For GMCR, Fair Trade means ensuring coffee growers are paid fairly
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | March 24,2013
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters buys Fair Trade-certified coffee from growers like this farmer in Popayan, Colombia.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters increased its support of coffee-growing communities around the world last year, making $10 million in grants and purchasing more Fair Trade coffee than the prior year.
The company’s eighth annual sustainability report also detailed the company’s environmental efforts at recycling and waste reduction. But the heart of the Waterbury company’s social mission is to ensure that coffee growers receive a fair price for their product.
“The name of the game with Fair Trade coffee, I think, is really about educating people about what Fair Trade coffee really means,” said Michael Dupee, GMCR’s vice president of corporate social responsibility.
Dupee said that to be Fair Trade-certified there has to be transparency throughout the supply chain to document how much money actually gets to the farmer.
Because GMCR sells specialty coffee, the coffee beans it buys are always over the basic price for coffee and often above the floor price set for Fair Trade-certified coffee, he said.
He said Fair Trade-certified coffee growers must also adhere to certain standards, including that the coffee cooperative is run democratically and is transparent in sharing information with its members. There are also environmental guidelines.
Although Fair Trade coffee costs more, Dupee said in consumer surveys it scores the highest over other coffee certifications.
“Obviously we don’t want to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage, and we work at doing that with Fair Trade by raising awareness,” Dupee said, “and helping everybody understand what Fair Trade is all about, and then the product line supports itself.”
Last year, the specialty coffee company purchased 50 million pounds of Fair Trade-certified coffees, 5 million more pounds than fiscal 2011.
In 2011, Fair Trade USA ranked GMCR the largest buyer of Fair Trade-certified coffee in the world for the second consecutive year.
During fiscal 2012, GMCR sold 186.6 million tons of coffee. Of that total, 32.8 million tons was Fair Trade-certified; 2.5 million tons, organic certified; and 11 million tons, Rainforest Alliance certified.
The company also made more than $10 million in grants to supply-chain communities. A portion of that money was earmarked for food security projects to help more than 20,000 coffee-farming families.
“Essentially the dynamic is such, they’d grow the coffee, they’d harvest the coffee, sell the coffee, get their money, and then it would have to last a certain amount of time,” Dupee said, “and for a whole lot of people it didn’t last and so they would end up either having to eat less, they’d eat more poorly … or they would borrow against future earnings and create a cycle of credit and debt.”
Dupee said the grant program hooks up coffee communities with nonprofit groups to address food security issues through crop diversification and food storage.
The company’s sustainability goals also include energy efficiency, recycling and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills.
The fiscal 2012 report noted that the company more than tripled the amount of waste chaff, burlap, coffee, powder and tea that it composted. It also increased by 50 percent the recycling of corrugated boxes, boxboard, paper and plastics compared with the prior year.
On the consumer end, GMCR is working to reduce the amount of used single-portion packs that wind up in landfills.
The company has started a pilot program called Grounds to Grow On. The program allows office customers to collect used K-Cup portion packs and return them with the grounds composted and the packaging sent to a waste-to-energy facility.
“We’ve got some pilot programs going on there,” Dupee said.
“All the while we’re doing a fair amount of work in our research, in our (research and development), on new materials and new designs,” Dupee said.
The company’s new Vue brewer uses a different portion pack (from the Keurig) made from No. 5 plastic, which can be recycled in about half the communities in the U.S., Dupee said.
He said the largest environmental impact from the K-Cup portion packs is not its disposal in landfills but in the actual production of the material used in the single-serve cups.
Other highlights of the report:
The company maintained an employee retention rate of about 90 percent. GMCR has about 6,000 employees.
Sixty-five percent of full-time employees volunteered through a company-sponsored program called Café Time, which allows employees up to 52 paid hours a year to volunteer.
The report can be found at www.gmcr.com/sustainability.