Date posted: 4/04/2017 3 min read

KeepCup's Abigail Forsyth on purpose beyond profit

KeepCup CEO Abigail Forsyth on why corporate social responsibility and having a purpose beyond profit matters.

In brief

  • KeepCup’s mission is to reduce the use of disposable coffee cups.
  • Corporate social responsibility needs to be a whole-of-business initiative that informs all business decisions.
  • KeepCup CEO Abigail Forsyth is speaking at the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand Business and Regional Forums 2017 in June.

KeepCup is a business built from the ground up on purpose beyond profit. Launched in 2009 by Melbourne-based siblings Abigail and Jamie Forsyth, KeepCup doesn’t merely participate in corporate social responsibility (CSR) endeavours; its raison d'etre is CSR.  

The business manufactures and sells reusable coffee cups produced via sustainable methods using less plastic and resulting in less waste.  

KeepCup’s mission is to reduce the use of disposable coffee cups, which in Australia is estimated to be around one billion disposable cups a year.

The majority of disposable coffee cups end up in landfill; most are not actually recyclable due to the level of plastic they contain. According to the KeepCup website, there is enough plastic in 28 disposable cups to make one KeepCup.  

KeepCup is a business built from the ground up on purpose beyond profit.

Aiming to drive change in consumer behaviour, KeepCup sells its environmentally friendly coffee cups wholesale to café operators, as well as direct to end users via its website.  

The business enjoys a global following. Its product is sold in more than 30 countries with the UK soon to eclipse Australia as its largest market.  

Its product has been so successful that KeepCup has had to fend off counterfeit products from competitors that look similar but aren’t manufactured to the same environmentally-friendly standards.

In the lead-up to her appearance as the keynote speaker at Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand's Regional Forum 2017 in June, CEO Abigail Forsyth (pictured above) spoke to Acuity about how KeepCup operates with a purpose beyond profit.  

Purpose beyond profit is at the heart of your business. What are some of the initiatives you’ve built into KeepCup to ensure it maintains that core focus as the business undergoes rapid growth?

Within our business it’s about how our supply chain works in order to minimise environmental mishaps, from the design and choice of material to the way we freight and the way we manufacture.

Internally we’re a B Corporation, so we put solar panels on the roof last year. We do all sorts of things internally with compost to minimise our waste. Externally for our customers, we look to support them with tips and tricks about how to sell the KeepCup and how to put it into a coffee service.

We're doing a life cycle assessment right now. That’s for us internally to look at where the hotspots are in terms of our sustainability profile, but also to showcase that we are environmentally manufactured as well as being an environmental solution.  

The KeepCup business model seeks to drive change with the end user to promote sustainable behaviour. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered in changing consumer behaviour?

There’s a bit of misconception around how discounting works and how it should work. A lot [cafes] do a free fill, which sells one KeepCup but doesn't really help cement re-use and the behaviour change.  

So we really encourage [cafes] to give a discount for each re-use [a coffee purchase using a KeepCup]. It doesn't have to be massive; it could be five cents. But what it says is that you are acknowledging your customer for doing the right thing and that we support you.  

What else does KeepCup do to remind customers that by choosing KeepCup they are contributing to a purpose beyond profit?  

The other thing we use is Re-Use HQ, which is a pledge-based tally where you go online and pledge how many disposable cups you're going to divert from landfill.  

It aggregates that over time and gives milestones about what it means. So for example, once you've [used a KeepCup] for two months you've saved enough energy to power a lightbulb in a room for a day. That's really targeting corporations to say, ‘as an organisation, if everyone in the office does it, look at the impact’.  

We're looking in the next 12 months to try and expand that conversation and tie in some of our resellers to this programme and incentivise them.  

Is the business community doing enough in terms of looking beyond profit? Is CSR being taken seriously as it should be by big business?  

No. Oftentimes [big business] has got a sustainability person who gets given a desk in a corner. But [CSR] should be running right down from the top of the business in every decision that's being made.
Also, just the short term-ism. Sometimes the way businesses account for expenses. Don't look at the broader costs. Yes, you can probably get a cup made slightly cheaper in China but you're going to have to fly over there five times a year and send someone in to audit the quality. [There are] other costs that I don't think are taken into account when people just look at the per unit number. 

Abigail Forsyth at Regional Forum 2017

Abigail Forsyth will give the keynote address at CA ANZ's Regional Forum 2017 in June.

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