5 Ways to Optimize your Coffeehouse for Sustainability
Whether you’re an avid environmentalist, or are simply looking to improve your bottom line, being conscientious and strategic about the resources your business utilizes can help you save money, decrease waste, and turn your business into a model of responsible operation that your community will be proud to support. Here are 5 easy ways how:
1) Serve the Right Beans
As you probably know, high-quality coffee begins on the farm. Choose carefully-sourced beans from farms using sustainable and ethical growing methods to ensure that you are serving the richest and most satisfying brew, both in the cup and in the conscience. Not only will your customers recognize the difference in taste, they will connect with the story, and will appreciate the opportunity to support something larger with their daily joe.
2) Think Outside the Cup
Over 15 billion paper coffee cups are sent to US landfills each year. Paper cups, food trays, folding cartons, paper bags and more, are all posing an environmental threat that is currently challenging the coffee industry to step up their game. The primary option for paper packaging contains polyethylene, a plastic-based compound applied for barrier protection, making it incompatible with paper recycling systems. Considering this, many coffeehouses have opted for compostable alternatives, marketed by supply chains as a “green” solution. While compost-ability seems ideal, the reality is that these compostable alternatives are also destined for the landfill, since these solutions typically cannot be composted in a home composter, and few counties offer collection for compostable packaging. I recommend looking beyond what your supply chain may be pushing, and seeking out paper cups and packaging that are engineered specifically for recyclability. Check with your local municipality or visit www.Earth911.com to find out what recycling services for packaging are available within your community. If a closed-loop collection program is required, you can visit www.replenysh.com to learn about a new app which facilitates easy closed-loop collections and may be able to support you in starting your own.
3) Let your Grounds Grow
Coffeehouses experience an astonishing amount of waste in the form of coffee grounds, and boy does it build up quickly. Instead of sending those grounds to the landfill, take a page out of Orange County-based Kean Coffee’s book and offer them up to your local community. Spent grounds and bean chaff are desirable to anyone with a green thumb, since these organic by-products can be used in compost, and as nutrient-enriching supplements for the soil of anything with roots. Signage in your coffeehouse can help to get the word out, but social media is your best bet to tell your community that you’ve got resources to spare. For inspiration, look at the waste-model of EcoGrounds in Sacramento, CA, who diverts their chaff waste to be repurposed into food pellets for livestock. Scientists are even exploring ways to convert spent coffee grounds into biofuel, but until that option is widely accessible, getting those grounds into the hands of local nurseries, gardening groups, environmental centers, and farms is the best way to convert those greenhouse gases into green energy.
4) Embrace the Alternatives
As Bob Dylan once said, “times they are a-changin”, and although he wasn’t referring to a large-scale peaked interest in healthy foods, he was correct in his assessment. And as times change, businesses must remain flexible and informed on what these changes ask of them, lest they risk falling behind. Offering at least 1-2 alternatives to the top 3 most substituted items, dairy, sugar, and wheat, proves to serve a wider demographic of customers, the size of which is only increasing. From 2009 to 2015, the world-wide sales of non-dairy milk alternatives more than doubled, indicating a rapidly-growing demand. To lock this demographic in, take your non-dairy alternative a step further than soy. Opting for almond, coconut, or macadamia milks will show your customers that you not only respect their dietary preferences, but that you care to elevate their experience. Inquire with your vendors about items free of dairy, wheat, and sugar, and they will be happy to recommend their favorites, as well as provide samples for you to try.
5) Inform and Empower
The key to transforming your employees from cost to resource is all about how you engage them in your business. To do this, make sure your employees are fluent in your company’s mission statement, message, and the tangible steps being taken to accomplish your goals. Providing a meaningful context for your business gives your team a sense of purpose in their work, and can empower them to take ownership of their role through fostering a sense of accountability. Setting and clearly conveying company goals for reduction of waste and teaching efficient usage of resources such as water, coffee beans, milks, and paper products, models responsible business practices which will ultimately save you money. One easy way to step up your company’s positive impact is to adopt a business model like that of Doing Good Works, based out of Santa Ana, CA (http://www.doinggood.works/), who diverts a small portion of their profits on each sale to a cause; DGW’s chosen cause is the empowerment of foster youth. Their company’s success is demonstrating the viability of this business model for turning a profit while making positive change, and beckons us to ask: why wouldn’t we?
About the author: Jessica is a freelance Sustainability Consultant with over 7 years consulting in sustainable industries, 4 years as a coffee professional, and is a certified Permaculture specialist. firstname.lastname@example.org.