Stephen Halpin – co-founder of Sustain Me

SSE logo (1)This is part of a series of interviews with alumni from the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia which inspires and equips changemakers and social entrepreneurs to establish, scale and sustain social ventures that foster social and economic participation, and create a lasting impact within disadvantaged communities.


Stephen is a 25 year old social entrepreneur and co-founder of Sustain Me, a new free recycling app available to Victorians from the 29th of July. The app will tell you how and where to recycle items, making the refrain, “Can I recycle this coffee cup?” a question of the past .

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Born in the United Kingdom, Stephen immigrated to Australia with his family in 2004 and spent most of his formative adolescent years making up for lost time in the sun on the Mornington Peninsula, surrounded by pristine beaches and national parks.

Now a resident of Melbourne, Stephen regularly enjoys a cup of filter in the morning, pho for lunch and spends his spare time competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and writing screenplays at Melbourne Universities’ VCA campus as part of a Masters.

Could you tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

When I lived on the Peninsula I spent most of my time surfing, so I have a real affinity with the natural environment. I was hiking along a piece of pretty isolated coast, facing out to Bass Strait and there was litter everywhere. Pieces of rubbish as far as the eye could see: polystyrene, meat packaging and glass bottles on a seemingly untouchable coastline. This got me thinking…

My business partner, Eleanor Meyer and I, were paired together in a competition run by the Oxfam-Monash partnership which encouraged undergraduate students to think creatively about a social issue.

While up against a lot of other great ideas, we successfully pitched and managed to secure some seed funding from the competition and that set us on an interesting journey. The idea that one can make a difference is always spruced – be it by family, friends and school – but the Sustain Me app was a way to see if we could actually do something.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?

The launch of the Sustain Me app is really exciting! Its been a long, hard but exciting 24 month process which has taken us everywhere, and constantly pushed us out of our comfort zone. We’ve pitched the idea to almost every level of government, to not-for-profits, large multi-nationals, student groups and everyone in between. The support it’s had has really helped us keep moving forward, even when we’ve been discouraged. So I am really excited to watch the app grow and see how it impacts recycling levels and Melbourne’s carbon footprint. 


How do you make ideas happen? 

My BJJ coaches have always impressed upon me the importance of just showing up, even when you are exhausted, even when you don’t want to. This type of discipline translates into any business action- you make a plan and you keep yourself accountable to that plan. I don’t think ideas- or anything worthwhile ever just happen over night, rather its a day to day, moment to moment commitment, even when you don’t feel like it- This was exactly how we made the Sustain Me app happen.

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What does your typical day look like?

Each day varies but I keep my time split between the Sustain Me app, my writing and training BJJ. Being a start-up means the tasks for the Sustain Me app never end. This means I can be doing anything from marketing, to databasing, or sales. Once I have completed some of the key things I’ll generally train – the guys I train with at Absolute South Yarra and Nova Uniao are of an incredible standard and it lets me shake out the cobwebs of a morning spent sitting at a desk. After training I will usually write.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing your idea in Australia?

Sustain Me was incredibly under resourced, under funded and we were inexperienced and unsure. What we did have was enthusiasm, great access to advisors and people who were happy to guide and give free advice. Ben Jeffries was an instrumental support initially, and led us toward the School for Social Entrepreneurs who connected us to organisations like FYA, PWC and Macquarie. People like Matthew Gordon from OurSay have also provided golden pieces of advice which continually helps us grow.

But aside from these wins, the biggest difficulty for Sustain Me has revolved around proving how an app will change recycling habits and whether people will actually download it. We are confident it will and have designed it to fit in with the Melbourne aesthetic – but only time will tell. 

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Planning prevents piss poor performance. And patience… You can never have too much patience.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

There’s so much really incredible small scale stuff going on at the moment which gets swept under the rug or ignored because Apple or Tesla have launched a new product.

Simple things like councils and state governments working out a way to collect and compost residential food waste is going to change our carbon footprint massively.

The coffee scene at the moment is bordering on scientific, which is pretty incredible and something I enjoy – dedicated barristas on the pursuit of the most organic, untouched, traceable bean and perfect ratios is pretty cool.

Organisations like Netflix who in one fell swoop (deliberate or not) have championed reclaiming T.V. and film back from the commercial networks and giving us content without ads? That’s amazing foresight and anyone that slags it off is just jealous they didn’t think of it!

And of course the Sustain Me app. That’s cool.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

It’s not a role it’s a responsibility! Early on we had to decide whether Sustain Me would be a not-for-profit or a social enterprise, which is essentially a business which champions and invests in a purpose rather than shareholders – and really shouldn’t all businesses be doing that?

Can you name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

The Conversation:


mobility wod:

What about 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?




Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Absolutely, we are always looking for people that think they can support the idea – specifically around marketing and business direction.

Whats your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Auction Rooms in North Melbourne or Slater St Bench on St Kilda road.


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