Carving a sustainable solution with coconuts

When Jake McKeon stumbled across painted coconut bowl souvenirs while travelling around Bali, he thought the bowls in their natural state would be great to sell in his health food business. Following this thought, Jake filled his bags with coconut bowls and returned to Australia and began selling them in his health food business. Within six weeks the first batch sold out. After the second batch Jake imported sold out he decided to create a new business and in January 2016 launched Coconut Bowls. But it wasn't until after he launched the business when he began to realise the significant environmental and ethical impacts of his new venture. Of the billions of coconuts harvested each year for the coconut oil, water and flesh industries, 99 per cent of their shells are discarded and burned as waste which contributes significantly to CO2 and methane emissions. Coconut Bowls is now part of the solution to this environmental issue. Jake reclaims coconut shells from companies that treat them as a bi-product and up-cycles them into beautiful eco-friendly bowls. His craftsmen cut, clean and sand the coconut shells, turning them into beautiful coconut bowls that you can eat from. Each coconut bowl is then finished with an organic virgin coconut oil polish. Jake strives to build a company that supports all three pillars of planet, people and profits. He is regularly asked about the Fairtrade status of the coconut bowls, and although this is a certification he would ideally like to obtain, it's currently unachievable due to the current operations of the only three Fairtrade coconut farms in Vietnam.
“We have investigated working with Fairtrade farms, but due to the large scale that they operate, the way they open coconut shells prevent us from being able to up-cycle them,” said Jake.
Instead, Jake chooses to adhere to his own moral and ethical values by working with several smaller family farms where he pays farmers to sort and package the coconut shells into the sizes he requires. This ensures they receive an income from products they otherwise would have to pay to dispose or burn. This income makes a difference for the farmers Jake works with, who are considered some of the poorest in the country, often earning the equivalent of $1 to $2 per day, whereas a single collection from Coconut Bowls can total hundreds of dollars. “With regular collections across the year, the income from discarded coconuts can be more than what the farmers earn for the coconuts themselves,” he said. Once collected from the farms, the coconut shells are sent to a workshop where local craftspeople and artisans sand and polish the shells. The workers are paid more than double Fairtrade standards which is 30 per cent more than regular incomes for similar jobs and receive food, drinks and regular breaks throughout the day.
“One of the wonderful things about our workshop is many of the artisans are family. This is desirable within the Vietnamese culture as many workers travel hours every day to their workplace, meaning less time is spent with their family,” he said.
Coconut Bowls has grown from strength to strength over the years. Jake has fostered a hub focused on plant-based eating and mindful living, and is currently is working towards achieving B Corporation certification. Jake believes environmental sustainability involves participating every day in making positive decisions that will foster a sustainable future for humans and all beings alike.
“The reason sustainability is so important is very simple; our future and the future of our children depend on it.”
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