Sustainable Living

Ground Breaking Sustainable Oils From Coffee

Sustainable Oils From Coffee

My co-founder, Fergus, and I were working in cafes and bars, and seeing the amount of food waste being thrown in the bin at the end of each shift, and we knew there must be something better we could do with it. At that time we were studying Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde University, and as part of a class we started to develop different ideas of how we could collect used coffee grounds and convert them into higher value materials, and ultimately create both an environmentally and economically sustainable business. 

Revive collects used coffee grounds from cafes, hotels, offices and a host of other locations and is developing a process to extract the natural oils held within the coffee grounds. These oils have a wide range of uses across cosmetics and food & drink, and many of the oils we can produce are sustainable alternatives to the derivatives of palm oil. 

We are combatting two key issues; food waste going to landfill, and the unsustainable nature of many of the raw materials used in the likes of the cosmetics and food & drink industries. 

Currently, over 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds are produced yearly in the UK, with about 6 million tonnes created globally, with a huge proportion still ending up in landfill. Also, there are over 70 million tonnes of palm oil produced globally every year, and the deforestation linked to the production of palm oil plantations is a key global driver of climate change. For both of these problems, we know we have a solution, and we will be able to deliver a global impact through our work, bringing sustainable alternatives to a range of industries across the globe. 

Credit: Revive Eco

The early grind

We came up with the initial idea of recycling coffee grounds in 2013, while we were still in second year at university, and we continued to develop it as we completed our studies. We founded the company the week after we graduated, in 2015. In hindsight, a slightly longer break might have been a good idea. We had always been very interested in starting our business, without necessarily knowing doing what exactly. The more we researched about waste, sustainability and climate change, we became extremely passionate about using our business as a tool to bring about environmental change. We weren’t overly familiar with the concept of the circular economy when we started working on Revive, but we are now passionate advocates of the circular economy, and strive to be as circular, sustainable, and logical in everything we do. The more we learned about the global climate crisis, the more we knew that it was imperative for more businesses to start up with the goal of creating environmental change through sustainable business models. 

The very first iteration of Revive involved us walking around Glasgow, picking up bags of the used coffee grounds, taking this back to our parents garages and using to create a natural soil conditioner. Bootstrapped, basic and thrown together are all fair descriptions of the early stages. We learned a lot from this stage though, and gained valuable feedback from the producers of the coffee grounds, as well as helping us figure out what would be a more effective collection model longer term. 

Credit: Revive Eco

Hitting the ground running

The first year of our business had all sorts of successes, challenges and failures. We were selected to represent Strathclyde University at the Values and Ventures Business Plan Competition held at Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth, Texas. We pitched our concept, which we had been working on for a little over a few months, to an esteemed panel of judges. We were awarded the Founders Award for “bold and breakthrough thinking”, and came home with huge confidence, belief, excitement, and some prize money to top things off. 

At this point we realised what we were working on had real potential and that was the moment I think we had the total belief that we should pursue this basic concept. One of the biggest challenges was simply balancing and managing our time. We were excited and driven to put time into Revive, but we were also in our 3rd year of university, and working part-time jobs at nights, so surplus time wasn’t something we had in abundance. The challenge was managing our time to ensure we were focused on our studies, but also still progressing Revive, and of course, earning a living, because those Friday night beers were never going to pay for themselves. I think ultimately our interest in pursuing Revive made it a bit easier to work out how to plan our time, and make the most of any free time we did have, because we were genuinely passionate about it. 

Social impact at the core

Many elements of the business have grown hugely over the last couple of years. We are now collecting around 1 tonne of coffee grounds per month, with a total of over 40 tonnes of coffee grounds now diverted from landfill, and 60 tonnes of carbon emissions through our work. Our team size has gone from 2 to around 6, as well as having many freelancers and external teams working on projects with us. Whilst we still have a fairly small social media following, we have grown it by over 3,000 to around 5,000 this year, with limited amounts of resources to put into our marketing activities. 

Our efforts are being recognised; this year we represented Scotland and NI in the final of the Chivas Venture competition, where we were in the final 10 of the global impact competition which took place in Amsterdam and saw us winning $20,000 in prize money. We were also selected to pitch in the final of the MIT Solve competition in New York last month, where we were in the final 15 of the Circular Economy category, from over 1,400 applicants. 

We work with a range of fantastic clients and worked on a truly circular project with Edinburgh University, where we collected the coffee grounds from their campus cafes and created a natural soil conditioner from this material. This soil conditioner was then returned to Edinburgh University to be used on the grounds across their campus, meaning we created a full closed loop system at their campus.

Purpose driven business for a socially conscious generation

I’ve got a younger brother, with a million and one things in common, namely sport, music and beer. I’ve always been encouraged to follow what I’m passionate about, work hard, and always make plenty time for friends, family, travel and being outdoors, whether it’s playing golf or football, hiking or just enjoying Scotland’s one day of summer from somewhere around Loch Lomond. I lived most of my life in a village called Houston, about 20 minutes or so from Glasgow, and the idea of balance has been firmly ingrained in me from a young age, and is something I intend to keep at the forefront of my mind going forward. 

In school, I, of course, wanted to be a footballer, then a journalist, but as I progressed through secondary school and university, I developed a real interest in starting my own company, I just didn’t know doing what at that point. I always liked the idea of being at the forefront of creating change, the idea of being a tiny cog in a ginormous wheel did not evenly remotely appeal or resonate with me. I always wanted to see the impact my work was having on real issues, and Revive has given me the perfect opportunity to do that. 

Global ambitions

We will launch our demo unit later this year, helping us divert more and more coffee from landfill. We’ll be out looking for more partners to work with to access increasing levels of coffee grounds, as well as more potential partners to be trialling the natural oils we are producing from the coffee. Impact is at the absolute core of our business, thus the more partners we can work with, the greater the impact we can create. We’ll also be looking to add to our team, in several different departments. 

We have been inspired by the beauty of the natural environment in Scotland, and our vision is to protect the environment at a global scale, and converting coffee grounds into natural oils is very much just the first step in this process. 

It’s our future

Think about the future, think about the need for change for a more sustainable future, think about how you or your business can make small changes that collectively can have a huge impact and seriously change the path we are headed down. 

Scott Kennedy