There are moments when as a staffer you sit up and remember why you work with an organisation. Watching my boss Bec Scott deliver her speech at TEDxCanberra is one such moment for me. Watch STREAT’s cofounder and CEO expound on sustainable consumption and making every dollar you spend count. Sunisa

Rebecca Scott's 2012 TEDx Canberra speech

Sustainable coffee, sustainable dollars, sustainable lives

Rebecca Scott: In your wallets you’ve all got money… and on either side of your money are some faces… and they’re the visible faces but it’s my long time belief that on either side of your money there are also invisible faces… and they’re not the faces that are stamped on their like the others but they’re the ones that you get to put on there. They’re invisible faces that are essentially attached to the way that you use your money, they’re stories and quite often they’re pretty hard to hear. But what I’d love to share with you today is my view that those other invisible faces are our responsibility even it’s pretty hard to hear those stories.

If you think about the way that we use our money, most of us are trying to get a bargain. We’ve got this little equation in our head about what makes good value and what doesn’t make good value so, we might be thinking about, for example, you know, price might be important, the look of something, the quality, the convenience of it. All of these things go into the equation in our head of ‘am I getting a bargain for this dollar’ or this twenty dollars.

The reality is that it’s a pretty selfish act most of the time, its something that we’re doing and thinking about the bargain for ourselves but quite often we’re not thinking about all of the unintended consequences from the use of that money. So we’re not thinking about ‘are we shafting a whole bunch of other people from the use of this money in a certain way’. Because there are so many things that we are all buying every day, you start to think collectively about how much money we’re spending as a group.

I just wanted to take a wander through one purchase that most of use will be making every day. It’s the simple act of buying a cuppa.

Come and have a cuppa tea with me first of all. Tea is the most drunk beverage around the world after water. There is billions and billions of money in tea. The big companies each have brands worth billions of dollars but if you’re one of the two countries that make the most tea around the world, China or India, you probably haven’t got a very nice taste in your mouth from the way that the tea production works. The reality is that an Indian who picks tea, for example, is getting about 57 cents a day equivalent for the cup of tea that you’re drinking. And that person, because they’re getting such a small amount of money in that supply chain, is really struggling to feed, not only themselves, but also their children.

What about coffee? Is coffee and different?

There’s a lot of money also in coffee, billions and billions in coffee and the reality is that the worlds biggest brands each have individual companies worth a billion dollars so there’s a huge amount of profit that’s happening in this simple cuppa. But Oxfam talks about the people who are in the coffee production being mugged and I think that it’s the reality. A farmer might be getting 14 cents per kilo for the green beans that their making for a product that’s retailed for 26 dollars or more in the supermarket for that same kilo.

Think about the difference in that.

Think about the fact that coffee around the planet, sales are absolutely booming and there is so much money to be made. But Oxfam says the reality is the real prices equivalent, the farmers are getting less than they did a hundred years ago. So there’s money to be made there but its not being distributed equally amongst all the people in that supply chain.

Hot Chocolate. So, if you’re like me, you’re kind of over tea and coffee now and you just want to have a hot chocolate. Is that any different?

The reality of it is that eighty percent of the world’s coco comes from West Africa, 50%  of it particularly from the Ivory Coast and the Ivory Coast is a pretty dismal place to live if you’re a young person. 200,000 young children are working, making coco for our hot chocolates and our chocolate bars. 12,000 are living in slavery. So they’ve been trafficked into the coco plantations to make us our chocolate.

It sounds really extreme and you might think ‘well you’ve taken really extreme examples to give to us today and you’re trying to make us feel really bad about these things’ but it’s not just the stuff that we’re drinking in reality. There are 250 million young people between the age of 5 and 14 on the planet who are labouring around the plant and 70%  are working in food production. So its not just our cuppas but it’s the stuff that we put on our plates so often that is so often laced with child labour. It sounds really grim so how do you know what to buy and what not to buy?

I mean, you start to think ‘Am I part of that? Am I actually drinking someone else’s poverty when I’m drinking something or eating something?’

So what I did was I took a little trip to my local supermarket. Now I live in Flemington in Melbourne and I decided ‘Well let’s get to the bottom of what some of the big brands are doing.’ So I went to my local supermarket and looked on the shelves. There’s 161 choices of coffee on the shelves of my supermarket and while it looks like I’ve got this gigantic amount of choice, it turns out that there are only three companies who owned a third of all of those different brands. They were Nestle, Sarah Lee and Kraft. They each have brands worth over a billion dollars.

