It’s an attempt to lessen the environmental impact of used coffee grounds, which in Finland can be as much as 14,380,600 tonnes every year. That is 13% of the country’s annual food refuse, with only fruits and vegetables being thrown in the bin, and coffee being poured down the drain.
“When we started, we actually realised that only five per cent of the coffee waste in the world actually gets recycled,” says Rens co-founder and CEO, Jesse Tran. “Coffee waste is a bio waste, but it produces a lot of methane, which is like 32 times more potent than CO2. So what we do here is just extend the life cycle.”
Global demand for coffee is expected to double by 2050, but coffee cultivation is becoming more and more challenging, due to rising temperatures affecting plantations around the world. Therefore, it’s important to find ways to recycle, renew and reuse its byproducts. This could reduce the build up of methane gases and coffee’s contribution to climate change.
A pair of Rens’ first-generation ‘Original’ shoes contain 300 grams of coffee waste, the equivalent to 21 cups.
“After you drink the coffee and throw the coffee grounds away, we actually mix it with recycled plastic pellets made from used water bottles,” explains Tran. “We then create something called coffee polyester yarn. The majority of the upper part of our shoes is made from this material.”
The company launched a KickStarter campaign in 2017, raising over €486,000 in just 24 hours. A follow-up campaign in August 2021 raised an additional €300,000, and was used to produce Nomad, a second-generation version of the sneaker.
“In the market, sustainable products are really popular. What we see as a problem is that those products are not made for young people,” says co-founder and CTO Son Chu. “The way that they are selling the products is like: ‘Hey, use us or else the planet is going to die.’ We don’t like that approach. We want to be a brand where we make sustainable products, but they are cool, they have really cool functions, people can actually use them.”
Rens claims to offset all emissions from the production, packaging and distribution of its products, in an effort to create a truly climate neutral product.
Currently, the price for a pair of the company’s latest footwear is €96. However, the success has prompted the company to explore new applications for its sustainable technology.
“Whatever product we make, we will apply the same formula, which is from waste-based material,” says Tran. “It can be coffee waste again, or it can be something else.”