The big, homely coconut is put to use in a wide variety of foods, from the ever popular Almond Joy to the serious contender to the dairy based ice cream throne, Coconut Bliss. Drinking the juice is a unique, highly efficient hydration treat. But what happens to the thick, fibrous hull? Not much, typically.
That is until now. At the recent West Coast Green conference, Triple Pundit writer Clara Kuo found them being put to gorgeous use: Kirei, which fittingly means clean/beautiful in Japanese have created a line of tiles made from what would otherwise have been agricultural waste, with gorgeous results. Kuo told me she couldn’t resist touching them. How home decor looks is of course important, but to have a tactile connection to it is gratifying as well.
While they are easy on the eye, there is much more to them then that.
By making the shell into tile, they divert them from their usual fate, being burnt or thrown away, adding to air pollution or to already overburdened landfills. Coconut flesh, milk, and juice are consumed in even higher quantities outside the US, so you can imagine the amount of waste being created as well, and the potential impact that an increasing market for coconut based decor could have.
FSC certified wood is in the mix here as well, providing a smooth backing for the naturally textured coconut to meet more linear surfaces. The glue that brings this all together is either low or zero VOC. Together, they create a visually unique, environmentally considerate product.
Coco Tiles also qualify for LEED points, as they are even more renewable then the venerable bamboo, which takes years to grow back, while coconuts come back annually. And the shell counts as post consumer recycled material. Soon, with complete FSC certification for their whole supply chain, that aspect will count as well.
The only quibble I have with them is that the materials come from Malaysia and they’re made in China, which means a fairly sizable carbon footprint for their shipping to the US, as compared to producing them from coconuts in the tropical regions south of the US, or even in the US, if there is enough raw material. And what about labor practices? Taking a look at their site, they nicely answer this, saying
We aim to bring new economic activity to our source regions by providing new jobs at fair market wages in a safe, healthy workplace while lessening human impact on the environment.
Readers: What other non food uses of coconut have you found? And what about other products that divert waste to be made into useful products? Verterra is another example.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.