I investigated one of Glasgow’s newest climate-aware cafes and got to the heart of what makes them an excellent example for all local businesses.
In today’s busy society, there’s one drink that fuels the entire student population, dragging them from lecture hall to revision session. Coffee. And what urban city would be complete without a roster of cafés? Glasgow is no different, offering a wide array of choices from staple chains to more obscure coffee shacks. In fact, there are so many, how could you ever know which ones to choose? Here at Rising Clyde, we believe that the climate emergency should be one of the deciding factors in your choice of coffee haunt. One simple decision could make a significant difference to the world around us.
One establishment stands out in a crowd of otherwise generic, dimly-lit coffee parlours Blah Blah opened in late August last year and has been getting rave reviews, both for its great-tasting food and low prices. But beyond that, it’s a café that focuses on offering sustainable and climate-friendly alternatives to some of the more well-known players in the light lunch category. They choose to ensure that all food and its respective packaging are completely biodegradable and that ingredients are sourced locally. It’s named after Greta Thunberg’s impassioned war cry, a statement that they hope to echo in their own practises.
I spoke to the owner, Nichola Carrigan, on her process and means of keeping a sustainable business running in today’s current climate. She offered sound advice for all those who might find themselves wondering why they should bother with the climate in the first place. And for many of us who find ourselves working part-time in generic chain restaurants and abysmal fast-food joints, she offers us ways to make a difference ourselves.
Why take this approach in the first place?
’s go through a lot of food waste and general waste. I used to work at places that used polystyrene packaging, and it was just disastrous. They were still using them up until last year! The food was great, but the packaging was terrible, and that’s when I realised that this can’t happen any longer
We decided that everything would be compostable, our milk organic, ordered in reusable tubs. We don’t have a big build-up of waste all the time now. Even right down to individual cakes and snacks, everything is brown-bagged. Which on top of everything, looks great as well!
I often think of organic food as being quite expensive. Your prices here are much cheaper than alternatives you might get in Starbucks. How do you manage it?
If you’re doing takeaway, there’s no reason for it to be too expensive. And 70 percent of our take-in is from the coffee. All done locally from a guy who has a coffee facility down on the South-side. The sandwiches are all vegetarian, and the vegetables come from local greengrocers.
It’s just wee changes to everyday procedures, and I think it’s just about taking it one step at a time. You’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. All these things you’ll learn on your own, or just talk to other cafes and they’ll give you tips. Just seeing something and being inspired by it is a great practice. Eventually, everyone will go down this road, I think. Even corner cafes and small vans, they’re all changing as well. We have a surplus of butchers and organic milk places, and it’s making a big difference. You can tell the difference as well; it tastes so good!
Is it easy for cafés to switch items on their existing menus for more climate-conscious alternatives?
You just have to put a bit of the work in and do some research yourself, and the tools and resources are out there. Suppliers are changing now as well. Many of the ones I use have individual catalogues for vegan food, locally sourced food, and everything organic, even the packaging, so there’s no real reason not to be changing.
Apart from cup lids, I’ve noticed, but they’re becoming partly recyclable now. The public has become a lot more conscious about what they’re buying, so listening to the customers is so important, it’s the only way to go. There’s no going back now.
Do you have a system for managing food waste? It’s a massive problem for some establishments.
Try and keep the menu as simple as possible. Offer food that can be quite flexible so that the same ingredients can be used for a variety of dishes. Very easy to do if you’re a vegetarian-only café.
Perhaps all we waste is a cake that’s going out of date, but even then, I’ll eat it! You can give any waste to websites that reduce it to a lower price, and then other people will come in and buy it. Even McDonald’s does that now. Rather than waste a fifteen-pound plate, do it for a fiver. And when we have food banks as they are now, we should be focusing on reducing our waste.
Not just for the homeless, it’s working people who are also attending food banks. Try and keep the prices low; it’s not fair really to change too much. People should be able to come in for a treat at lunchtime, and it just all makes sense.
Any final words of advice?
Every day is a learning experience for me, no doubt about it. There is no single or best way to do it. It’s just about making small changes that eventually add up and make a difference. People will come in and tell us about a new opportunity, and we’ll take it! It’s an education. There’s no right way to help the planet, and everyone can do their bit!
Blah Blah Blah is open 8am – 6pm Monday to Saturday, and can be found at 476 Dumbarton Road.