Producing gourmet mushrooms from coffee waste

The Aarhus-based project that puts sustainable living in the spotlight and reinforces the idea that young people can make a difference to the city environment.

by Laura Maia, photos by Giang Pham

It was -2ºC, but that didn’t matter. The passion and enthusiasm that Cecilia Sairanen and Esben Pedersen, both in their late twenties, showed while explaining their new project last Friday February 10th, almost made it possible to forget the cold whilst they showed us the container they recently built at Aarhus harbour.

Sairanen and Pedersen’s ‘Fra Grums Til Gourmet’ project adopts an idea that has been spreading around the world: growing mushrooms from the coffee waste collected in cafés and restaurants. The initiative involves 15 volunteers that are already part of Aarhus’ ‘green scenario’. What they have in common is an interest in sustainable development and a willingness to dedicate time to their city.

“We dream of showcasing an alternative to conventional economy. All the sales money will be used to finance other green projects in Aarhus,” says Sairanen. It is expected that the container will be ready to grow the first oyster mushroom within the next month.

The container is located in Aarhus' harbour, between the Dome of Visions and Dokk1.

The waste container is located at Aarhus’ harbour, between the Dome of Visions and Dokk1

New business models
Mushroom farms made from coffee waste have become one of the most common examples illustrating the possibility of building new business models and finding solutions by using what is available; this is the core idea behind the Blue Economy concept.

The term was created by Belgian economist Gunter Pauli, who was in Aarhus for a talk in the Kaospilot School on February 9th. It describes the philosophy of Zero Emissions Research & Initiatives (ZERI) – a global network founded by Pauli – in action. ZERI was ranked as one of the top 10 most innovative policy think tanks in the world by the University of Pennsylvania in 2016.

According to Pauli, the Blue Economy is “where the best for health and the environment is cheapest and the necessities for life are free thanks to a local system of production and consumption that works with what you have.”

He presented to students not only this concept, but also projects already implemented in many different countries, including sustainable farming (even under the ocean), handling urban solid waste, energy and so on.

Sairanen and Pedersen being advised by Mr. Pauli's ideas.

Sairanen and Pedersen being advised by Mr Pauli’s ideas

“We have to remember that less damage is still damage. If I am a thief and I promise that I would steal less from you, would you be happy? No! So why does it work when we talk about companies and pollution? Less pollution is still pollution,” he emphasised to the audience.

“Contrary to what people believe, high quality and sustainable products do not need to be expensive,” he argued. To support it, he used the mushrooms example. He explains that, when cultivated from the coffee grounds, it needs much less transportation so is cheaper, fresh, creates jobs and injects money into the local economy. According to Pauli, there are around five thousand initiatives in mushroom farming from coffee waste around the world.

Bringing the initiative to Aarhus
With these concepts in mind, Pedersen, who had worked with Pauli on previous projects, had the idea of starting the ‘Fra Grums Til Gourmet’ initiative in Aarhus. As he works in the Danish green think tank ‘Concito’, it was not difficult to activate his network and find volunteers interested in working on the project. The idea was so attractive that there is even a waiting list to get involved!

Last week, just one month before starting the project, Pedersen and Sairenen had the opportunity to show Pauli the container where the mushrooms will be cultivated.

2017 Feb 10 - Mushroom farm-23

The proud team with Gunter Pauli, ready to change the world

“Cultivating mushrooms is part science and part art. And they got it. The power of what they are doing here is that they are bringing together volunteers that want to give more opportunities to the city. They totally have the spirit,” said Pauli after visiting the container.

Clearly proud, Sairanen asked: “Do you mind taking a picture of us in front of the container?” And thus we have the first step of the fruitful relationship between Aarhus and the Blue Economy. Stay tuned for further coverage of the story after we try the mushrooms next month!


Gunter Pauli visited Aarhus for an inspiring talk held at Kaospilot on February 9th. To find out more about his work, visit the Blue Economy websiteZERI’s website or Pauli’s own site here.

To find out more about Denmark’s think tank ‘Concito’ and be part of the change, visit their website here. You can follow the ‘Fra Grums til Gourmet’ project on their Facebook page.

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