Consumers worldwide are going (coco)-nuts for this popular alternative to various skincare, food and even jewelry products: the tropical coconut.
Why? Because every part of the coconut is reusable! Coconuts are a natural and more sustainable option for consumers, as they become ever-increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of their purchases.
Ways to Use Coconuts in your Business
So how do we get creative with coconuts? There isn’t a single answer, because of just how versatile every part of the coconut fruit is.
Let’s break it down, part by part.
The shell is what comes to mind when most people think of coconuts: the hard, hairy, dark outside covering the coconut. They can easily be recycled into bowls or even various utensils, and some people have even made different types of crafts with the shell, such as buttons and instruments. Even more interesting is the energy potential of coconut shells: they’re an attractive biomass fuel, and sometimes can be used to produce steam. Commercially, they’re commonly used for producing charcoal. Activated charcoal, often used in skincare or different diets, can then come from coconut shells.
The Flesh and Water
You’ve probably seen the myriad of different coconut food products at any grocery store. They all come from the coconut flesh. From flour to cream to oil to milk and sugar, you can usually make any sort of food alternative out of the coconut. Usually, the flesh is first dried before it is turned into anything else. Coconut products are gluten-free, and also have various anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Better yet, many of the ways to make coconut products can be done at home, including coconut oil (that can both be eaten or used as a hair conditioner for itchy scalps!)
From the coconut husk, you’ll get coconut fibre — a hard, sturdy material that can be used in floor mats, brushes, mattresses, and more. They’re found between the shell and the outer coat of the coconut. Other uses include natural scrubbers, which last much longer than plastic dish scrubbers and are also more sustainable.
The Rest of the Tree
Finally, while they aren’t part of the actual fruit itself, you can use the leaves, the tree trunk and even the flowers of the tree. The leaves of coconut trees are sturdy, and can be made into various brushes and brooms, or baskets and mats. In some Asian cultures, leaves are used to wrap and keep food stored. The tree trunk can be made into different types of furniture, and the flowers into herbal medicines.
Coconuts are such an extremely versatile source, and can be used in a number of different industries. They’ve witnessed a rapid growth across all markets, and are expected to double by 2026 to reach $31.1 billion. That’s the power of these exotic coconuts — but equally so, the power of sustainable markets.
How do I start with coconuts?
Coconuts are native to islands in Southeast Asia, although today, you’ll find them dotting beaches anywhere from Hawaii to the Caribbeans. They’re a cousin of the palm tree, although they cause significantly less environmental damage than palm oil plantations.
Typically, coconuts don’t require pesticides or herbicides, and they’re harvested by hand instead of industrial-type machinery.
But this doesn’t mean coconuts are the perfect solution.
As demand for coconuts grows, coconut farming is growing too. Similar to how palm oil trees devastated the native ecosystem and drained the soil of nutrients, coconut farming could also become dangerous if farmers begin to maximize production by using chemical fertilizers.
Ultimately, if you want to use coconut in your products, start by following these two steps:
1. Do your research.
Of course, this should go without saying that before you choose any coconut supplier, it’s important to ask the relevant questions. Where are their coconuts from? How are they farming their coconuts? Are there any practices in place that would help to subsidize the environmental cost of their farming? How transparent is the supplier about telling you more information about their supply line and procedures? These are questions that you can ask to see if the supplier has similar values as yours.
2. Make sure your supplier is certified Fair Trade and organic.
Fair Trade has two main goals: poverty alleviation and sustainable development. That means if an organization is certified Fair Trade, they’ll be working with workers in developing countries to create social and economic opportunities. It’s important to ensure your supplier is certified Fair Trade to hold them accountable for their actions. For example, since coconut farmers typically are paid more under a Fair Trade partnership, this means they’ll be less likely to overgrow crops and destroy the existing eco-system. Also, if their product is organic, this means they won’t use any chemical fertilizers that could contaminate the soil, water sources, the air and surrounding environment. It also means when you use the coconuts for your own products, you can rest assured that the coconuts pose no major toxic risk to your consumers.
To suddenly wake up to countless orders of your new and unique product, it requires a lot of researching and testing, but be creative – and know that the time you invest in product development/sourcing is what will make you profitable and competitive in the future.
The Story of the Coconut Jeweler
For Brittany Joy, owner of BE JOY jewelry, coconut was the natural — and perfect — option for her to continue her business. Before she moved to Indonesia, she’d been making jewelry from shells, river stones and leather. But in Gili Trawangan, she found that shells were actually homes for sea creatures, and were protected by local organizations.
“I was pretty discouraged,” she said. “It felt like everything I wanted to make would be harmful to the environment. But then I met Frankie on Gili Air! He comes from a family of coconut carvers and has a shop where he sells his jewelry. It seemed like the perfect sustainable solution. It’s basically food waste!”
Brittany decided to combine the coconuts with another local element: silver. Indonesia has a rich heritage of silversmiths, so she could keep all the production local — meaning less transportation and less pollution.
“It all just seemed logical. Plus, the coconut is all hand carved, with no machines or electricity. Just Frankie with a little saw, some sand paper, and coconut oil for polishing,” Brittany said. “It’s really basic and sustainable.”
Her customers usually tell her they’ve never seen anything like coconut jewelry. They expect to see something not too shiny, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that that’s only the hairy outer husk; the shell inside can be used too, she says.
As customers are beginning to ask where their money is going towards, and what their products are made from, Brittany said it’s time for sellers to think outside the box and be more creative with materials, as well as their ideas around sustainable products.
“The future of sustainable jewelry is repurposed recycled materials, so we should use cut offs and waste instead of always creating new materials. Our world produces SO MUCH STUFF and creates so much waste,” she said.
“The answers are out there! It’s time people get creative.”