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Portland Roasting: Taking Coffee Beyond Fair Trade

| Friday July 2nd, 2010 | 0 Comments

ban-startup-fridayFair trade has come a long way in a short time, the most visible face of it being coffee. No longer the provence of niche coffee shops, Wal-Mart, Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonalds all offer Fair Trade options. So it was interesting when I heard from Martin Barrett of Portland Roasting that they now go beyond fair trade to practice what they call Farm Friendly Direct.

Whereas fair trade typically involves growers selling as a co-op, that is, as a group, Portland Roasting establishes direct relations with those they buy coffee from. As they put it,

“The goals of Farm Friendly Direct™ are two-fold — acquiring quality coffee while adding to the lives of farmers and their communities. Our vested interest in our growers, and their farming methods, secures a healthy future for the farmers’ land and livelihood while producing memorable coffee.”

This practice is something that many companies, beyond coffee, could learn from. Ensuring that your suppliers are getting their needs met while providing you with a consistently excellent product is just good business.

No newcomer to directly working with farmers, Portland Roasting has been practicing this since 1998, using funds towards directly beneficial programs such as hiring a computer teacher for all grades at the school at La Hilda Estate in Costa Rica, plus providing internet access, not typically available in rural areas. It also pays its farmers an average of 30% more than market prices.

Touring its facilities, I learned first hand how deeply committed Portland Roasting is to being a sustainable company.

You’ve probably seen how coffee beans come to coffee roasters: Large sacks. What happens to those? It turns out that they make a good foundation for gardening, and Portland, Oregon has an extensive farming and personal scale gardening community, which receives the post roasting bags.

I learned that the roasting process leaves remnants, from screws to bullet casings! (No joke, here you see on the right a collection of amazing finds via the “destoner” device.) The organic remnants (also pictured, below) turns out to be useful for farming, likewise being donated to Portland area farmers.

Though it processes and sells just shy of a million tons of coffee a year, Portland Roasting smartly chose to outsource the extensive decaffeination process to another company that does so for several companies, benefitting from efficiencies of scale.

Portland Roasting seems committed to building a strong ecosystem of suppliers and customers, as it carries just about everything a cafe would need to run, except the actual coffee making machines. A carefully selected assortment of sustainable serviceware, cups, teas, juices and more is available. Even marketing materials are provided, at cost.

This minimizes both the number of vendors and the amount of research a cafe needs to engage in to start up and run its business sustainably, leaving it free to focus on that sometimes overlooked thing: customers.

So the next time you get your morning fix, ponder who it came from, and how your purchase could benefit those who grew it, those who sell it, and the communities surrounding both.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media.


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