As a coffee house owner there are many decisions that one can make to offer sustainable coffees, environmentally friendly products and to create a culture within your business that is socially responsible. I have seen an exponential growth in customer education and social awareness in the past few years and am excited to see coffee houses and coffee roasters/green coffee buyers focusing not only on quality but also developing direct relationships with coffee farmers etc.

What I wanted to open up for discussion is a resource for coffee houses who may already be offering some "green" choices, as well as those who can learn from others, the simple practices that can greatly effect our customers buying practices. For many of us the first step is establishing a relationship with a coffee roaster, or roasting our own coffee, so that the coffee we serve and purchase is ethical and sustainable. There are obviously MANY great articles out there talking about this revolution so I wanted to expand upon this and brainstorm ideas that retailers can practice or offer that go past just the coffee we serve.

So. What are some of you doing out there to lead by example with your retail operations?

I have seen coffee houses switching to 100% biodegradable cups, composting used coffee grounds, donating to charities like Coffee Kids or Baristas for Bikes and a lot more.

There are many ways a coffee house can conserve energy as well, with choosing everything from lighting, delivery options, water usage, recycling, etc. I also know there are coffee roasters out there who are experimenting with alternative energy use, and recycling the energy from their roasters to power their facility, etc. Also, many wholesale roasters are using hybrid or bio diesel vehicles.

The coffee industry is so large that all of these decisions that we make can have a substantial global effects not only on the environment, but also the world economy.

Let hear your ideas and examples!

- Matt

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Comment by Stickman on April 10, 2008 at 8:58pm
If you're in north america upgrade with 240volt equipment instread of 120V...My electrician/green guru assures me they're FAR more efficient. Get this: he became an electrician so that he could build off-grid houses!
I recently found out that the local blue box program takes paper coffee cups as long as they're rinsed to a cleanish level - much like the cardboard of a pizza box. Apparently even the best, most compostable of the compostable cups won't fly in the average commercial compost facility as the cups require up to 90 days to decompose whereas the composters require that an item break down in under 60...
Comment by Bel Townsend on March 9, 2008 at 11:12am
Composting coffee grounds is great - it actually does your garden an even better service as slugs and snails apparently don't like caffeine? Fertilizer and pest deterrant...
You can also mix coffee grounds with henna and use it to dye your hair 'naturally' - it goes a lovely rich mahogany brown, if anyone's interested.
Question though: can anything be done about recycling the foil-with-valve bags that roasted beans arrive in? You can't recycle the foil cos it's covered in plastic, and if you use more recyclable packaging, the coffee goes stale. Any ideas?
Comment by Taylor Mork on March 9, 2008 at 10:59am
great topic, Matt. I've had several customers come to me recently asking for help on this issue, though at this point I have very few recommendations. I'm working on finding a reliable and cost effective recycled and enviro-friendly paper cup.

I'm still not convinced that simply "biodegradable" paper cups will do the trick, since without air in a landfill they really have no chance to break down (at least in our lifetime).

does anybody have recommendations for recycled and enviro-friendly paper cups? cost will of course also be an issue for most.

I've also tried some non-paper cups such as those made from corn or sugarcane. i'm fine with them, but customers get a bit weirded out since they can get a bit soft with hot liquid and feel like they're going to break (though they won't).
Comment by gwilym on March 8, 2008 at 12:06pm
may be a bit early in the conversation but..
why are the boilers and pipes of an espresso machine not insulated - surely this would cut down on energy used?
Comment by Loren Anthony on March 8, 2008 at 8:15am
WOW a city compost plan?! Gracious I wish Atl had that. This city has'nt been all that eco-friendly, but the power is definitely in the hands of business owners to lead by example. It's hard sometimes though. The eco-containers are much more expensive than regular paper cups. I can't afford it yet but I do have sign saying:"Bring Your Own Cup For a Discount!" Ive also reached out to the local gardeners and garden clubs telling them to come collect our grinds for compost. My floodlights has been replaced with the Compact Fluorescent Bulbs I'm not sure what to do with the track lighting yet. I also have an energy efficient hand dryer and encourage use of that rather than paper towels in the restroom.
Comment by Matt Milletto on March 7, 2008 at 4:43pm
Thanks Jason,

Totally agree on milk choice! It's amazing to think about the volume of milk many coffee shops go thru on a daily basis.

Keep the great ideas coming folks!
Comment by jason robert paglia on March 7, 2008 at 4:23pm
great topic. here in portland we have the luxury of a city compost plan. so, we save all our grinds and food waste and leave it outside by the trash and recycling. we are an extremely busy coffee house so we filled up a 40 gallon can in one week. That's just one cool example. I think a super easy thing that many shops do is offer 25c off on drinks when customers bring in their own cup. Another cool idea is choosing energy efficient appliances, think of all the hot water we go through in our cafes and all the refrigeration we require. Choosing locally produced goods is also a smart option for various reasons. Think of what companies you are investing in when you sell coffee, bottled drinks, baked goods, teas, and all the other myriad items that we use and offer in our shops. Milk is a really big one, too. I think making the right choices today is really easy, it actually helps to build your customer base.

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