The Sustainable Side of Business

Jun 15, 2021

“Our journey towards a more sustainable business started when we realised that the roof of the warehouse had the perfect orientation for solar.”

It’s hard to miss the shimmering solar panels on top of The Outer Social Circle, a cafe situated in an old warehouse in Fairfield, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. They’re like a beacon, drawing customers in to have a chat with owner Justin Sirianni about sustainability and the finer points of coffee-making.

Introducing sustainable business practices is a constant journey, says Sirianni, but one that pays for itself both in terms of attracting customers and reducing operating costs.

“Our journey towards a more sustainable business started when we realised that the roof of the warehouse had the perfect orientation for solar.”

With the support of his landlord, the solar panels were installed and, not long after, traffic to the cafe started to increase. “Our customers responded very positively to the solar panels,” he says. “Our customers are actively seeking out businesses that operate in this way and it’s extremely obvious to me that they appreciate the move to sustainability.”

That first step led Sirianni to look at other ways the business could embrace sustainable practices, including how they dealt with waste, leading to further cost savings by reducing the amount of packaging.

“We used to get our coffee delivered in one-kilo bags and we’d go through 40 kilos of coffee a week,” he explains. “When we swapped from one-kilo bags to five kilos, the supplier offered a discount. In dollars and cents, 40 kilos a week, 52 weeks of the year adds up.”

The business is also looking at ways to recycle the coffee bags, and is considering using them as bin liners.

The search for environmental sustainability

For husband-and-wife team Hiruni Peiris and Peter Byrne of Northcote Bakeshop, sustainability touches all points of the business. From a no-plastic packaging policy, to speaking with customers and other local businesses, the end goal of zero-waste is inching closer after five years of implementing new practices.

While they’re deeply motivated by a commitment to environmental sustainability, Peiris says that there’s a commercial benefit, too.

“I really do believe that in the long term, customers will want to support local businesses that are trying to be sustainable,” she says. “So you want to create those initiatives now because you don’t want to fall behind.”

Going through your business section by section is a practical way to start making changes, she advises. Looking at ways to reduce packaging, as well as using all food waste in a productive fashion, are easy places to begin.

“For example, we use a lot of egg yolks to make our in-house mayonnaise and we didn’t really have anything to make with the egg whites,” she explains. “So we got in touch with a local business that makes macaroons and now we freeze our egg whites and they come and get them and bring us lemon curd or something similar from time to time.”

Sustainability is good business

Like The Outer Social Circle and Northcote Bakeshop, for Preston-based social enterprise and cafe Moon Rabbit, sustainability translates to good business and attracts a strong customer base.

“Our focus on sustainability is a core attraction for our customer base,” says manager Santos Kothapeta. “People are more aware now of how businesses operate and they would like to be a part of something that they feel proud of as well.”

The business channels all profits back into under-funded community programs and has a no-plastics policy and a commitment to recycling food waste.

“We try to use every part of our produce,” says Kothapeta. “One example is red onions. We keep the skin and put it through a blender and then we dry it out and make red onion salt, which we use for garnishing. We do the same with lime skins and make a really nice lime green salt. At every step, we stop and think, ‘How can we use this in another way?’”

This policy extends to everyday products that can cost businesses hundreds of dollars per year, says Kothapeta. “We encourage our local community to donate clear glass jars instead of putting them into their recycle bin. We disinfect them and use them for takeaway drinks and food. These practices also save a lot of money and all our profits go back into underfunded community programs.

“For example, we have English classes and a transition training program for neurodiverse youth. These sorts of practices have helped us to be a unique and profitable business.”

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