After returning to work following the birth of her daughter, Abigail Forsyth had a moment of realisation. “My daughter Bess was 18 months old, and I’d be having a coffee in a disposable cup in the morning and she’d have her milk in a sippy cup. It got me thinking, would I ever give her milk in a disposable cup?”
At the time she was managing Melbourne’s Bluebag chain of cafes with her brother and suddenly felt responsible for the thousands of polystyrene coffee cups her 10 cafes were sending to landfill every week, Abigail decided to make a change. Since the company’s founding in 2009, KeepCup has sold 5 million reusable plastic coffee cups in 32 countries and is a leader of a reuse revolution in Australia and around the world.
We sat down with Abigail to learn a little more about the business, what drives her and what she has learnt since starting KeepCup.
Can you tell us a little about your background and what ignited your passion to support sustainability through creating KeepCup?
My brother and I started a cafe business called Bluebag in Melbourne in 1998. As the business grew we became increasingly concerned about the volume of packaging waste our business and our customers consumed.
We looked to purchase and sell reusable cups as an alternative to disposable, but observed that not only were existing options unsuitable for specialty coffee, they hadn’t won the hearts of consumers.
Almost four years later, with a great deal of help from design professionals, we have kick started a behavioral change in Melbourne that is spreading across the world. People purchase KeepCups because they love the way they look and feel, and continue doing so because they form a positive habit.
For those who might not know, what is KeepCup?
KeepCup is the world’s first barista standard reusable cup.
The demand for reusable products has snowballed in recent years and KeepCup was at the forefront of this movement. Was it your intention to start a reuse revolution when you started out?
We certainly had our eye on behaviour change as a core purpose, and the reusable category has most definitely expanded since we started. I am reminded of a quote in the Gertrude Street Aesop store, “The merit of originality is not novelty, it is sincerity. The believing man is the original man” – Thomas Carlyle
How many KeepCups have been sold since you started the business?
Maybe five million, but more interesting to think about are the estimated 3 trillion disposable cups against the millions of disposable cups that would have been discarded to landfill over the same period. Every minute around the world one million disposable cups are used and discarded.
Design has clearly been a strong incentive for consumers to pick up a KeepCup and use it in place of disposable cups. How did you go about choosing the design for KeepCup?
The design concept was very much about being very low-fi and inconspicuous in using a reusable cup. 80% of environmental impact of any product is fixed in the design phase – so from the initial sketch. It was the detail that changed – how they sealed, how they stacked and shipped, how many parts, materials – it’s a fascinating process as one criteria might trade off another.
Did you learn a lot about sustainability in the process of developing KeepCup?
Yes, we did, and we continue to learn more as the business changes and grows. It’s a fascinating space because it touches all aspects of the business from design to supply chain, team engagement and marketing – it’s a critical touchstone for how we operate.
What’s next (tomorrow or 10 years from now) for you and KeepCup?
Doing myself out of a job! (no more disposable cups)
LOCALS KNOW BEST QUESTIONS:
Where is your favourite place to share a meal with friends in Melbourne?
Do you have a favourite area in Melbourne? Where is it and why do you love it?
We work a tight geographic circle living and working in Fitzroy. I have always loved the inner north – the cafe, bars and restaurants, the parks, and the easy walk and cycle between destinations as well as the proximity to the city.
We want to show our out-of-towner friends the best of Melbourne. Where should we take them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
The European, The Ramen Shop, Cumulus.
You’re heading away for the weekend. The car’s packed, you’ve got a great playlist ready, where in Victoria do you like to escape to eat and drink yourself happy?
Wye River is a favourite spot of ours.
RAPID FIRE FINAL 10 QUESTIONS:
What is your solitary food? Salt and vinegar chips and a cold beer
What’s your signature dish? Chocolate cheesecake
What food trend are you a total sucker for? Anything Yotam Ottolenghi inspired
What food trend can’t you stand? Putting a napkin in between the food and the plate
Coffee with milk or straight up black? With milk
Sweet or savoury? Savoury
What do you love most about food? That it brings people together – not always for the washing up!
Favourite food destination? Mum’s (and Dad’s)
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Landscape gardener
Which 3 people, alive or dead, would you invite to your dinner party? Wangari Maathai, my grandmother Bess, David Mitchell
You may also like our other ‘Over Coffee With’ articles: Maggie Beer, Adriano Zumbo from Zumbo, Mike McEnearney from Kitchen by Mike and Carriagewoks, Roberta Muir from Sydney Seafood Cooking School, Nick Palumbo from Messina, Sasa Sestic – 2015 World Barista Champion and Paris Thomson from SIRAP.