In what ways did B Corporation certification benefit Nossa Familia? What challenges did you face when trying to get your B Corp certification?
‘Nossa Familia’ means ‘Our Family’ in Portuguese. My family has been growing coffee in Brazil since the 1890’s. I believe the generations of coffee farmers in my family approached sustainability as ‘sustain-ability,’ or ‘the ability to sustain,’ both environmentally and economically. So pursuing the B Corp certification was simply a continuation of the hard work done over our 5 generations of coffee.
Now more specifically, I’d say the challenges and benefits go hand in hand. Let’s start with some of the challenges:
- The certification process is very involved and time-consuming. This is good because it makes the certification thorough and meaningful, giving every B Corp a high level of credibility.
- As a fast growing company we more than tripled our staffing level from 2012 to 2015, going from 8 to more than 24 employees. This meant writing our first employee handbook, creating and perfecting systems and procedures. The B Corp process instigated more motivation and even provided guidance for what to focus on. It helped us codify and put into writing things that we were already doing, and also think hard about adopting best practices when it comes to taking care of our employees.
- Coordinating with our coffee suppliers was not easy. There is a whole section of the B Corp assessment focused on our suppliers – who are coffee farmers around the world. They are not sitting at their computers waiting to answer our questions and documenting every single part of their operation, and they might not even speak English. They are usually out in the fields or in their coffee labs, working on preventing fungus from taking over their coffee trees, or working on harvesting and processing their coffee.
Different languages in different time-zones, all in developing nations. The very cool thing we found out is that some of the farmers already did a great job tracking many important sustainability factors. Other farmers and small coops are sustainable and ‘semi-organic’ simply because they can’t afford to purchase pesticides / herbicides, and these are harder to record and harder to get adequate data from.
As for benefits:
- This process helped us codify much of the good we were already doing in a way that allows us to tell these important stories, both externally to customers and prospects, but also internally helping get our team fired up!
- The certification gave us great ideas on what other areas we could focus on, as well as forcing us to look at the business from outside-in, giving us a new perspective in certain practices and area of operations, leading us to improvement.
- The community has been very welcoming and supportive, and the events have been great networking. We are already working on some really fun collaborative partnerships with other local B Corp companies that we hope to announce soon!
- We are newly certified (Jan/Feb 2016), so there are still many of the benefits to realize. Something big we are looking forward to is in the recruiting process, we believe it will helps us continue to attract a diverse workforce that share in our core values.
The farmers you work with share your B Corp values. How do you evaluate your partner farms practices?
My family in Brazil produces beautiful coffee and we were not in a hurry to add new origins, but we recognized that, much like wine, coffee from other parts of the globe offer distinct and exciting flavor profiles. Once we decided to open up our world to other coffees, the connections just started happening. This will sound a bit esoteric to some…but I believe the universe loves connecting like-minded people!
As we began to hone in our values, become focused on our purpose, and transparent on our way of doing business, the easier it became to find and be found by people who care about the things we are passionate about. Most new connections came in the way of an introduction, however some are mere chance, bumping into people in the corridors of a 10,000+ industry trade show, and knowing immediately that we have something in common.
Now for an evaluation…1. We start with trust, based on how the connection was made. 2. Then we travel. Nothing is as meaningful as visiting farms and seeing for ourselves how the operation is run, how people are treated on the ground and what, if any, emphasis is given to the environment. So we try to visit ALL our suppliers. It helps that I love traveling, and love to offer my staff a chance to travel. In the rare occasion that we cannot visit a coffee supplier, we always work with an extremely reputable importer that has direct relationships with the farmers, such as another local B Corp, Sustainable Harvest.
You’ve said that the City of Portland’s recycling program was taken into account when selecting sustainable packaging. Can you tell us more about this? Did you consult with local agencies when selecting materials?
Unfortunately, the coffee industry is inherently riddled with waste and one-time use packaging. From to-go coffee cups to foil coffee bags, there is so much that gets thrown in the garbage when it comes to coffee! This applies to both the retail café environment as well as when we’re talking about coffee bags at the grocery store. Because of the need to preserve freshness in coffee, most coffee bags use materials that cannot be recycled or composted. We currently use a paper, PLA-lined coffee bag for our retail coffee, a choice that was made to lower the upstream environmental costs of our packaging. Unfortunately due to the lining in this bag, it still cannot be put in Portland’s recycling program. We are also now going through another packaging overhaul, in which we will be moving to a biodegradable/compostable material called Biotre, which is manufactured by Pacific Bag Inc. This bag is made from renewable wood pulp and Polyethylene, and has undergone significant research and testing. According to PBI, “It is best disposed by placing it in a privately managed compost pile where the 40% PE layer and one-way degassing valve can be removed manually and disposed in the regular trash. When a portion or all of Biotre is properly disposed with regular trash, its impact on the environment will be much less compared to a standard plastic/foil material which is made from 100% non-renewable resources and is not considered biodegradable in any way.” We feel that this is the best option out there in terms of sustainable packaging options, and want to invest in a company and material that shares our values of environmental responsibility and the cycle of continuous research and improvement. More info on Biotre: http://www.pacificbag.com/biotre/
Where do you see Nossa in five years? Are you hoping to begin new sustainability initiatives and/or expand those that are already in place?
We are super excited for the future! It’s been a lot of work building our base and now we’re ready to grow. We are actively working on expending our retail presence in Portland, opening 2-4 new locations in the next 5 years. We’re also expanding to a new market. We have rep in the L.A. area working on growing our presence there, where we hope to have a new hub. We will also have an international presence with retail and wholesale (still a secret at this point, as we’re still in negotiations for our first licensing agreement).