B Corp 2nd Wave: Reunion Coffee – Adam Pesce

Reunion Coffee was founded in 1995 by Peter Pesce in Oakville, Canada (just outside of Toronto. When Peter started in the coffee business in the 1970s, it was still very “First Wave” in Toronto. Peter was a pioneer in Specialty coffee in Canada. In 2006 Adam Pesce joined the company, starting with involvement in sourcing green coffee and coffee buying. First, by getting involved in Fair Trade and extending that into Direct Trade practice. As they continued to grow, they realized that sourcing was only one aspect of their sustainability efforts could be. As Adam says, “we weren’t seeing the whole picture yet.” So Adam searched for a framework to help them build a better program. While attending a conference in Tanzania, Adam saw David Griswold of Sustainable Harvest speak about the benefits of B Corp. Adam felt that this might be the framework they were looking for once he realized that Reunion was already fulfilling many of the requirements required by B Corp.
In 2013 Reunion Coffee received its first B Corp Certification scoring an 83.8 on the first try. They are coming up on their tenth anniversary, just waiting for the audit on their third recertification. Mr. Pesce was kind enough to take some time to share Reunion’s journey with B Corp and why they still believe and continue to invest in striving for continuous improvements.

Jake Leonti (JL): What attracted you to B Corp in the first place?

Adam Pesce (AP): When I first got into coffee, I was on the Sustainability Council of the SCA in the early years of my coffee career. I got in through dumb luck and my willingness to work hard. That was formative for me. Learning about sustainability and how different companies approach it. I understood that there is no universal approach to sustainability. We all have our different tactics, and none more worthy than another. You figure out what you believe in and then how to execute what you believe in. It’s about giving it thought rather than following this straight line, a “Sustainable Company.”

JL: So, between your existing passion for sustainability and having a positive impact along with David Griswold, you were enchanted by B Corp. What are the most critical aspects of the certification to Reunion Coffee?

AP: The B Corp certification is the framework we built our sustainability platform onto for us. As I was learning how to be a more sustainable business, I started with sourcing; however, I realized that every coffee company would have some sort of sustainability story to their coffee. Whether it’s Fair Trade, Direct Trade, Organic, etc., this is often where it begins and ends with most coffee companies. So, I wanted to take a more holistic approach. The B Corp certification taught me how critical your employee’s well-being is to be a sustainable company. Sustainability, in its essence, is about the company being healthy in all ways so that it can sustain itself.

The First time we did the B Corp certification, I did it entirely by myself. The tenants of it cover your Governance and Transparency, the environment, your community, and your employees. The community component covers your supply chain. Governance is easy, and transparency that’s fine. Environmental, we were already doing lots of good things in that regard. Our supply chain was good, so our score was acceptable in the community, but our employee score was middling. It wasn’t that we weren’t doing things, it was still above average, but it was easily our lowest aspect. So, we realized we need to pay more attention to this. We can’t take for granted that our employees are Ok and they’re doing fine and got what they need.

We are a high percentage over minimum wage plus health care and benefits, including vision and dental. We have eighteen-month family leave to split between the parents. We needed to focus on our employees, and this is part of what is most valuable about B Corp. Everything we do is not because of B Corp, but when we must recertify or in the middle of one, we can look at our assessment and identify our gaps. B Corp is not perfect; however, they have done a lot of research around better business practices, and we get to use that information to help form what we will do next.

When I first got into suitability, it was very ad-hock. I would focus on random aspects. Once you can put a framework around it, B Corp provides, it is night and day. It is so much easier and more organized. If I were starting a business today, that would be the first place I would go to build that structure.

The whole point and premise of B Corp are that you’re imparting that sustainability and social enterprise mentality into the DNA of your business.

JL: What’s an example of this?

AP: This was highlighted perfectly during the pandemic. I was sure our score would drop because of the pandemic as we were not as busy, and we had to reduce our business in many ways. However, the opposite happened. Our score surprisingly went up. The reason is that sustainability is built into everything; it’s part of your supply chain, energy procurement, material procurement, and HR policies. It’s not just a line item on our PNL or Balance sheet where you can look at everything getting more expensive with the pandemic and decide to cut the sustainability line… it’s built-in everywhere. You must come in with a scalpel to get it all out. You build it right into your Articles of Incorporation. We had to get them rewritten to include our attestation that we would adhere to the policies and ethos of B Corp.

JL: What is the benefit of the B Corp for your customers?

AP: We are our customer’s sustainability story. Each of our coffees has a sustainability story, whether Organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, etc. Our B Corp certification and stamp on the bag make us the sustainability story for them. If they buy on the shelf at a grocery store, they know it is sustainable coffee. If it is a wholesale customer, we become the sustainable aspect of their business and what they sell. That is a tremendous value.

by Jake Leonti

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