Brewing for a Better Planet: A CEO's Insights on Sustainable Coffee Pods and Environmental Impact
At No Harm Done, we believe that sustainability is the future. That's why we're committed to transforming Singapore's beloved beverages into eco-friendly coffee pods that can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home.
In celebration of Earth Month, we took the chance to sit down with our CEO, Simon Leiberum, to discuss the inspiration behind our sustainable initiatives, our current projects, and the challenges we've faced along the way. We hope you'll read on to learn more about how we're making a positive difference in the world of coffee, one cup at a time.
Q: What inspired you to start No Harm Done, and how did you develop the idea for compostable coffee pods?
Simon: I came to Singapore 10 years ago and fell in love with the Kopi culture. I was amazed at how a seemingly simple beverage was such an integral part of the social fabric of Singapore, bringing together people from all walks of life. You could sit for hours in the Kopitiams watching the uncles and aunties pouring the dark liquid from pot to pot, weaving in a tale or two in the process!
However, when I looked beyond the streets, I noticed that the local coffee culture was being overshadowed by imported coffees from global conglomerates. These coffees were often packaged in unsustainable plastic or aluminum capsules, which was not only harmful to the environment but also ignored the rich heritage of Kopi culture.
And as I settled down in Singapore and had a family of my own, I became increasingly passionate about preserving this local culture. I spoke to my friends and family, and they echoed the desire for more convenient coffee options in their homes and workplaces. Hence, sparked the idea of having Kopi in convenient, eco-friendly coffee capsules, and NO HARM DONE was born!
Q: Can you share the process of developing No Harm Done’s sustainable coffee capsules?
All our coffee beans are grown in Asia. We source locally wherever possible to avoid having beans shipped around the world when we can get them locally. For our bestselling SG Kopi-O, it begins with Indonesian robusta beans, expertly roasted with sugar and margarine to develop the trademark toasty taste reminiscent of the iconic Kopi-O you can get in the Kopitiams, which are based on traditional recipes.
Our challenge was to recreate that experience in a tiny compostable capsule using only 5.7g of Kopi per 110 ml serving. The balance of roast intensity, ground coffee weight, and grind size make for the perfect cup. We pride ourselves on having the same Kopitiam taste that people love and often get excited feedback from customers.
Q: Can you tell us about any challenges you've faced in growing No Harm Done as a business, and how did you overcome them?
Simon: Nobody believed that consumers would buy Kopi-O in capsule form. Many investors didn’t buy into our idea and asked us to prove the concept first. So we started with $1000 and bootstrapped all the way. That was really hard. I even did our first packaging design and logo in PowerPoint. It wasn’t great, but enough to start selling. With no knowledge of advertising, we heavily relied on recommendations and great reviews. We had one type of organic coffee and sold it in 100 capsule boxes. Interestingly, we got really popular in certain areas of Singapore, for example, Bukit Timah. Our early customers were mostly families in landed houses that happily paid a little extra for an eco-friendly alternative.
But, this came with limitations to scaling the company and brought our first identity crisis upon us. Did we want to be another eco-chic brand that served the wealthy few? Should we give up and do something else? We voted ‘NO’ and decided to undergo a rebranding.
If we really wanted to create an impact, we needed to address the mass market. We wrote ‘Impact over Perfection’ on our company value wall and decided that we don’t want to sit around twiddling our thumbs and talking about how to change the world. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to make a difference, one capsule at a time.
Q: How does your passion for sustainability influence the decisions you make as CEO of No Harm Done?
Simon: I strongly believe that people need more commonly available sustainable options. Products that can replace the unsustainable ones we have learned to love. Sustainable alternatives are at the same level of convenience but designed with sustainability at their core. Sustainability and perfection do not go well together if we want to drive change and create impact. Preaching the perfect way might annoy consumers instead of encouraging change. However, a gentle nudge toward a small change might go a long way.
As to how sustainability plays into my decision-making, it’s really in the little things. Like making sure we have recycled packaging, which can be further recyclable and compostable. We give back with every capsule, supporting the elderly in social isolation with your help. Lastly, we source ethically, so everyone in our supply chain benefits from your morning brew.
We also care about giving back to the community. Farmers are the backbone of this industry, but they rarely get the credit or the profit that they deserve. We source our organic coffee from communities like the Doi Chaang Farmers in Thailand. The least we can do is make sure that they are paid fairly and treated right.
Q: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are interested in starting a sustainable business?
Starting a new business is definitely not an easy ride. I think ‘rollercoaster’ is an apt description for the last four years. From sleepless nights to ecstatic joy, it’s all in the package. Especially at the early stage when I used to do everything myself. It can feel lonely at times and doubts creep in. Is this going to work? What if I fail and what does that mean for my family?
What really helped me in my journey was the social and environmental focus of NO HARM DONE. Even when times get rough and nothing seems to work, the belief to be doing the right thing, something worthwhile regardless of its financial outcome, carried me through many lows.
No Harm Done is leading the way in sustainable business practices as a company. From compostable coffee pods to a strong commitment to sourcing ethically and giving back to the community, we believe that small steps can make a big difference.