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Sustainability Spotlight: Tony’s Coffee

Sustainability Spotlight: Tony’s Coffee

Peak Sustainability Group’s Kat Klass interviewed David Yake, Director of Sales and Sustainability at Tony’s Coffee. Tony’s has been roasting coffee in Bellingham since 1971 and won the 2021 Roaster of the Year award from Roast Magazine. David shared how the Tony’s Coffee team is making coffee a force for social and environmental good while building a more sustainable and equitable future for all in the coffee supply chain. 

How did sustainability start for Tony’s?

Our sustainability journey can be traced back to 2002, when we began sourcing Organic, Fair Trade, Shade Grown coffee. Since then, we moved to 100% green power, doubled our roasting efficiency, offset our roastery’s carbon footprint, and continue to support causes that we care about.

Our commitment to sourcing high-quality, sustainable coffee has always guided our path. In 2002, we became one of the country’s first coffee roasters to source organic, fair trade, shade-grown coffee from farmer-owned cooperatives. In 2004, we became members of the US Roasters Guild and, in 2012, we became a founding member of World Coffee Research, whose work help ensures the future of sustainable coffee production. In 2013, we won America’s Best Espresso Award, and the following year we took home first place at the Specialty Coffee Association’s Roasters Choice competition. 

Winning the 2021 Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine was a huge vote of confidence for how we go about making our business the best it can be.

Sustainability is our center, and we have made promises to ourselves, our growers, and our community to continue this journey for a better tomorrow.

Tony’s has made a promise to use more renewable resources; reinvest in our community; and invest in our coffee-farming communities. We love setting audacious goals which help us to constantly work toward our mission and improve our operations.

The Tony’s Coffee team knows how to have fun too!

We start each year with big-picture planning, where everyone shares a big, hairy, audacious goal. These meetings feel like Christmas morning because you hear what people are passionate about and see what our future holds.  

What led to the decision to get outside expertise in sustainability?

It started on a trip to D.O.T.A., a Costa Rican farmer cooperative that was the first organization of its kind to become carbon neutral. This sparked conversations about our internal carbon footprint. When we returned home, we looked for outside expertise. We were delighted to find a consultant like Peak Sustainability Group that could help us with our sustainability efforts right here in Bellingham – in our own backyard!

For the last two years, Tony’s has worked with Peak to calculate our carbon footprint and compile sustainability reports for 2020 and 2021.

The Peak team prioritized listening to our organization’s history and motivations. At an early sustainability meeting, they helped facilitate a lively, productive conversation that got us started. Peak also brought technical skills and expertise for carbon footprint tracking. They did a great job of translating their approach into layperson terms that didn’t overwhelm us.   

Has having a sustainability committee at Tony’s Coffee helped you meet your goals? 

Yes! The conversations among our sustainability committee members really are a reflection of our company culture. We encourage input from everyone on the team, be it a new production employee or 30-year veteran, and we embrace a mindset of constant improvement. 

Some of our 5-year goals have helped us to focus our sustainability efforts: 

1. Green Commutes 

  • Increase the number of employees who bike or use alternative means of transportation.
  • Increase the total number of quarterly green trips.  
  • Improve bike storage facilities. 
  • Stock a bike repair kit and offer bike maintenance classes at the roastery. 

We offer employees $4 per round-trip commute by carpool, bicycle, walking, or taking mass transit. Employees who participate in the program are also entered into a raffle to win prizes. 

We instituted this program in September 2020, and our team has logged 980 trips through December 2021. Their efforts eliminated 8,670 miles of single-occupancy vehicle trips and prevented roughly 4.7 tons of carbon emissions.  

The Green Commute program incentivizes carpooling, biking, walking, and using mass transit. Image Credit: Tony’s Coffee.

2. Community Support & Engagement 

  • Increase our support of non-profit organizations through increased donations, as well as volunteer hours. 

3. Roasting Equipment Upgrades 

  • Add an additional high-efficiency roaster as we grow. 

We are researching early developments in after-burner technology to significantly reduce our natural gas usage. 

4. Going Paperless 

  • Reduce paper waste by adding an electronic data interchange system. 
  • Reduce cardboard use in the warehouse and on delivery routes. 

We realized that most of our paper use comes from filling orders through our website. In 2021, we were able to halve the amount of paper we use to fulfill online orders! 

5. Partnering with Farmer Cooperatives to Support Sustainable Practices 

We are currently researching opportunities to: 

  • Help farmers reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers to provide greater resiliency and financial stability. 
  • Support projects assisting with the conversion of coffee pulp wastewater into biogas.  
  • Support the conversion of coffee dryers from wood or gas-powered to solar-powered.  

What about Tony’s Coffee are you most proud of?  

We’re proud of the long-range view we take as a company. We’ve passed on certain “opportunities” when they may compromise our core values.

Our leadership team looks at our growth through the lens of what’s going to be best for our people, our company, and the planet, not just next quarter, or next year, but in 10 or 50 years. 

The Tony's Coffee team, wearing masks and standing in front of the warehouse.
The Tony’s Coffee team takes a long-range view when planning for the future. Image Credit: Roast Magazine.

Where do you think Tony’s has room to improve or grow? 

We’re constantly searching for the most sustainable packaging options, but we’re frustrated by the unavailability of truly compostable, shelf-stable coffee bags. However, that doesn’t stop us from pushing our suppliers to do better.   

Additionally, our distribution strategies can improve, as our delivery vehicles currently burn fossil fuels. We’re looking into electric/hybrid options that meet our range and capacity needs.  

What are some of the benefits Tony’s Coffee has realized with an emphasis on sustainability? Are there any drawbacks or tradeoffs? 

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest benefits has been working with people who share our values – employees, suppliers, and customers. 

On one hand, our focus on sourcing sustainably-grown coffee and offsetting our carbon emissions means that our coffees are far from the lowest priced in the market. This has excluded us from certain growth opportunities, but that’s a deliberate choice we’ve made as a team. 

However, it’s worth looking at the flip side as well. We’ve invested in more efficient roasting technologies that have helped us reduce natural gas usage by nearly 70%. This has helped us reduce our carbon footprint and utility bill. The same goes for other initiatives, like going paperless and shifting our delivery fleet; we always look for ways to make progress.

Sustainability priorities may require more upfront investment, but, in the long run, they make us more resilient. 

Peak Sustainability Group’s consultants can help you calculate your business’s carbon footprint or put together a sustainability plan. We also analyze business systems and operations, measure environmental impact, conduct ESG reporting, complete greenhouse gas inventories, assist with packaging choices, and advise on third-party certifications. Email to schedule a 30-minute free consultation.  

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