I started to dig down to see ‘How were those individual brands, ones that most of us have in our cupboards, how are they actually doing?’ I used an organisation called Ethiscore, many of you might have seen Ethiscore, Ethiscore.org… and what they do is they take ratings of companies from around the world, they look at a bunch of things like; how those companies treat the planet, treat their workers, treat animals, the supply chain of those different companies, are they responsible marketers… and what they do is they give them a score out of 20. Well let’s have a look at the big brands.

Down here on the far left is Nestle. Nestle gets a 0.5 out of 20. Not so good eh? But its got Nescafe, Nespresso and International Roast and a whole bunch of other brands there that are probably on our shelves. A little bit further to the right you’ve got Unilever, also on a 0.5 out of 20 for its ethical practices, a company that owns a whole bunch of our tea brands like Lipton and Bushells and Lanchoo. And you go a little bit further up and there’s a whole bunch of other big brands, there’s AB foods who’ve got Twinings, there’s Sarah Lee who’ve got brands like Moccona and Senseo and Harris.

So it looks like we’ve got this phenomenal amount of choice but we actually haven’t got that much choice and when you start to follow the money, the money just keeps on going back to those big players who we know, if we start to look at the information, don’t actually think very much about the people in their supply chains.

Sounds quite grim but the reality is that there are a whole bunch of amazing companies. On the right there is Hampstead. If you come to STREAT, the organisation that I run, STREAT is going to serve you Hampstead tea. It’s the equal top rating in Ethiscore for a tea and it gets 17 out of 20 and even though I cant give the rating for Fairtrade organic coffee, that we’ll serve you, what I did is took an average for all the fair trade organic coffees in Ethiscore and the average was at least 15 out of 20. So there are a bunch of companies doing extraordinary things out there who are playing fairly, who aren’t raping and pillaging the planet and you start to see, there’s a really big difference between 0.5 and 17 for your cup of tea isn’t there? So please jump on and have a look at Ethiscore.

But can you do more with this simple cuppa? The answer is absolutely. I would say that because I’m a social entrepreneur and I work in hospitality. And what I’m passionate about is essentially trying to solve really big complex problems that have been hard to solve in the past. In the case of myself, I’m really interested in solving youth homelessness. There are millions and millions of young people around the world who are on the streets and that’s just not ok.

A social enterprise is essentially this kind of hybrid organisation that’s half a for profit and half a non-profit and you put it together and what you’re doing is you’re trying to solve a social issue by using the marketplace. So in our case at STREAT, we’re trying to solve homelessness by running cafes. We moved, my partner and I, Kate, who’s here also, we moved from Canberra a couple of years ago to start STREAT.

We started really humbly, we’ve only got two little cafes in Melbourne CBD and we’ve had 40 young people start to come through the program so far, but so far we’ve managed to sell nearly 100,000 cuppas. And 100,000 cuppas can give 10,000 hours of employment for homeless young people, and it can give a lot of hope to a whole bunch of young people.

But you start to think ‘That’s just because people like you drank coffee and tea.’ I mean, a cup like this can start to change you guys into superheroes. So you get the product that you wanted but we can start to use the marketplace to bring a whole bunch of change that we wouldn’t normally bring about. I’m getting a bit sick of the way that welfare works in that it doesn’t necessarily get people who most need long term sustainable futures out of the welfare system so I’m a big believer that training and employment are critical to that. What if I put ‘solving homelessness’ out to you guys and you became part of that solution?

This is where I start to invite you on our mission.

Our mission is making the perfect cuppa. Over the last two years we’ve started to play with what we think makes the perfect cuppa, but I’m sure you’re gonna have a whole bunch of other things that you can contribute. Please, please talk with me afterwards or start talking with us over email because there’s a bunch of things that we’re doing and I’d like to share with you.

First and foremost you’ll see me holding my cup and smiling. I’m smiling because I’ve got the thing that I wanted. I wanted a really good tasting caffeine hit. So, as the person who’s bought this I’m happy, my happy smiling face is one of the stories in that cup of tea or on that cup of coffee. And off to the left you’ll see a farmer who’s looking pretty happy as well because that farmer is working on an organic plantation and so hasn’t been exposed to pesticides so he and his family are pretty happy. And on the right you’ll see a coffee picker. She’s pretty happy as well because she’s getting fairly paid in wages for the labour that she’d doing because it’s a fair trade coffee. Down the bottom you’ll see a bunch of smiling faces, there’s Imogen and Andrew and Rayne and Damian and Jamie, five of the people who came through our first class at STREAT and because you bought this cuppa and not that cuppa, you’ve given these guys a job and we can give hundreds of young kids like this a job just by the simple choices that were making.

But it doesn’t have to stop there.

You’ll see on the outside of the cup that there’s some artwork. We found out in the last year that a whole bunch of our young people are pretty talented in telling their stories so by the end of this month, we’re going to have a bunch of stories that we start to share with you, the creative expression of our young people on the outside of that cup because we figure that’s a pretty nice little canvas to share those stories.

