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28 May 2019

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 raw 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. Within six weeks the first batch sold out, and within three months the sales of the coconut bowls surpassed the health food products. “At this point, I decided to create a new business and in January 2016 I launched Coconut Bowls,” says Jake.

After launching the business, Jake 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,” says Jake. “This contributes significantly to CO2 and methane emissions, and the smoke is an environmental and health hazard to humans and animals.”

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 craftsman 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. “Every coconut bowl is unique with its own shape, size, marking and imperfections - they're one in a billion,” says Jake.

Jake strives to build a company that supports all three pillars of sustainability, environmental, social and economic otherwise known as planet, people and profits. Jake is regularly asked about the fair-trade 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 fair trade coconut farms in Vietnam. “We have investigated working with these 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,” says Jake.

Instead, Jake chooses to adhere to his own moral and ethical values, by working with a number of 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 that they otherwise would have to pay to dispose of or burn themselves,” says Jake. 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 they earn for the coconuts themselves,” says Jake.

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 fair-trade 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 that many of the artisans are family. This is desirable within the Vietnamese culture as many workers must travel hours every day to get to their workplace, meaning less time is spent with family,” says Jake.

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.”

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


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