The Hive, a co-operative tucked in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur – is fast becoming an intriguing hangout spot. It’s not the latest hipster coffeehouse or fusion-whatever eatery, but rather a social enterprise that offers solutions to sustainable living.

The Hive operates from an actual house. In the living room, there are over 50 bulk whole foods (local and imported) including nuts, legumes and cereals. Homemade food spreads, biscuits, oils, seasoning and baking condiments are available, too.

The co-op was set up in late-2016 by zero waste advocate Claire Sancelot, a Frenchwoman married to a Malaysian. The Hive serves as a one-stop centre where customers can shop for products in a sustainable, ethical and economical way.

“At co-ops, money spent stays within the community. It helps support homegrown traders and provides them with a source of income,” Sancelot explains. She adds that Bangsar was an ideal location because the area lacks a co-op that caters for its district.

The co-op gives budding business folk a chance to make a living and hone their skills. Local goods are ethically sourced to ensure it benefits manufacturers and consumers. “Food items like jams, soaps and spreads, handicraft and cosmetics are ordered from small-scale entrepreneurs. They comprise single mothers, stay-at-home mums, Orang Asli women, the disabled and refugees,” Sancelot says.

Last month, Sancelot clinched the United Nations’ award which honours outstanding contributions by individuals and organisations that practise the three underlying principles of Agenda 2030: leaving no one behind, sustainability and participation. The award was given to three recipients in conjunction with the UN’s 72nd anniversary.

Food, Skincare And More

The Hive caters to individuals with different preferences including vegans, organic food followers, and people with gluten intolerance. Also available are organic skincare items, cosmetics, personal care products, washable sanitary napkins and dog treats.

But the items here don’t come cheap. One 150g jar of almond butter costs RM15; 100g of organic white quinoa is RM5.20; and 50g of organic black pepper comes with a RM8.85 price tag. Sancelot underlines that though the products are pricey, customers can be assured of their quality.

“Items, especially organic food products, are carefully sourced from trusted distributors. These items are reusable, and in the long run consumers can save money. Plus, it is better for the environment,” she says.

The 40-year-old mother-of-three strongly advocates a zero waste lifestyle. In 2011, while living in Hong Kong, she founded zerowastehongkong, a blog focusing on eco-living and wellness, and the local media responded by calling her the “Green Queen”.

Then, Sancelot moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2015, and created the Zero Waste Kuala Lumpur page on Facebook that focuses on ways to go green. She says she’s honoured to receive the UN’s sustainable price.

“It isn’t difficult to change our ways to save the environment. We need to move to a plant-based diet or consume less meat and fish. Switch from disposable to reusable items. A change is needed and it should be done now. We have all the tools, we just need to use them.”

Orang Asli Vegetables

Sancelot walks the talk: she doesn’t subscribe to plastic or paper bags at the co-op. And don’t expect a physical receipt either. You’ll get it by e-mail.

“Customers are encouraged to bring their own recyclable bags, bottles and containers. To further reduce the carbon footprint, items are sold without extra packaging.”

She also hopes to educate consumers that buying in bulk can reduce wastage. “Buying in bulk is cheaper. It’s a great way to reduce on packaging and stretch the money further. On average, packaging and marketing accounts for 15% of a product’s price.”

Through The Hive, customers can order organic vegetables and fruit sourced from Orang Asli communities around Klang Valley. The produce is delivered to the store twice a week. on Thursdays and Saturdays.

Although the veg and fruit costs more than the greens at the wet market, consumers can be assured of their freshness. The produce is also free of pesticides, and it provide income for the Orang Asli farmers.

The Hive offers a closet with pre-loved clothes, shoes and handbags, too. It’s a place where consumers can purchase used items, including branded items, a fraction of its original price. “The pre-loved closet is where I shop myself,” Sancelot says. “It is crucial to change our shopping habits. Fast fashion is the third largest polluter of the planet, after fossil fuels and livestock.”

The Hive also holds weekly workshops on healthy zero waste living, for those wanting to learn how to cook organic dishes, make their own compost, or create homemade facial masks. And there’s an edible garden where you can learn how to plant your own vegetable garden.

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