That’s an artwork done by one of our trainees, Serenity, who’s done a bunch of artwork actually using our coffee as watercolour and that will be featured on there. The coffee grounds that were in there don’t have to get chucked out. At Christmas time we put them back into the soil, made a great soil mix and when you came and had a cuppa with you we put it back in there and put a seed in there so that you’ve got the beginnings of a herb pot to go home and start to make yourself a meal. The good news is that the coffee cup itself is compostable. Even the plastic lid is compostable.

So when you get home, you don’t need to chuck that in the bin or put it in land fill, you can put that in your garden or in your compost bin to go back into the Earth. And I’m hoping now you’re thinking ‘This is a bloody good value cuppa.’ So you’re not just having one with us, you’re having heaps with us. What you’re doing now is you’re coming back and when you come back 9 times, we’ll make sure that the 10th coffee or 10th meal you have with us is given to a homeless person that we couldn’t help through our program. So there’s a person up here that’s benefitting from your loyalty. 

Can we do more? Absolutely.

What about all the back end systems, the administration of an organisation, surely that’s got to be full of inefficiencies and a whole bunch of things. Can you start to look at the supply chain of a back office? Absolutely. Our cleaning contract is done by another social enterprise that works with young people with intellectual disabilities.

We don’t have a company car; we’ve got a lot of us riding around on bikes. Our coffee is often distributed amongst our cafes along the public transport grid in Melbourne. Our cafes, if you come to them, you will see that there are lots of red milk crates. That’s because we build our café walls out of recycled materials and this is just the tip of the iceberg I think. How much good can we actually do with just one simple little purchase? I think we could do this extraordinary amount and I think about myself, you know the repeated little things I’m going to do across my lifetime. 

For all of you ladies here in the audience, you’re going to have 85,000 meals in your lifetime. Guy’s I’m sorry, you only get 80,000 because you don’t live as long. But you start to think ‘Just in my life, just making little conscious decisions about where I spend my money, just if it was only on food, the difference that I can start to make across the planet.’ But think of the millions of meals that we’re going to have collectively, the extraordinary social change that we can start to make as a bunch of people who say It’s not ok.

The way Capitalism is figured right now doesn’t have to be like this. There’s a whole bunch of people getting rich at the top, there’s billions and billions of dollars being made by those big companies who aren’t thinking very much about how they’re treating the rest of the planet.

But its really easy for us to think that they are the naughty guys not us and we’ve got to be down on them, but the reality is that we’re the ones who buy their products. They don’t exist; they don’t make the billions of dollars in profit if we’re not giving them that money.

So what I want you to do is reach into your wallets, actually reach into your wallets. Bend down, don’t worry I’m not going to take your money, its not a busking show. Reach down into your wallets. I want you to pull out a note. Look at it, look at the note. Pull out a coin if you don’t have any notes. Look at either side, look at the faces on either side of that note and star to think ‘This is actually my vote. No one’s forcing me to give this away, I’m the one that gets to decide how this is used and, in actual fact, I’m the one that gets to decide all the other stories that get put on this note, all of the invisible faces and I’m the one who gets to decide whether or not they’re happy or sad faces.'

The reality is that there is so much information out there to make good decisions as a consumer, but every time you go to the supermarket, this (holding the note) is your vote, the checkout is your ballet box.

You don’t have to wait for three years to vote in who you want to see as leader of this country, you get to say every single day ‘This is what I’m voting on, this is the stuff that’s important to me’ and, in fact, we get to change the system. Capitalism as it stands right now stinks and I think the GFC is this extraordinary opportunity that we’ve got to say ‘We get to change what it looks like.’ In fact, the whole system works by these (notes the money) and these are the things in my wallet and my pocket and I don’t part with this unless I say that it’s worthwhile parting with it.

So what I’d love to urge you to do is start thinking about it. Get armed with information. It’s the way to make those decisions about what you should and shouldn’t be spending your money on. Think about, not just reducing the negatives of the stories that are on here (note) but think about all of the amazing stories that you can embed on this note.

You have to buy the ethical shopping guide. Many of you probably already have it but it also has a phone app. Every kind of product on your supermarket shelves is in here. You can start to find out ‘What do I want to support?’ The guys that aren’t doing so well (ethiscore), boycott them. You don’t have to buy anything from them. Use up the stuff that’s in your cupboards, don’t wast it but use it up and change the brands that you support.

Most of all, I want you to think ‘When I open my wallet the next time, I’m the one that gets to work out how many faces are happy on this but when I open my wallet, I’m going to listen very carefully, because my money’s talking and I’m going to listen.”