Kokako Organic Coffee Roasters are trailblazers in specialty coffee and have taken a leadership stance across a variety of areas of their business, particularly in sustainable practices.
Founders Helen Ollivier and Christian Lamdin were motivated to create a new identity within the coffee landscape of New Zealand. They had a strong vision from the outset of creating Auckland’s first dedicated organic coffee company in 2001, and were inspired by the native kōkako bird from the Waitakere Ranges. In 2007 Mike Murphy purchased the business, ensuring he built on their legacy to take Kokako to the next level.
Murphy says Kokako takes a holistic approach to their whole business, considering people, profit and the planet/environment in all of their decisions.
“This is by no means the easy route – and in some respects it has placed us in a position where we have to work harder to source the quality of coffee we require and to maintain a competitive advantage over others in the industry.
However, this long-term approach has really helped to reinforce the integrity behind our brand with consumers. This involves only sourcing certified organic and certified Fairtrade coffee, and cupping (a way of evaluating coffee) to ensure that each coffee meets our internal quality standards,” he says.
Being a leader in the area of sustainability, Kokako has faced and dealt with many issues, be it in growing, sourcing or supply. “Being third party verified with BioGro and Fairtrade gives the consumer confidence around the transparency in our supply chain.
With packaging, we have worked with a reputable Waikato-based packaging supplier to ensure all of our coffee packs and drinking chocolate pouches are compostable to European commercial composting standards.
It's fine to provide an end of life solution for packaging (such as compostable packs) but we also need to lobby to ensure that the infrastructure to deal with this is in place. Things are happening in this area, but not as quickly as we’d like.”
Kokako promotes the use of sustainable packaging that is made from reused or renewable resources, produced in the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly way currently possible, and is compostable or recyclable after use.
“By using plants to make our cups and lids we are working with nature’s cycle of growth and decay. Furthermore, plants photosynthesise as they grow. They take carbon out of the air (in the form of CO2) and release oxygen. Contrast this with using fossil fuels, which bring carbon from out of the ground and emit that into the atmosphere, causing CO2 levels to rise.
“The shift to compostable cups and lids in our industry has now reached a tipping point where it's becoming mainstream. However, the best advice we can provide to mitigate waste (compostable or otherwise) is to purchase your coffee in your favourite café to drink in-house – that way there is no coffee cup waste at all.”
Murphy says it's also important to put into perspective the geo-political and macroeconomic factors that come into play in coffee-producing nations.
Having visited Papua New Guinea on a number of occasions, he feels quite overwhelmed with the economic disparities evident between coffee producing nations and our own country.
“In looking at this more holistically, we can´t fix or influence the economic and political infrastructure of these nations but we can influence and encourage others to take steps to empower coffee producers in coffee producing nations to control their own destiny. This is one of the main reasons we're staunch advocates for Fairtrade. Beyond the minimum price guarantee for farmers (by being part of a Fairtrade cooperative) coffee farmers have access to skills based training in coffee agronomy, best-practice farming techniques, defect evaluation, pest mitigation, social projects and community infrastructure projects.
“The Fairtrade premium these cooperatives obtain through this system allows them to make democratic decisions at committee level to improve the quality of life for their stakeholders – be this building a new school, investing in roading or sanitation projects, or reinvesting in plant and equipment for coffee processing."
(Since 2010, coffee growers in PNG have received over NZ$2.1 million in terms of Fairtrade premium. These funds have gone towards repairs to local bridges, communal coffee pulpers, office buildings and development of sustainable farming practices.)
Kokako sources its coffee from Fairtrade organic coffee cooperatives in Papua New Guinea, Sumatra, Honduras, Colombia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Guatemala, with more origins and offerings being evaluated each week.
Often they’ll source coffees from different geographical regions of the same country to use in different blends or to highlight subtle differences in flavour profile depending on the growing region, soil conditions, plant varietal or altitude in a single origin.
“We take a collaborative approach to sourcing coffee – travelling to origin ourselves to evaluate coffees and obtain samples, working with partners such as Fairtrade to open up opportunities for new cooperatives coming to market, and working with reliable coffee brokers and importers such as John Burton in Auckland and Trade Aid in Christchurch.
"This method of procuring coffee allows us to have some autonomy in coffee selection (for example, some of our latest Sumatran and PNG coffees were sourced by us and then co imported by our trading partners), but
also creates economies of scale, where larger quantities can be purchased and sold to other roasters,” he says.
Murphy talks about a more unconventional approach to coffee sourcing taken last year, when approached by Dr Jackie Smalldridge, a New Zealand gynaecologist who volunteers in Uganda.
“Jackie performs life-changing fistula surgery with a skilled group of medical professionals, supported by Medical Aid Abroad. Located about 20 minutes down the road from the hospital in Kagando, where Jackie and her colleagues were based on their trips, is the Bukonzo Joint Coffee Cooperative www.bukonzojointcoffee.com
Jackie saw an opportunity to help the community economically and fundraise for her medical camps at the same time.
She brought back 7kgs of their coffee and asked if we’d like to try it. We did and we liked it, and now we're importing this through Trade Aid, roasting and selling it to help raise funds for her work via Medical Aid Abroad.”
In 2016 Kokako was looking to find a tool to help ascertain the amount of carbon produced as a company, right from the farms at origin through the supply chain to the roastery. They ended up finding a tool through Fairtrade in the Netherlands specifically for the coffee industry, then adapted it to suit the coffee business in New Zealand.
“This was not an easy task as it involved a thorough understanding of the carbon emissions, from bean cultivation, to transport and shipping, processing, roasting and packaging in order to accurately capture the relevant data.”
Through their analysis they ascertained that, for every kilogram of coffee they roasted, 2.5kg of carbon is produced.
“To offset and mitigate this, we have forecast a year in advance our full coffee production, and purchased Fairtrade Carbon Credits in order to become ‘climate neutral’. The credits are purchased from FairClimateFund , an independent organisation that works directly with the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative in Ethiopia. It allows the farmers to replace their wood-burning stoves with energy efficient stoves, thus mitigating deforestation in their country.”
Kokako undertook work on their first ever sustainability report in late 2016, reinforcing their commitment to making incremental improvements across their business.
This even meant they had to do a bit of ‘dumpster diving’ to ascertain their mix of compostables, recyclables and landfill.
“Like Toyota, we work on the Japanese principle of ‘kaizen’ — continuous improvement. We looked at our current fleet of Toyota Corollas and our Hiace delivery van, and worked out the annual CO2 emissions of each vehicle based on the average kilometres travelled per working year.
Compared with other vehicles the emissions; from these vehicles are relatively low, however it’s allowed us to start planning for some changes to our fleet. In 2018 we'll be looking to migrate across to the Corolla hybrid and consider options for an electric or alternatively powered van.
Sustainable procurement decisions are really important to our business, and we're keen to continue to support Toyota given they are trailblazers in hybrid automotive technology.”
Help us raise funds for: ROTOEHU ECOLOGICAL TRUST
Kokako has a sponsorship partnership with the Rotoehu Ecological Trust, a working group that protects and maintains a number of bush blocks in the Bay of Plenty from pests to help grow the numbers of kokako in the area. Kokako assists them with an annual working bee, and provides an annual cash donation towards ongoing maintenance, also providing the option for customers to purchase from their website. Enter the code word ROTOEHU, and this will provide the Trust with a component of the retail margin as a donation.