What a Coconut Man Taught Us About Sustainable Living

Innovation and genius can often be disguised as simplicity. A few years ago, on a visit to South East Asia during its hot and humid summertime, a chance meeting with one such man taught us this lesson. A lesson which continues to inspire our work with Coconut Bowls today. 

Coconut Bowls Young Green Coconut

The Coconut Man, a villager in his mid-50s, sits at his roadside shack waiting for customers to come by. His skin is tanned and wrinkled, but his eyes beam with the vitality of youth. Entering the shade of his shanty stall with shirt saturated in sweat and mouth parched with thirst, the old coconut man knew just what this tourist wanted when he pointed to the pile of young green fruits by his shack. Hopping off his chair, he mulls over them for a moment before picking a large ripe coconut from the pile.

With a strong twist of his seasoned hands, the coconut man plucks the fruit off its stem. He throws a few sharp swings of his iron machete onto its fibrous husk, and in moments, a clean round hole is carved into its shell revealing its precious clear liquids.

“No need plastic sir, drinking with mouth good.” the coconut man gleams and points to the expertly cut hole on the coconut. Accepting his offer, the old man chuckles and places his palms together in a gesture of gratitude.

Within seconds, the water of the coconut is downed and the empty shell returned to the amused coconut man. Picking up his trusty machete, he cuts off a thin sliver from the coconut’s husk before halving the fruit in two fell swoops. After using the sliced husk to scrape the succulent white flesh off its shell, he plops it back into the opened coconut to be used as a spoon.

A smile grows on the coconut man’s face when complimented about the simple brilliance of his idea. Beaming with pride and joy, he begins to share in broken English the set of approaches he uses in his business and everyday life. They were simple and effective practices for sustainable living that anyone can adopt and apply.

Here is what the coconut man shared, and how we can apply it to our lives.

Replace what you can 

There was no need for an additional spoon to eat from the coconut, and the coconut man knew that. He could easily cut a slice of husk which would do a better job of scraping and scooping the coconut’s flesh. By using his creativity and skill, he replaces the need for an additional source of waste and expense.

How to apply it

One of the first steps toward sustainable living is to replace unhealthy consumption with better alternatives.

  • Going grocery shopping? Replace single-use plastic bags with reusable grocery bags.
  • Getting a drink from a juice store? Bring a bottle and use a reusable straw instead. (hyperlink to bamboo straw page)
  • Grabbing some food to-go? Have it packed in a reusable container and eat with reusable utensils. (hyperlink to wooden cutlery page)

One of the largest source of waste comes from single-use products. By replacing them with a reusable alternative, the waste that disposable products create is reduced.

Coconut Bowls Sustainability

Refuse when you can. Reduce when you cannot.

Out of a need to stay competitive with other businesses, the coconut man leaves straws as an option for his customers. However, he makes sure to point out that his cleanly cut coconut did not need a straw to be drunk from. With this simple reminder, he significantly decreases his plastic consumption compared to neighbouring vendors who plop it into the coconut without asking.

How to apply it

The best way to reduce waste is to refuse it at the source. Whenever there is an option not to create waste, go with that option. When there isn’t one, consume less of it and consider better preparation or alternatives next time. Practice recycling, or even better, find a way to reuse, repurpose or upcycle. Waste is only waste when treated as such!

Repurpose and Upcycling

By plucking the stems off each coconut and leaving them to dry in the sun, the coconut man turns them into fire feed which he uses for cooking and staying warm during the chilly evenings in his village. Smoke from the dried stems also acts as an insect repellent which he uses to keep pesky mosquitoes at bay.

After removing the husk of the dried coconut, the coconut man gives them to his neighbour who uses a machine to turn its fibrous husk into coir ropes. He weaves them into all kinds of items; nets, bags, and even a doormat for his house. His wife also uses the dried coconut fiber as a dishwashing scrub.

How to apply it

As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The possibilities are endless when waste is approached this way.

  • Stained clothes can be repurposed as rags
  • Old clothes can be up-cycled into bags
  • Food waste can be made into compost
  • Grey water can be used to water plants

The products at Coconut Bowls are born and made with this creative spirit. By keeping an open mind and taking a fresh look at things, it is easy to turn “trash” into treasure.

Lead by example. Remind with a smile.

The coconut man never forces his customers to refuse a straw. With his warm smile and joyful approach, he points them toward a better option - drinking straight from his cleanly cut coconut. Not only does his friendly approach help customers make a better decision, he also wins them over in the process.

How to apply it

Living sustainably is not just about buying better, it is also about choosing better. It includes everything from what is done to how things are done. When sharing about sustainable living, the focus is often on the dos and don’ts. While those are essential things to look at, the better way to spread sustainable living is by leading with a joyful example and adopting an inclusive approach.

This is what we strive for at Coconut Bowls everyday!

What can we do today to create a more sustainable lifestyle? We are always inspired by your stories and ideas. 

For a feature on our Instagram, tag #coconutbowls and #sucksustainably. Also, check out our range of natural products that you can adopt in your sustainable journey today!