Here’s How Sydney’s Single O Is Making Sustainable Coffee A Reality In 2021

By Jack Revell
12th May 2021

Staff from Single O pose outside the Surry Hills cafe.
Single O's self-serve filter coffee taps.
Staff from Single O pose in front of a
Assorted resusable coffee cups from Single O.
Staff from Single O.
Staff from Single O pose outside the Surry Hills cafe.
Single O's self-serve filter coffee taps.
Staff from Single O pose in front of a
Assorted resusable coffee cups from Single O.
Staff from Single O.

Single O is one of Sydney's OG purveyors of fine bean juice. These guys have been championing and cheering caffeine in all its finer formats since 2003 and their pint-sized Surry Hills cafe was one of the spots where Sydney’s coffee culture really kicked off.

They quickly earned themselves a reputation as some of the best in the city and they’ve managed to hold down the fort for nearly two decades. Not only have they survived these turbulent times—but they've also thrived.

Single O now boasts three cafes across the city as well as a tasting bar in Tokyo. They’ve got a roastery down in Botany where they export their signature roasts to cafes and bars across the country. In short, everyone who’s sipped a cup of Single O only ever wants to sip those same fruity blends.

These days though, the coffee company is not only a pioneer in the bean space, they’ve become leaders in sustainability too. They work tirelessly to improve the image and sustainability of the coffee industry.

Here, we sat down with Single O's General Manager Mike Brabant to discuss their new “No Death to Coffee” initiative.

Tell us a bit about the problems with coffee. What do people not realise about how it's made and the impact this has on the planet? 

According to a 2016 report by The Climate Institute, without drastic intervention, we’re on track for a shortfall of 180 million bags of coffee due to climate change. This means that at least 60% of coffee species are at risk of disappearing (per the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). 

What is Single O's “No Death to Coffee” initiative and what do you want people to know about it? 

We first launched our No Death to Coffee initiative in 2018, in a bid to curb the trend towards a 60% reduction in the world’s Arabica coffee supply by 2050. We were amongst the first to bring the world’s most promising new climate-resilient coffee variety “Starmaya” to Australia and proudly became the biggest contributor to World Coffee Research in the Asia-Pacific. We installed 92 solar panels at our roast works to offset 30% of our electricity production and co-founded “The Juggler”, which is now seen in cafes across Australia (saving over 18 million two-litre plastic milk bottles from the waste stream to date).

We then stepped things up in January this year, becoming Sydney’s first 1% For The Planet coffee roaster member, donating 1% of our turnover to non-profit organisations that protect land, forests, rivers, and oceans, and who promote sustainable energy production. On Earth Day this April, we announced that we are now a carbon-neutral business, partnering with Green Fleet to offset the carbon emissions produced by our business by planting native biodiverse forests in Australia.

To be quite frank, despite all of that progress, we are the first to admit that our carbon footprint still sucks, in the context of a climate emergency. So, we’re bringing back our No Death to Coffee initiative now, as part of our more long-term goal to achieve net-zero status by 2026. This means going beyond simply offsetting emissions through other parties, and focusing on physically reducing our business’ own emissions, through upgrading solar usage, reducing environmental impact at an on-premise and agricultural level, as well as our fleet.

What is the best way for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint? How are you encouraging people to achieve this? 

A good place to start is simply by making conscious decisions about the products you buy and the things you consume. As part of our No Death to Coffee initiative, we launched “Missions against Emissions” as an example of some simple swaps we can all make in our daily coffee habit that ultimately have a huge positive impact on our carbon footprint. Simple things like reducing our reliance on single-use cups.

We recruited 77 cafes around Australia to “surrender single-use” on Earth Day, with the goal of saving 10,000 single-use cups from the waste stream, which is equivalent to a whole lot of carbon, and a happier planet for our coffee to grow on. We helped save at least 6,000 cups—not a bad start!

We’ve also launched Stone’s Throw, our first Asia-Pacific blend featuring coffee from Sumatra, PNG, and Byron Bay, with 50% fewer transport emissions than a typical blend and offset from farm to door. One way to support local and reduce emissions in the same step.

Beginning World Environment Day on June 5, we’re switching up our cafe menu to feature at least 50% plant-based dishes and offering plant-based milk at the same price as dairy milk for the month of June. A plant-based diet has been shown to be one of the biggest ways to reduce our carbon footprint, so trying out some new plant-based meals seems like a good place to start.

The government has not signed up to net zero on any timeline yet, does this mean it's down to industry and businesses to take up action? 

Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently claiming that "we will not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties, and wine bars of our inner cities", we have to disagree. It’s up to all of us to reduce our emissions and our amazing hospitality industry is a big part of that.

We’re not ones to sit around and wait for politicians to take action on climate change: quite the contrary. We’ve all got to do our bit in order to make climate change as top of mind as coffee is each morning.

How would you like to see the industry as a whole shifting in relation to climate and sustainability measures? What could the impact of a drastic, industry-wide shift be? 

Sign up to 1% For The Planet, go carbon neutral as a first step, and come together to discuss these issues as an industry. Back in 2018, we highlighted coffee’s vulnerability from rising temperatures, introducing climate-resistant F1 varietals to Australia and rallying the industry to sign-up to World Coffee Research’s check-off fund, which is a great place to start. Now, we’re rallying customers and the wider industry to take part in a range of Missions against Emissions such as introducing more plant-based options and reducing reliance on single-use cups.

Every bit counts. As a more drastic example, 66,900 tonnes of carbon could be saved if single-use cups were banned across Australia’s 20,000 cafes for a single year. That’s the equivalent of removing 4,549 passenger vehicles from the road or 2.8 million trash bags of waste recycled instead of landfilled.

Finally, is sustainable coffee truly achievable? 

It depends on what you mean by “sustainable coffee”. There are a myriad of issues across people and planet that we need to address collectively but if you break that down then we should be improving economic sustainability at a producer level, minimising our emissions across our entire supply chain, and looking at the circularity of our business model. 

If we can continually improve then yes, why not? We believe that is possible, so we must bring that vision into reality, which really looks like a lot of grit and commitment to change it.

At a consumer level, we all make unconscious decisions every day beyond just “extra hot, one sugar” that are important in the context of a climate emergency (such as where and how our coffee was sourced and what we choose to enjoy it in) and it’s really just about approaching those choices consciously. 

Now, check out Sydney's radical new bar pushing zero-waste to new heights. 

Image credit: Alana Dimou

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