DC and Former intern for the Sydney Environment Institute’s Sustainable Materialism research area. She worked as the Director of Philanthropy for George Washington University Women in Business, orchestrating fundraising and supportive events for female entrepreneurs in the Washington DC area. In high school, Agnes Co-founded and was CEO of the social enterprise Willow Wear Young Enterprise (no longer active). The business produced bed wear out of 100% renewable materials and was named Sweden’s Most Sustainable Young Enterprise in 2014.
Elliot is the Assistant Operations Manager of Dulwich Hill Campos and has taken these sustainable initiatives under the direction of Brendon King, Operations Manager of Campos Dulwich Hill.