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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 18 January 2022

'We got some funny looks': Frank and Peter of Cloud Picker on their 8-year sustainability journey

These days, there’s more understanding – and a brand new Climate Toolkit to help businesses get started.

Peter Sztal and Frank Kavanagh outside Cloud Picker's Pearse St café.
Peter Sztal and Frank Kavanagh outside Cloud Picker's Pearse St café.
Image: Colm Kerr Photography

PETER SZTAL AND Frank Kavanagh, founders of Cloud Picker Coffee Roasters, have always been early adopters.

Back in 2013, when Ireland’s coffee culture was only in its infancy, the couple launched one of the country’s first micro-roasteries in a small corner of Sherriff Street in Dublin’s Docklands.

At the time, Sztal and Kavanagh were also running the café at the Science Gallery on Pearse Street – the ideal “testing ground” for their new roasts, says Sztal – but managed to drum up enough wholesale business to get their side project off the ground.

“Starting out with Cloud Picker, Frank was our only full-time staff member, and we had nine wholesale customers on our books, compared to 130 now,” says Sztal.

I remember we used to take orders on a Thursday, we’d write all the orders up on a board, roast the beans, pack them, and deliver them on a Friday. We had it all done in two days – and we thought we were busy back then!

The company has scaled up impressively since 2013. These days, you can order your morning coffee at the Cloud Picker café on Pearse St, right across from Sztal and Kavanagh’s old stomping ground at the Science Gallery. The Sherriff St roastery has been replaced by a much larger premises in Crumlin, and Cloud Picker has a team of 15 staff members across wholesale and retail.

H29A1525 Roasting a batch of Cloud Picker beans. Source: Cloud Picker Coffee

Climate conscious

Sztal and Kavanagh weren’t just early adopters when it came to crafting properly good coffee – they also put planet-friendly practices first long before words like ‘sustainability’ and ‘carbon footprint’ were part of the country’s everyday vocab.

“Sustainability came naturally to us even in the early days of running the business. We were making environmentally conscious choices in our life outside of the work so it just made sense to carry it through to our business,” says Sztal. 

The pair quickly got used to receiving “funny looks” from suppliers when asking for things like recyclable paper packaging for their wholesale business. “You’d get a rolling of the eyes, or a sense that you were making their life difficult. But we just kept asking,” says Kavanagh.

And when the products they wanted didn’t meet their sustainability standards, the pair were more than happy to adapt. Kavanagh recalls one particularly creative solution:

We were one of the first Irish roasteries to start selling beans in reusable, returnable buckets. But ours were actually mayonnaise buckets, because they were the only reusable buckets on the market that suited our needs.

eir-cloudpicker_CKP0423 These days, Cloud Picker's beans are sold in bespoke reusable buckets. Source: Colm Kerr Photography

Big changes

Like most businesses, the path to reducing Cloud Picker’s impact has taken time, and it’s an ongoing journey. In the initial years of the business, for example, deliveries were made in a diesel jeep. These days, everything is packed into an electric van, which is soon to be joined by a second EV.

The pair are also stopping production of cardboard cups for their café, encouraging customers to bring or rent reusable cups instead. Kavanagh explains the thought process behind this move:

“Our cups are compostable, but we realised we had produced 150,000 of them in the last two years, so we’re taking a stance and trying to set an example by cutting production. We’ll still offer the old cups, but only if someone specifically asks – and their drink will cost a little extra.”

And just last weekend, Sztal and Kavanagh took delivery of a new roaster that will use 80% less fuel than their current model. Changes like this one simply cannot happen overnight, says Kavanagh:

It takes huge time in terms of research. We finally landed on the right company, based in the US, and we commissioned the machine from them over a year ago.

Vital support

Government support has made the road to reducing Cloud Picker’s carbon emissions smoother – like the Local Enterprise Office funding the company received to employ a dedicated Sustainability Officer for the company. “That person is there, in a nutshell, to improve every part of our business in terms of sustainability, from what we take in to what we produce,” says Sztal.

Cloud Picker, along with all companies big and small around Ireland, can now avail of the Climate Toolkit 4 Business, a new platform developed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. 

The toolkit is there to help businesses measure their climate impact and build a tailored action plan to tackle their emissions. By inputting data from energy bills, waste bills and company travel or freight records into the toolkit’s calculator, business owners can get an estimation of their carbon footprint – plus practical, measurable goals to help lower it.

Enterprise has a pivotal role in Ireland’s aim to reduce overall emissions by 51% by 2030, as outlined in the government’s Climate Action Plan, published last month – and resources like the toolkit will offer important support for businesses who are ready to play their part.

The more information business decision makers have access to, the better, says Sztal:

When we were starting out, there weren’t any resources like the toolkit, so it’s really great to see. It’s hugely valuable for businesses to be able to seek that kind of support in such an organised way.

Sztal encourages other business owners who might be beginning their own sustainability journey to think about the bigger picture:

At this point, everyone needs to stop and think, and reevaluate, no matter how long they’ve been in business. For us, success is about more than profit. It’s about making long-term efforts that will benefit the planet.

By tackling your carbon emissions, you’re doing good for our planet, our economy, and your business. Start your business’s zero carbon journey with the Climate Toolkit 4 Business, an easy-to-navigate tool helping you to measure your impact and develop a plan to lower emissions. Get started here.

Sponsored by:

The Department of Environment, Climate & Communications

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