Circular Economy of Food Challenge SPECIAL MENTION


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Sydney, Australia

Kua does world-positive coffee for workplaces. All spent coffee grounds are collected for repurposing and all profits are used to mobilise our farmers on the journey to climate resilience. Kua empowers consumers with the stories behind their coffee, inspiring a shift to climate-smart consumption. We envision Kua replicated in cities globally; linking coffee drinkers with growers through immersive consumption experiences.

About Kua

In July 2017, co-founders Darcy and Brody first visited Uganda. Inspired by the passion, energy and quirks of the farmers they met, the pair took a small sample of coffee back to Australia, where they had it graded professionally. The bean was rated as ‘speciality’, and Kua was born. It took twelve months to figure out export logistics, run pilots with potential customer workplaces and tastings with hundreds of end-consumers. 

Finally, they were ready to head back to Uganda. July of 2018 was spent meeting coffee farmers and development organisations, building partnerships and exploring the beautiful Mount Elgon region. In August, a four person directorship was formed with Brianna and Monica, complementing Darcy’s strategic focus and Brody’s marketing expertise with impact and finance respectively. The new team took the plunge and ordered two tonnes of coffee, direct from Zukuka Bora farmers in Mount Elgon.

Things were going well. Ten brave workplaces signed up and Kua officially registered as a charity. But, we didn’t have an office. The team took another plunge and signed a twelve month lease on a beachside share house in a Sydney suburb. Six bedrooms enabled us to bring a design expert, Digby, and coffee expert, Hamish, into the fold. For twelve months in 2019, we worked out of this house as volunteers. In this time, Kua has forged its name as the world-positive supplier for workplaces. Tailored to progressive companies with a focus on employee experience, Kua has achieved: 

  • – thirty high-profile clients including Swiss Reinsurance, Canva, World Wildlife Fund and Aesop
  • – winners of the 2019 state and national CitySwitch Sustainability Awards, in partnership with Finder
  • – named as Australia’s top student entrepreneur at GSEA and top student social enterprise at Big Idea 2019
  • – finalists for the WWF Impactio Program, Green Globe Young Sustainability Champion 2019
  • – recognised internationally for progress with Sustainable Development Goal 12 by the Youth G20 and five other leadership and development forums worldwide
  • – registered as a charity with ACNC and certified as a social enterprise with Social Traders

The Kua Q&A

How do circular economy of food principles help social entrepreneurs grow their businesses and meet their mandate?

I was introduced to the broad concept of the circular economy by Ellen MacArthur, in her 2015 TED talk. I distinctly remember drawing comparisons between her description of life sailing and that of life in Europe – both with incentives to design out waste – against life in Australia. With an abundance of natural resources, I wondered how we were going to accelerate our transition to a circular economy. 

To me, the circular economy of food centres around two big questions:

  • – Where does it come from?
  • – Where does it end up?

If we can inspire consumers to consider these questions for all food products they consume, and to take genuine responsibility for the social, environmental and economic consequences of their answers, we might find a way to again live within the bounds of our planet.


An unprecedented disconnect between our products and their stories is undermining a shift to greener consumption. We live beyond the bounds of our planet and consume through supply chains laced with hidden injustices. Until the experiences at the source are married with those at the shop, everyday consumption will continue to perpetuate environmental degradation. 

Take coffee: Australians drink six billion cups per year, unintentionally exploiting poor coffee farmers and sending 100K tonnes of spent coffee grounds to landfill every year. Extraction is baked into our economy, yet collectively, us everyday consumers are an immense force for change. By empowering coffee drinkers with the stories behind each cup, Kua hopes to inspire a shift towards fair and circular consumption.

COVID-19! In what seemed like two days, 80% of our orders evaporated. Our thoughts are with our many friends in the hospitality and social enterprise spaces. Thanks for the opportunity to share our story and celebrate what we achieved before COVID-19. We hope it serves to inspire our team and community to bounce back after the madness.

For three-quarters of millennials, Corporate Social Responsibility directly influences their willingness to work at an organisation. We enable progressive organisations to embed social and environmental impact into the everyday, through coffee. An enhanced employee experience (and fantastic tasting coffee) creates a happy and connected workplace culture.

As a small organisation headquartered in Sydney, we have limited influence over the circular principles used at source. In Uganda, plummeting prices are starting to converge with impacts of climate change to trap farmers with non-viable enterprises. Mount Elgon supports 90K growers over 51K hectares. Here, a prioritisation of quantity over quality has resulted in the destruction of one-fifth of the native tree cover. Erratic cycles of rain and drought now cause devastating landslides; compounding existing pressures of exploitative middlemen and volatile markets. In short: the circular economy is not an inherent priority. However, its economic and environmental benefits see farmers opting to implement many practices by choice, such as regenerative agriculture, waste minimisation and use of byproducts as both fertiliser and fuel. Kua uses its buying power to support the most “circular” farming producers, offering a bypass of commodity prices to secure a fair and predictable income, and then reinvesting all profits reinvested in local agroforestry initiatives.

Everything has to be built from scratch! Our reverse logistics delivery system (where we have a fortnightly swap system for fresh coffee and waste at each workplace) means we are unable to plug into many existing softwares. At the moment, our logistics and inventory are managed via a complicated network of Google Sheets. Down the track, we’re hoping to build IOT coffee canisters that feed information to us and the clinet around consumption rates, thereby enabling us to automate refills and accurately calculate impact statistics.

We’ve had a lot of success using virtual reality technology to connect coffee drinkers with growers, and have taken hundreds of our consumers on an immersive journey to Uganda using Oculus Rift headsets and 360 footage we’ve captured in our field visits.

Every one of Kua’s coffee drums save 360 single-use bags from landfill. Our canisters are Australian-made plastic that is 100% Recyclable.

Kua coffee is expensive. Relatively. As product stewards: from crop to cup to community garden, we need our entire supply chain to be traceable and accountable. We strive to leave a handprint that’s bigger than our footprint, generating a net-positive impact on society and the environment. We thank our current workplaces who are willing to pay the true cost of their coffee, however, our price has been a significant barrier in our sales pipeline and limits Kua’s growth potential. 

For many, Kua coffee costs AUD 39/kg. This is our price breakdown: 

34% Coffee

  • – $5.49 farm-gate price
  • – $0.24 hungry season contribution
  • – $2.18 washing, drying and milling
  • – $0.48 sustainable farming workshops
  • – $0.70 freight
  • – $2.71 roasting

10% Circularity

  • – $1.72 delivery and waste collection
  • – $0.52 canister cleaning
  • – $1.23 reusable packaging

48% Company

  • – $8.06 staff
  • – $0.45 marketing
  • – $4.41 growth
  • – $3.15 rent and storage
  • – $0.62 compliance
  • – $0.15 systems and equipment

8% Climate

  • – $2.89 farmer resilience fund

We think similar principles could be applied to:

  • – Tea production and consumption
  • – Repeat consumables (toilet paper, handwash, coffee, snacks) delivery to workplaces, high density living areas, schools etc.)

Success is to see Kua replicated in cities globally; linking coffee drinkers with coffee growers everywhere, through immersive consumption experiences.

Team Members

Darcy Small

Co-founder / Strategy

Hamish Toohey


Brianna Kerr

Director of Impact

Brody Smith

Co-founder / Marketing

Digby Ayton

Creative Director