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Coffee, Tea, Wine and Beer: Sustainability in the Beverage Industry

The following post is part of TriplePundit's coverage of the 2011 Net Impact Conference in Portland, Oregon. To read the rest of our coverage, click here.

By Ingrid Velmonte

I just returned to DC from Portland, OR, where I attended the 2011 Net Impact Conference. It was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, and I was enchanted by the city right away. Everywhere I happened to eat had delicious food, public transportation was easy to use and my hotel had recycling bins in the guest rooms, as well as complimentary Stumptown coffee in the lobby. One of the cool things about the conference was its focus on the host city, from having Congressman Earl Blumenauer welcome everyone on Friday morning to offering tours of local businesses, to design-thinking workshops geared toward addressing Portland-based companies’ and nonprofits’ sustainability challenges.

A very interesting conference panel featured an important industry in the Pacific Northwest region: beverages. “Coffee, Tea, Wine & Beer: Sustainability in the Pacific Northwest Beverage Industry” had key representatives of each drink choice:

The panel moderator, Kristen Rainey, was herself involved in her graduate school Net Impact chapter and is now Director of Brand Management-Sustainability at Sodexo. Ms. Rainey led the discussion on common threads of promoting sustainability in each type of beverage company.

Supply chain and data aggregation are a big focus for Griwold’s Sustainable Harvest, which is a certified B Corporation. Two thirds of the company’s operating expenses are spent on training and infrastructure, with a focus on the middle of the supply chain that connects coffee farmers to consumers. One thing they do is invest in iPads and app development to help farmers easily input data on their crops and learn about agronomy, quality control and finance. All of this increases transparency and traceability in the coffee supply chain. The company also brings its supply chain partners together for its annual Let’s Talk Coffee conference. Ultimately, farmers are able to use technology to obtain certifications such as Organic, Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance, and coffee consumers like myself have more assurance about where our imported drinks come from.

This type of relationship management with suppliers is evident among HUB, LIVE, and Smith Teamaker. Traceability is also a premier aspect of Smith’s teas, which can be researched on the company website according to batch number. Smith is a seriel entrepreneur who has already found success in starting Stash and Tazo teas, so browsing through his new company’s website feels like you’re learning from him directly.

While Sustainable Harvest and Smith Teamaker employees are based in Portland and travel the world for their product ingredients, Hopworks operates its brewery and a new bike bar in the city, and LIVE works with vineyards and wineries in the Pacific Northwest. LIVE’s Carbon Reduction Challenge certification enables wine businesses in Oregon and Washington to benchmark and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Hopworks makes organic beer and offers sustainable locally-grown food, and incorporates sustainability in its buildings and operations. The company’s website even lists which ingredients are sustainable as well as all the ways the brewery, kitchen, building and landscaping are sustainable, also listing vendors where appropriate. Publicizing sustainability whether through certification labels or other marketing channels have great impact as well.

It was great learning about how various beverage companies in Portland approach sustainability and how their impacts are both local and global. From certifications to building components, all four panelists showed that sustainability can be addressed at any point in the supply chain and that consumer-facing companies and products in particular can do much to promote a sustainable culture in how beverages are made and enjoyed. Cheers.

Ingrid Velmonte is a 2012 MBA Candidate at Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business. She is on the board of the school's Net Impact chapter.

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