Nespresso's ambassadors Paul Foster and Charlotte Mei on sustainability and green-washing in today's climate
We can do better
This year, as we commemorate World Environment Day (5 June), the sentiment wears on even more sombre in retrospect of what the world is currently experiencing — on top of a pandemic, now a global movement at full force for black lives and anti-racism. While environmentalists and human rights activists might not always be intrinsically linked, we gather that this underlying message is consistent: Love our planet and the people in it.
Nespresso's modus operandi in building a sustainable brand has been at work for many good years now. As simple as recyclable pods, and as complex as its Reviving Origins program — by rebuilding sustainable livelihoods for coffee farmers and their communities in regions that suffer from economic hardship and environmental disasters.
The intiative is just a subset of the coffee brand's overarching aim — its AAA Sustainable Quality Program — to ensure sustainable sourcing in coffee producing countries like Zimbabwe and Colombia. Special resources like agronomists and technology are provided to these farmers to help them increase the quality and the yield of their coffee, and at the end of the day, Nespresso purchases the coffees — full-priced.
In the current climate however, where crucial, important messages like sustainability are downplayed and even capitalised, it's hazy to what we can believe in as consumers. Is it just as simple as repping a tote bag on a grocery store visit? Ambassadors of Nespresso's sustainability program, Paul Foster and Charlotte Mei share their personal stories, their two cents on green-washing, and what everyone can start by doing.
Sustainability has been a word that's overused, misused, and casually thrown around these days. But what does that word personally mean to you?
Paul Foster (PF): This is very true! I think the best way to describe sustainability for me, is to just live a life where I can make as many positive impacts as possible for the environment, which hopefully offsets some of my negative impacts. After all, being sustainable is to maintain some sort of ecological balance and if the good outweighs the bad, then we can make a difference. It is not an easy task and I still have more to do, but I can honestly say, that I try to be as sustainable as possible when and where I can.
Charlotte Mei (CM): It means being mindful of the impact one leaves behind in the space they take up. It is about being responsible for one's actions, and to also support initiatives that support the same values. And finally, it's a habit, not a lifestyle or trend. It is something we all have to incorporate in our lives if we want the earth to continue thriving, so that we can too.
What was it that drew you to working with Nespresso?
CM: I appreciate how Nespresso Singapore works with local farms to maintain a closed loop system with post-consumer waste as much as they can. They also put a lot of effort into educating the community on how they can extend the life of Nespresso capsules after making a cup of coffee. The team is also open to feedback from the community of environmentalists to see how they can be more eco-conscious as a brand, and that is something I appreciate!
PF: The main fact is that they are Infinitely Recyclable. When they first approached me, I didn't know that they could recycle each pod entirely. When I learnt that both the aluminium and coffee grounds can be reused and repurposed into other everyday objects and for fertiliser respectively, I was ready to represent Nespresso as a brand and product, because this is something I can connect with.
Tell us more about your personal walk in reducing your carbon footprint.
PF: On a day to day basis, I compost, recycle, reuse, reduce and refuse as much as possible, where possible. My biggest mission is a war on plastics, and although it is difficult to be completely plastic free in this day and age, there are so many ways to not abuse the consumption, especially for single use plastics. So using reusable bags, straws and containers would be a good start, but even further to not buying any drinks in plastic bottles and being as considerate as possible when it comes to other products too. There are multiple levels to this, but I really believe if everyone started to control and make choices to affect a change, collectively we will start to see more positive results.
Most recently, I started a personal initiative All Clear, to help clean coastal and river waters around the region. In Singapore, my operational partner Tan Sian Shipping has already been doing this for over two decades. So with this wealth of operational knowledge and experience, we are better equipped to start operations (when allowed) to help clear trash, predominantly plastic waste from our oceans.
CM: It has been a journey of learning, as we are continuously looking to see how we can make more parts of our lives 'sustainable'. My biggest learning points over the past year has been in the field of fashion, as well as recycling in the context of Singapore - what happens to the items in the blue bins, and what actually gets recycled. As for myself as a nutritionist and content creator, I've been encouraged to share more vegetable-focused dishes with my audience. This cuts down on the meat that we eat, which is carbon-intensive, and it also gets more people eating vegetables.
In the current times of green-washing, how can we be vigilant as consumers to recognise which brands are genuine in their pledge to go green?
CM: I'm definitely still learning but here are a few things I do:
o Look beyond the brand's 'green pledge' to see if they are consistent in their messaging and actions throughout their business (or is the 'green message' just a distraction?)
o Are they specific about their messages, and is there real meaning behind it? I.e. If they say 'made from sustainably sourced materials', are they specifying exactly where they are sourced?
o Is the brand transparent about their actions (acknowledging where they are and where they need to be), and how readily available is this information on their website?
o Is there proof to back up their environmental claims (e.g. certifications)?
PF: I think those that are leading by example and communicating their efforts are a good place to start. Research and facts are quite easily accessible nowadays, and as long as a brand is being transparent and making concrete physical actions to do better, you can tell quite quickly if they are really making a genuine effort.
Last but not least, what is one small step that everyone can take to love our planet Earth better?
PF: I think education is key! Once you learn what is out there, and what impact you can have as an individual, it is just the little steps you can take at home and in your lifestyle that can start to make a difference. Remember, you don't have to go to the extreme and be fully 100% sustainable (which is close to impossible to be for many reasons), but the closer we can all get to this magic number, the better we can all be for our environment.
CM: Shop mindfully. It's easy to go online to make a purchase in a few minutes. But before you do so, ask yourself if you really need it; do you have something you already own that could serve the same purpose (or be repurposed to do so). I am also part of a group on Facebook 'Journey to Zero Waste SG', and there are a bunch of people sharing useful items that they no longer have use for, as well as people who are making a call for items they need! In fact, just yesterday I put a call out for a large container that I'm in need of to serve as my compost bin, and someone responded immediately saying they had one at home. We're now arranging for it to be sent over — even easier than shopping online!