Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Green Mountain Coffee: Selling Activism?

Richard Seireeni, author of The Gort Cloud:The Invisible Force Powering Today’s Most Visible Green Brands  has his finger on the pulse of the green business movement. You know the ones I’m talking about: those mega brands that you see everywhere that also happen to adhere to sustainable values, human and animal rights, and a larger social mission.  But in this world of profit/loss, waste, excess consumerism and greed…How do they do it?


Finding a corporate voice in a social mission.

The company’s founder and chairman, Bob Stiller, discovered Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, then a Waterbury coffeehouse, on a trip to Vermont in 1980. Impressed by the coffee’s great taste, he purchased the establishment a year later and spent the next twenty-six years growing the coffeehouse into an international coffee supplier. In May 2007, he stepped out of his role as CEO, but unlike Ben Greenfield and Jerry Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, he did not sell to a conglomerate. Under present CEO Larry Blanford, the company continues to use social action as a platform from which to market its product.

GMCR donates 5 percent of pre-tax earnings toward its good works. “We are motivated to achieve success because the more profitable we are, the more good we can do in the world,” the company’s Web site states.

“The first part of our mission is to create an exceptional coffee experience from tree to cup, making sure that all of the stakeholders, from growers to consumers, benefit from that,” says Whalen. “The second part of the mission is about changing the way the world understands business. That’s something we take seriously. We’re trying to communicate to the consumer that these issues are part of who we are, and that as a consumer you have the power to do something about them.”

Coffee production presents unusually fertile ground in terms of opportunities to do good. First, coffee is the world’s second most heavily traded commodity, trailing only oil. As the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Web site states, “With 25 million coffee farmers in the world and an estimated 100 million people working in the coffee industry in total, we have a remarkable opportunity to positively touch the lives of so many people through our work.”

The site also talks about the “Coffee Crisis” of 2002, when a collapse in coffee prices “drew attention to the ongoing plight of coffee farmers.” According to the site, “The Coffee Crisis threatened entire cultures and communities as well as the stability of long-term supplies of high quality, specialty coffees.” Things have grown better since ‘02, but farming conditions remain poor and much technical assistance is still needed.

The Web site, which doesn’t spare any detail when it comes to reporting on the company’s socially responsible activities, goes on to say, “Millions of coffee-farming families continue to lack basic necessities such as healthcare, education, and food, forcing them to either reduce their investments in environmentally sound practices, abandon their land, gather more debt or switch to illegal agricultural crops.”

Green Mountain Coffee makes a case that the Coffee Crisis mirrors the global human rights and environmental crises and cites the following statistics pulled from a variety of sources: “Every 14 seconds, 5 children younger than 5 years of age die of hunger and other preventable causes . . . Nearly 3 billion people live on less than $2 per day . . . Nearly 852 million people worldwide are undernourished . . . About 1.2 billion people worldwide—400 million of them children—do not have access to clean water.”

Many of these points are touched on at the company’s visitor center, housed in Waterbury’s Amtrak train depot, just adjacent to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters’ headquarters. A multimedia presentation about the company’s connection with indigenous coffee producers around the world is projected on the ceiling as well as on seven screens placed around the room. It is a powerful piece that takes the viewer around the coffee-growing world to such places as the Huatusco Cooperative in Mexico, the Koakaka Cooperative in Africa, and the Gayo Organic Coffee Farmers Association in Indonesia.

The company’s consumer education initiatives also involve a great deal of instruction on the nature of coffee production. Extensive Web site sections are devoted to the history of coffee as well as the company’s manufacturing processes. The unique nature of Green Mountain Coffee’s methods is emphasized, including a description of Appropriate Roast—the trademarked name of the company’s roasting technique.


Read the entire article here.

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