The afternoon sun poured through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the Hive, an organic vegetarian market and wine bar located in south Hackney. Plastic-Free Hackney representatives, Michelle Li and Jenny Mullin, sat down with the co-founder, Marco Tassone. The three met to discuss sustainability trends throughout the Food & Beverage sector, consumer behavior within East London, and the real motivating factors that drive and his wife/co-founder to run a sustainable business.
Marco and his wife, Ilaria Giovannini, were way ahead of the environmentalist movement. They began their journey as vegans over 20 years ago and have continued to make personal and professional decisions surrounding minimizing waste, and reducing their environmental impact. Having opened their shop in Hackney roughly 10 years ago, they consider themselves to be pioneers of east London sustainable business. Their beliefs are grounded in providing high quality food and beverage offerings that are organic where possible, having used no chemicals or pesticides in the production process. These fundamentals were all grounded in Marco’s home region of Piemonte, Italy.
They are at the forefront of East London’s environmentalist movement. Ilaria takes the lead on research - sourcing local and sustainable goods, whether it be compostable cups & cutlery, or vetting their produce suppliers to ensure that their crops are of the highest quality and certifiably organic. She sources materials for the market and cafe that are highly eco-friendly, offering compostable cups and paper straws for brewed beverages and they encourage patrons to provide their own reusable cups when possible. While eco-friendly products have been known to be somewhat more expensive, it’s an expense they’re willing to absorb for the sake of their mission. has noticed a slight decrease in the price of eco-friendly products in recent years due to their growing popularity, which is ultimately a win for businesses and consumers alike.
While these ‘eco-friendly’ products were created with the intention of reducing our negative footprint on the environment, they are by no means an all-encompassing solution. Being aware of this is the first of many steps. There are a number of future innovations required from the “eco-friendly” products industry - even plant based plastics provide us with a seemingly viable solution as it’s essentially a closed loop system, but in some cases, even these products may ultimately be incinerated due to contamination - entirely defeating the purpose of their existence. The market is continually seeking solutions that are both accessible, environmentally sustainable, and ideally circular - meaning they’re able to be repurposed and reused time and time again. Marco and numerous other business owners in East London are aware of the leaps and bounds the eco-friendly product market needs to make in order to be considered truly ‘sustainable’.
The Hive owners assisted their sustainably-minded friend to pilot a program years ago that had seen success in Germany, a “returnable” coffee cup program. The intent was to reduce overall waste and promote reusing items by selling returnable, reusable coffee cups to frequent customers. With the exchange of a small deposit, the cups could be taken by customers at their leisure and returned when convenient. The hive took full ownership of washing and distributing the cups. Despite the effort, this initiative never quite caught on for Londoners. Firstly, the overall look & feel of the returnable cups were not entirely appealing to the consumer in East London. Additionally - it wasn’t convenient for customers to return the cups, and very few coffee shops in the area participated. This type of initiative requires significant buy in from the community and local like-minded businesses in order to work. Additionally, it was difficult for The Hive to remember or keep track of which customers had paid for the service. While the initiative had legs, there were a few key factors that prevented it from taking off, something to be mindful of for future endeavors. In spite of this, Marco and Ilaria are constantly seeking opportunities to promote sustainable living through their business.
The Hive prides itself on offering goods that cannot easily be found in other shops throughout the city, or even across Europe. The wine selection alone is wildly impressive. Marco has created a strategic partnership with several organically certified wineries in his native region in Italy. You will be hard pressed to find these wines in any other store anywhere else in the United Kingdom. He takes pride in regularly visiting these wineries to gain real knowledge about the wine-making process, ensuring that the products he promotes in his store are of the highest quality - and completely organic!
While East London, and Hackney in particular, is known for being home to exceptionally environmentally conscious consumers, the driving force behind Marco’s sustainable business model is truly being driven by his deep-rooted beliefs in living a healthy, green lifestyle. With dozens of other options popping up throughout the borough in recent years, consumers have had their pick of coffee shops, markets, and cafes to choose from, but the passion and purpose exuded by Marco and Ilaria is what sets The Hive apart. If more businesses adopted a similar mindset of reducing waste and doing good for the environment, this could help us all live more sustainably. The close proximity to Regent’s Canal makes it an excellent stopping point for a quick refresh, so next time you’re in the neighborhood - be sure to stop in and say “ciao”!
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