Successes in Sustainability: Green Mountain Coffee

In my last post I discussed the Global Conference for Social Change that I attended last week here in New York. With one day focusing on women and girls, the second day was all about leaders of change. Guests ranged from business to business (B2B) organizations such as DSM, to the department store Marks and Spencer; all discussing the need to recognize and adopt sustainable supplies and practices. All of the organizations presenting that day had implemented measures to instill fundamental changes towards social and global sustainability; and one organization that has been successful in leading this pursuit is Green Mountain Coffee (GMC).

With the slogan “Brewing a better world”, Green Mountain Coffee has been proactive in integrating corporate social responsibility (CSR) into all aspects of their organization: from tree to cup. With over 12 million pounds of coffee shipped annually, they have a large steak in building a demand for sustainable products. GMC is working to expand Fair trade Certified products in the supply chain, and demanding more environmentally friendly packaging on the production end, both taking humanitarian and environmental concerns surrounding coffee harvesting to heart. Currently, they are the largest Fair Trade buyers in the world.

In this conference Mike Dupee who is the head of CSR efforts spoke about the strides that GMC is making. One take away quote from his presentation was the recommendation to “listen and learn with humility before you realize the reality [of what is happening on the ground]”. While he acknowledges that every environment has unique problems to face, here are larger projects he shared with us that GMC has started implementing.

On the ground, GMC is working with the supply chains to improve training techniques towards cultivation and fostering connections with others in the industry.  Similarly, they are helping other non-profits on the ground within the coffee growing community to create sustainable futures.

Another initiative that Dupee spoke of was working towards creating sustainable lifestyles for year-round farmers. Tackling what they call the “thin months”, these are the cyclical times after the harvest where savings are depleted and families must cope with less food. Working with a number of organizations, GMC is attempting to bring light to this problem within the coffee communities and help provide work year round.

On a more macro level, GMC is working towards environmentally sustainable practices. Both thermal and carbon footprints are important to the organization, as well as physical waste. Similarly, they are developing what they call an ecotainer, with paper grown sustainably and ultimately environmentally friendly (a product that actually won a sustainability award in 2007).

While Green Mountain coffee has been solid in their commitment to incorporating CSR into their business practices, when asked Dupee said they still wish to do more in the future. They are one of the leading organizations to bring sustainability to their business plan, and I applaud them for the successes they have had. In looking through their CSR report for 2009,  their business looks to be forward thinking and maintainable, with goals for the next few years.

I believe that GMC is making great strides in bringing charity and activism to the forefront of the coffee growing community. While it is true that they are not solving all of the world’s coffee related problems, the fact that they are a growing business while maintaining their moral outlook has put pressures on others in the coffee business to follow suit. One can fear that this is a greenwashing product or a high-end marketing ploy, but I don’t see this as the case. GMC is addressing concerns only that relate to coffee; as opposed to taking on a variety of issues. While yes they are writing large grants (which can foreshadow doom for intended solutions), GMC works with organizations such as Save the Children on specific problems like food insecurity. Similarly, as they continue to expand, they have continually stood by their outlook that CSR is important in all aspects of the chain. Offering small examples such as installing solar power panels and efficient technologies in offices to large scale examples of keeping farmers healthy to provide quality coffee, Dupee maintained that doing social good has provided many examples for helping their bottom line. Also, as a global awareness continues to grow, I foresee an increasing consumer demand for companies who are working to counteract these social and environmental issues.

I would like to see more companies integrate these goals into their focus. When asked why most companies don’t, Dupee speculated that in an economy like today, many organizations can not afford to make risky choices and changes. However, if I learned one business tip from the conference all week was that incorporating CSR is always going to be better for the bottom line. I hope that in the future we see more companies adopting green practices and begin to take notice of the burden we are putting on the earth and one another. While GMC is not the silver bullet in solving environmental and humanitarian concerns, they are definitely leading the battle in America in bringing awareness, raising the bar for other companies to follow suit. Perhaps one day we will see more organizations adopting similar versions of Green Mountain Coffee’s plan of sustainability and we can work towards a better tomorrow together.

Katherine Peterson is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group focused on theories of development, globalization, and political ramifications of development work. 
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