As calls grow louder for a more transparent and sustainable coffee sector, roasters have come under greater pressure to demonstrate how they’re benefitting the wider community.
But while 48% of new coffee product launches worldwide carried an ethical or environmental claim, few have the certifications to back them up.
High entry fees, complicated signing-up procedures, and difficulty in finding certifications that match their business’ aims are the main barriers cited.
However, a route that’s become increasingly popular among coffee roasters is the one offered by B Corporation – otherwise known as “B Corp”.
Founded in 2006, B Corp not only offers a stamp of approval for those using their business as a force for good, it also opens the door to a community of like-minded companies.
To find out more about B Corp and its benefits for coffee businesses, I spoke with the owner of the UK’s first certified roastery, Coaltown Coffee.
What is B Corp?
B Corp is a certification that helps mission-driven companies protect and improve their positive impact over time.
Launched in the United States in 2006 by three friends, it has grown to incorporate more than 4,000 businesses around the world, including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and The Body Shop.
The idea is that each company will work towards a greater end than profit alone by delivering a positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.
This includes everything from reduced inequality and lower levels of poverty to a healthier environment and the creation of more high-quality jobs.
To become Certified B Corp, businesses must demonstrate they meet “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose”.
Specifically, they must achieve a minimum B Impact Assessment score of 83 against a set of social and environmental standards.
“B Corp is all about putting the planet before profit and using your business as a force for good,” says Scott James, the founder of Coaltown Coffee.
Located in an ex-mining region of South Wales, Coaltown became Certified B Corp in November 2019 after achieving a score of 86 points. This was based on several areas, including employment policy, renewable energy, and green coffee sourcing.
However, Scott explains that once you have the certification, it’s not simply a case of sitting back and relaxing – every three years, you have to undergo a new assessment and show how you’ve progressed in order to remain accredited.
“You can’t just hit the same score as you had before,” he says. “You have to better yourself. It’s a continuous process of self improvement and rebuilding.”
What are the benefits of a B Corp certification?
In the coffee sector, there is a wide range of certifications that recognise everything from carbon neutrality to ethical trade.
For example, a number of roasters buy their coffees from Rainforest Alliance-certified companies, which recognises sustainable agriculture from both an environmental and socio-economic standpoint.
Similarly, OK compost has become a familiar certification on compostable coffee bags to demonstrate full compostability.
One of the benefits of B Corp, however, is that it’s all-encompassing, rather than focusing on one particular area.
“It’s more of an overarching certification that ties lots of other certifications into it,” Scott says. “In a sense, B corp sits at the head of the table and then you have all of these other certifications feeding into that B Corp score.”
This is especially beneficial for coffee businesses looking to showcase a commitment to several causes.
Coaltown, for example, works with a UK energy provider that pledges to be carbon negative by 2030, but they also source their green coffee from a supplier with a substantial traceability programme, which works on the ground to better the lives of farming communities.
With the B Corp certification, coffee businesses can bring all their initiatives together and present a full picture of the positive impact they are having on the supply chain.
It also helps them avoid accusations of “greenwashing” or using “buzzwords” for marketing purposes.
Scott explains that B Corp goes through your claims “with a fine tooth comb” to ensure you’re doing the things you say you are, which, in turn, gives consumers greater confidence in your brand.
“As a business, you have to sign a declaration of interdependence,” he says. “You put those into your articles of association as a company, so you’re legally bound if you state that you’re using your business as a force for good to show that you are.”
B Hive: Connecting with others
On becoming Certified B Corp, businesses automatically gain access to the B Hive, an online platform designed for connecting with other B Corp members around the world.
By working with other members, businesses can also improve their scores and further their impact.
This is part of what Scott says is B Corp’s ambition to “become obsolete”.
“I think their vision is that you won’t need them with you to say you’re ‘doing good’ – all businesses will be living off that framework anyway.”
Being part of the B Corp community is also a great way of finding inspiration beyond the confines of your sector. By connecting with a wide range of people, you share ideas and discuss solutions from the perspective of different industries, which you can then apply to your own way of operating.
Scott says that this, along with B Corp’s other benefits, may well be essential for coffee businesses going forward.
“It’s a unique concept that allows companies to grow,” Scott says. “Roasteries that aren’t certified will find it an alien territory in the future if they don’t have a certification next to them.
“As the years go on it’s going to be more of an element that’s needed as part of your brand – an expected trait. For us, it gives us that ability to look at what we do on an annual basis and say, ‘We need to do better.’”
While becoming a Certified B Corp roaster may require some additional work, its benefits for both your company and the long-term future of the coffee industry are well worth the effort.
Not only will you have the opportunity to do business with others in the B Corp community, you’ll also be able to share ideas and find ways of improving your impact on a daily basis.
One of the areas that contribute to your B Impact Assessment score is sustainability, which includes the packaging you use for your roasted coffee. At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of environmentally friendly options, from biodegradable pouches to fully compostable cups.
Our team can help you create the perfect sustainable coffee packaging for your brand that will help showcase the quality of your coffee as well as your commitment to the environment.
For information on our compostable coffee bags, contact our team.
Photo credits: Coaltown Coffee Roasters