Emma Loisel, co-founder & chair at Volcano Coffee Works, reflects on her decision to shift the business to carbon neutrality and the pivotal moment where she almost closed the company.
In October 2019 I boarded a flight from Bogota, bound for New Zealand. I had spent a week visiting some of our small hold coffee farmers. This was my first trip to origin and I loved what I saw – our farmer incomes were improving, our long term buying relationships were giving them security of income and price, allowing them to invest in their farms, families and communities. Women were starting to get involved in coffee and it was clear they understood that preservation of their environment was important. But there was one question I couldn’t get out of my head ‘if I really cared about climate change, was it time to close Volcano Coffee Works down?
Volcano Coffee Works is a speciality coffee roastery based in London and guess what, coffee doesn’t grow in the UK. We ship (by sea) tonnes of green coffee from all over the Equatorial belt (Colombia, Uganda, Brazil) to London, hand roast it on gas fired roasters, pack it into plastic bags and deliver it to over 300 customers across the UK, Paris and Hong Kong, plus to consumers who buy direct via our website and Amazon. That’s one hell of a carbon footprint. Now add on the 26 hours of flying it would take to get me home from Colombia, our Head Buyer’s flight back to London (and his numerous other origin trips) and the environmental cost of a team of 34 people in Brixton. Was I kidding myself that I cared about the environmental crisis we are facing if I had a company producing this much carbon?
By the time I touched down in LA, I had made peace with myself. Closing the business would change nothing. No one would stop drinking coffee. Instead, we needed to stand up and lead. The speciality coffee industry has collectively succeeded in delivering great tasting coffee, we all care and support our farmers (see our Ethical Trading Principles), and work hard to make our communities better (our Crisis Partnership is one of our initiatives). But what are we doing together to face into the biggest threat to our Industry and our Planet? What if we started a movement and created a new ‘right to play’ benchmark that everyone in speciality coffee signs up too? This is Carbon Neutral, its fact based, independently verified and gives consumers a way to vote with their wallets. Because its only when consumers use their spending power to show what they care about will the big multi-national coffee companies be forced to look at what speciality coffee is doing and follow.
For many years big coffee companies have tried to align themselves to speciality coffee, adopting our language and culture. Instead of railing against this, let's encourage them to join us and to make more business decisions that have a positive impact on the environment. Whether that’s them being Carbon Neutral now (not by 2030) or switching from aluminium pods to compostable ones, if we can get them to join our movement, that’s when we make a material difference.
This is why Volcano Coffee Works has become a Carbon Neutral Company. For the last 10 years, we have actively made decisions to do things better. Thousands of small and big decisions to choose the better option, even if its more expensive or harder to do. Even when Covid19 was forcing us to rethink much of our business, changing our approach to the environment was never on the table. Instead, we accelerated these efforts and invested in becoming a Carbon Neutral Company. This is just the beginning, we will be sharing our C02 tonnage (so you can see how we are making progress), publishing our list of Carbon Neutral Suppliers (it’s a cheat sheet of suppliers you might like to call), and are working to reduce the carbon we produce from our operations bit by bit. We know we will never get to zero, that’s only possible by closing the business. So we will off-set our remaining carbon emissions, investing back in the regions our coffee comes from.
We want everyone in the business of coffee to join us, so here we are, ready to share all of the information we have to help anyone on their way to join us as a Carbon Neutral Company.