Eco-Entrepreneurship Opportunity: Sustainable Coffee Shop

Triple certified coffee has a number of certifying bodies. These are the creme-de-la-creme. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center has established its certification program to help maintain biological corridors through Central and South America.
Do you enjoy serving people? Are you into community? Do you like rainforests?

If so, then going into business as a green coffee shop owner might be your ticket to ride.  You might be wondering about how much you can possibly make from people who bring their laptop into your cafe, order a $3.25 latte, tip 75 cents, and then proceed to sit there sucking your electricity while they gChat with their friends for 8 hours.  You might have concerns about competition from Starbuck’s and others. And you might, just might, be concerned that you’ll freak out from the caffeinated air in the cafe.

A coffee shop is loosely defined. In essence, most are community spaces that serve sustainable coffee, tea, and light fare, and focus on the enjoyment of a dining experience by not rushing clients through.  Sustainable coffee is typically organic, shade-grown, and Fair Trade certified (in industry lingo, it’s known as “Triple Certified.”)  It helps provide an economic incentive for rainforest preservation, as well as valuable jobs for third-world workers, so serving triple certified coffee has benefits well beyond the borders of your local, independent coffee house.  It also tastes much better than commodity coffee.  Margins can be substantial, even on the higher priced sustainable coffees.

But what about Starbuck’s? The 8,000 pound gorilla of coffee shops? They might actually help you. According to a popular article in, the authors argue that Starbuck’s can actually help independent coffee houses thrive.  With independent coffee houses growing from 9,800 in 2000 to 14,000 in 2005 (roughly correlating with the time of Starbuck’s fastest expansion), and with a failure rate for first year coffee houses at 10%, this business provides a great startup opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Now, about those laggards: many coffee shops might suggest to patrons (politely) that they are free to hang out, but that during the lunch rush, they make room for people eating lunch.

For more information about running a green cafe, check out the Green Cafe Network. Their tagline alone is worth joining the organization.

Scott Cooney writes about green business startup opportunities on his website,, and in his book, Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill).

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.

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