April 2008 - Steve Aronson
People today want assurances. They want to know that the companies they do business with protect the environment and pay their suppliers fairly.
That’s why certification programs like Fair Trade and The Rainforest Alliance have become household words in our business – brand names.
Potential customers have asked for certified products. Some have insisted. Others have wondered why our coffees don’t already carry one of these labels.
But these certifications present a dilemma – an interesting challenge – for Britt.
Why should we certify standards that we've lived by since long before either of these certifications existed?
Café Britt has always done business this way. Always will. All of our coffees, in fact, all of our products, our business model and our mission are based on the concepts of fair treatment and environmental protection.
We pay the highest prices in the country for top quality, environmentally sustainable coffee. The small and mid-size farmers who grow this coffee depend on their farms for their livelihoods. Our experts work with them to ensure sustainable yields.
Our roastery has an ISO 14001 certification for environmental quality – and that’s a hard one to get.
But people want certification, so we're going to give it to them.
Café Britt will soon offer an excellent coffee produced by a Tarrazu growers’ association certified by The Rainforest Alliance. These growers are old friends. They approached us in 2002 when they decided to create a local organization for sustainable production. We have been supporting them ever since.
The Rainforest Alliance works with farmers to bring their operations up to its standards for protecting wildlife and lands, workers' rights and local communities.
It will certify any grower, large or small, that meets its requirements. It's about education, not activism. Its approach is simple and holistic.
By contrast, the primary users of the “Fair Trade” coffee label are North American and European coffee roasters based far from coffee-producing countries who don’t have a direct relationship with growers, as a result, the label is used mainly for marketing purposes.
If the foreign roasters pay farmers more, they can make up for it by putting the “Fair Trade” label on their products and charging more for the coffee.
“Fair Trade” is selective about who it chooses to certify, preferring groups of the smallest growers. It wouldn't certify country-of-origin roasters, like Britt, until only recently.
We have been roasting coffees from “Fair Trade” certified coops for years, and we are now exploring a relationship with the Fair Trade labeling organization. Stay tuned.
So, we'll soon be offering certified coffees. But that doesn’t mean that we just woke up one day and saw the light of environmental protection and social responsibility. Those have been pillars of our business all along.