Q&A: It's time to wake up and smell the coffee

 Q&A: It's time to wake up and smell the coffee

Martin Richards is the Director of Blackstar Coffee Roasters, a business
dedicated to reversing the environmental damage brought on by land clearing and
deforestation. Launched in November 2021, Brisbane-based Blackstar's initiative
Coffee For Trees sees three trees planted for each kilogram of coffee sold at
its West End, CBD an internet-based stores.

MR: We established Blackstar with the support of the Brisbane Social
Enterprise Hub – an initiative from the Brisbane City Council, Price Waterhouse
Coopers and Social Ventures Australia. Our motivation has always been to change
the world through great coffee. Coffee For Trees is really a more recent initiative
but over the lifecycle of Blackstar we've been committed to many programs such
as Fair Trade, fundraising for microfinance loans overseas, supporting local
music and arts etc.

MR: When we started back in 2007 specialty coffee
wasn't anything. There were literally no small batch roasters apart from
Caffeine Espresso who landed in Brisbane a few months before us. The market
in those days was much smaller, with only a handful of old-school commercial style
dark-roast style coffee brands. From the beginning we wanted to make every roast
and every coffee matter. We invested all we had in the right equipment and
aimed for cup quality over profit margins.

MR: In late 2021 we asked ourselves: what legacy will we want to leave as a business? and just what impact do we want to make? As we looked closer, we noticed there is a really obvious global problem staring us in the face – the climate crisis. It was around the time of the Greta Thunberg speech. Mass student protests appeared to be organised around the world and in Australia young people were leaving school classes (my kids included) to attend rallies calling for action to deal with the climate emergency. I felt we had to do something. When I heard on the radio that Queensland had the second-worst land-clearing rates on the planet, I knew we had to deal with deforestation. Hence, Coffee For Trees.

MR: We need to look not so much at how sustainability can benefit the coffee industry, but exactly how coffee can benefit sustainability – the climate crisis isn't going away. And COVID19 has taught us that unpredictable global forces can interrupt our way of life and economies very rapidly. With global warming rates increasing, extreme weather events for example fires, floods, cyclones and more increasing; it's time for us to act quickly. Maybe the biggest contribution the coffee industry can make is educating the public concerning the environment.

MR: Coffee is such a central a part of our culture and a wonderful vehicle for promoting change. Our company vision is “to stimulate the transition to some sustainable economy” and our Coffee For Trees is a simple way to express this vision. Within the coming years we aim to tell others about Coffee For Trees. We're thinking about partnering with as many like-minded individuals and businesses, to look at how we can make a difference through coffee. The more coffee we sell the more trees we can plant. Australians consume 112 million kilos of coffee per year and our current commitment would be to plant three trees per kilo. So, there's a lot of scope for reforestation via coffee.

MR: Number 1 is to start with your purpose and, if it’s simply to make
money, then dig deeper. The planet still has too many businesses that are driven
by profit but lacking meaning and purpose. From my perspective profit alone
isn't a good enough reason to be in business any more. This is a big reason why
we've the environmental crisis in the first place. I would encourage anyone
starting a venture to connect with how they want to bring about others and to
the planet. And, secondly, I recommend getting up early and planning well.

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