Sustainable Coffee for Vermont

This is either a massive PR push, or a generous act of philanthropy (maybe both), but Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has announced four grants worth $200,000 each to "support work on reducing climate change". Whether that is admirable or a waste of money probably depends on your point of view, but the way that they are doing it – using a kind of wikiproposal site to do it is interesting. The process for applying for a grant begins with submitting your idea on the justmeans.com site, sharing it with your network and then submitting a regular grant application. JustMeans is "where you can talk to companies about their social and environmental impact." We'll be following this to see how it works out – the winners will be announced on Earth Day in April.
If there is any irony in this, it's that one of GMCR's most successful recent products is a one-time-use, disposable coffee system that produces a little package of trash with every cup. It seems like they make up for it in other areas – maybe a kind of "landfill offset" the same way there are carbon offsets.
We buy Vermont Coffee Company coffee here in Rutland, but recently discovered you can order their coffee online, in 2.5-lb bags.  And they have a bag recycling program. Look here for an example of how globalization can benefit communities here in Vermont and abroad.

-Rob Mitchell

One Response to Sustainable Coffee for Vermont

  1. Hi Rob –
    Thanks for starting this discussion.
    On our new Changing Climate Change grant program, you wondered whether this was just PR or generous philanthropy (or maybe both). Your question seems to presume that grantmaking is a new activity for us. In fact, we have been making grants to local and international organizations for years. Every year, we allocate at least 5% of our pretax profit to socially and environmentally responsible activities. In our most recent fiscal year, this amount totaled over $1.9 million dollars and was split between grantmaking (about $1.1 million), inkind donations (about $280,000), and support for our employee volunteerism program (about $140,000). Philanthropy is definitely not a new activity for us. Along with figuring out how to run our business more responsibly (like, for instance, learning how to reduce our carbon emissions), giving back is part of the way we do business – we believe it’s a better business model.
    Click through to http://www.brewingabetterworld.com to learn more about all our social and environmental responsibility related activities.
    This particular program is more than just philanthropy, however. Our entire initiative will encompass operational initiatives (last week, we announced the planned installation of a 100kW solar array on the roof of our distribution center in Waterbury), employee benefits, and continuation of our carbon offset program (we’ve been purchasing offsets since 2003). All of this connects directly to one of our two environmental bottom lines – promoting responsible energy use.
    As to the PR splash, it is certainly done in part to inform all our stakeholders about what we are doing. Equally important, however, we need to get the word out so that we can attract as many applicants as possible. We have learned over the years that initiatives like these are more successful when you have more people involved – working together leads to a better result. If we were to make these funds available but not let anyone know, we would not likely have a very successful process. That’s also why we’re working with JustMeans – hoping to attract a lot of attention and applications. In the process, we think we’ll also raise awareness in general…and maybe we’ll inspire some other corporates to follow suit.
    On the K-Cup waste issue, you correctly identify one of our major environmental concerns. Despite our many initiatives and philanthropic programs, we know we have opportunities to improve and this is a key one. We’ve been working to better understand the problem and come up with solutions for a while now. Our technical folks have been investigating and testing alternate materials and we’ve commissioned a Life Cycle Analysis of all our packaging to help us understand quantitatively where our greatest impact is and how to reduce it. You can learn more about what we’re doing at http://www.gmcr.com/csr/ProtectingTheEnvironment/TheKeurigSingleCupBrewingSystem.aspx
    Best,
    Michael Dupee
    Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility
    Green Mountain Coffee Roasters