So, according to very thorough research (i.e. a Google search) the average person in the States consumes 3 cups of coffee per day. THREE. That's a lot of coffee (well, this coming from me who can't consume caffeine after 3pm if I want a decent night's sleep). Regardless of the amount you consume, if there was a way you could enjoy your coffee with a clearer conscience, you'd want to do that, right? High fives to those who have started carrying their takeaway cups with them when visiting the local coffee shop, but there is more we can do in our homes, too. If you are a fan of freshly brewed coffee pods, then this is definitely for you. We took some time to chat with the founders of 4WKS, a South African coffee brand on a mission to shake things up in the coffee industry, reduce and replace single-use plastic and aluminium pods, and have some fun while doing it. Read the interview for more.
Tell us about yourselves.
Our names are Daniel, Oliver and Lulu. We’re brothers, first cousins and the co-founders of 4WKS. We’re also self-confessed coffee snobs who love the planet, and we’re also 3 very different individuals who all believe in creativity, design + business as huge forces of good. We believe even the smallest shifts in habits, driven by conscious choices, can have a big impact — and we are super-inspired, excited and driven to be a part of creating a new future that is kinder to the environment and to all people who call Earth home. We started 4WKS because we wanted to be a part of this shift. Along with taking on Nespresso (!) and the intention to reduce and replace single-use plastic and aluminium pods, we’re as passionate about creating a business that is known for its values, for its culture and for spreading kindness, joy and fresh energy with anyone and everyone who comes into our circle of influence.
What does an average day in your life look like?
The most amazing thing about a start-up is that every day is different (even Tuesdays + Thursdays, during which we grind and pack freshly-roasted coffee from our 4 partner roasters into pods; and subsequently test their performance before they ship every Friday!). Anything and everything can happen and we’ve learnt — especially during the time of Covid — that there are countless situations you cannot control: but you can always control how you react. We do our best to see mishaps and obstacles as blessings in disguises, and luckily have one another to buoy each other up (and coffee, and music, and podcasts!). Typically, we’re in the office by 8.45am, and rearing to go by 9am — after easing into the morning with hot water with lemon + zinc, ideally some meditation, morning pages, sometimes a basic yoga flow, and most likely, a smoothie bowl! Every Wednesday, we do our best to start our day together with a hike in the mountains, with a thermos of hot tea and bircher muesli! Needless to say, Wednesdays are highlights of the WK, and we are extreme advocates of walking meetings! We are also big fans of always making time for a round of 9 holes of golf.
As we’re all working on different things (Dan is hands-on with everything Product; Oli heads up Special Projects — including as our soon-to-launch home-compostable, refill packaging; and Lulu handles all things related to Brand), our days look a bit different. They very much always include the following though: morning Zoom calls if we’re not together; flat white breaks at 11am; eating lunch with family on our farm — usually a delicious salad, with ingredients just-picked from the veg garden, and maybe even a sourdough one of us has baked!); and most definitely another coffee/4WKS pod just after 3pm ;) We try our best to knock off by 6pm to be able to enjoy some exercise — whether that’s a run, sunset stroll, yoga or a workout! In the evening, Dan and Oli love to have a drink with their family in front of the fire to wind down the day and they also love to cook — so preparing and enjoying dinner with loved ones is a big highlight. The evening also brings an opportunity to pursue our other passions, such as making art, writing, reading — and just BEING.
What does sustainability mean to you?
For us, ‘sustainability’ means acting consciously, and in good conscience, for the purpose of securing vitality and longevity.
Whether it’s in terms of the planet, any kind of relationship, or a business: sustainability means it’s here to last. For us, this term is synonymous with the Future, with a better way of doing things; a new, nonnegotiable, holistic way of being — one that is intrinsically linked to integrity, transparency, and kindness.
As a brand in the sustainability space, what are some of the challenges you have encountered?
Some of our challenges have included:
- The misconception/perception that because something is sustainable, there is an inherent compromise somewhere in the equation… This is something we have really wanted to challenge and we strive, every day, to deliver a coffee pod that is not only super kind to the environment but also captures the essence of specialty coffee in terms of freshness, taste, and experience.
- Wanting to have the lowest possible impact on the planet while having the greatest positive impact on people means that we've had to go above and beyond to stay true to our values and really push ourselves to find alternatives and solutions, such as packaging.
- Working with an entirely natural material (our pod is made from bagasse, or sugarcane waste, with a vegetable fibre lid), especially to house a product as ‘alive’, complex and volatile (!) as freshly-roasted and ground coffee has been a real but super-exciting challenge. We’ve had to really think of innovative solutions, especially in areas where most have given in/up and resorted to traditional solves, such as plastic or aluminium (especially, as an example, when it comes to pod lids).
How can people support you during the pandemic?
They can support us by switching from buying Nespresso pods to 4WKS pods! And if they don’t have a Nespresso machine, or don’t drink coffee, they can help us spread the word by telling their friends who do! We offer home-delivery to Cape Town and the Winelands every Friday! As a young start-up, this kind of support is absolutely priceless and vital to helping us achieve our overall mission of shifting coffee, culture, and habits.
What do you find most challenging about living a more sustainable lifestyle?
We don’t find it challenging… We actually experience the opposite: We feel living sustainably is hugely exciting, empowering, and inspiring! Of course, it means we think twice about throwing away a take-away coffee cup or flushing the toilet without a wastewater bucket nearby, but, overall, less is more and nothing beats the feeling of knowing you’re living in a way that is alignment not only with the planet but with your core belief systems.
Any advice for someone looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Our advice would be to start small. Eat a plant- and whole-based diet as much as possible. Choose and support local. Ask where your food comes from, and support regenerative farmers as much as possible. Switch your plastic water bottle for one that you carry with you everywhere. Invest in a non-disposable takeaway cup. Always keep a shopper with you, or in your boot. Be aware of buying single-use plastic and, if you have to, make eco-bricks. Start composting your organic waste. Grow something — herbs, veg, a plant — on your windowsill, your balcony, your garden. Listen to podcasts, and educate yourself on the diverse topics of sustainability. Shift from plastic pods to compostable pods. Little by little, one travels far!
Name some of your favourite sustainable brands.
We’re big fans of:
- Good Good Good
- OZCF Market
- Sans (and we’re big fans of Pauline’s)
- Nude Foods
- Mielie Mailer
- Frank Green (They’re not South African, but we adore them)
What is your advice for someone wanting to start a sustainable brand?
This is not a trend: it is the future — and there is not only so much to be solved in our world and on our planet but also infinite room and opportunity for brave, kind, generous thinking.
Start by believing in yourself, and find the right people to bring your vision to life.
In terms of branding and communication, you don’t have to play by the sustainability ‘rules’: Sustainable brands can and need to be edgy, surprising, fearless. Break boundaries. Pour your whole heart and energy into it. Be real. Be human. Be willing to be vulnerable, and to make mistakes and own those mistakes. You most likely won’t get it right the first time, or perhaps even the tenth time — but with each prototype, every test, and every revision, you’re getting closer and closer to achieving something that someone, along the way, didn’t think possible. The sky is the limit and imagination, and passion, are your most powerful weapons.
And our greatest advice: Try not to take it too seriously. START THIS WK!