Setting a high bar for sustainability

Volume 43, . Comments

I recently spoke with a customer from New Jersey who wanted to know what we were doing to be a socially and environmentally sustainable business.

After I called him back and explained our many programs and activities that support the environment and our communities, he felt intrigued as to why we don't communicate more all those efforts.

Days later, a U.S. student who attended the CoffeeTour asked me what I thought was the role of a thriving business like ours in society. Are we just obliged to pay our taxes in the different countries where we operate and comply with the local laws and regulations? Or do we have a deeper responsibility towards society?

I’ll use this column to respond to both of these concerns.

I believe the societal and environmental issues we face today are too important to leave to the governments. We cannot be indifferent to challenges that might make our company and our world unsustainable. Café Britt wants to make a difference.

We still want to maximize profits and shareholder value, but we also want to help our society find sustainable ways of doing business. We want to sell to customers who are aware of ethical and environmentally sound business practices. We want to help suppliers improve their processes. We want to be a good corporate citizen.

Our mission statement and core values oblige us to get involved and make a difference.

Here are a few of the ways we do it:

Meeting international standards: Our company has earned and maintained an ISO 9001 rating, an internationally recognized system for assuring quality. Our quality statement isn’t just about nice words. It’s hard work! In the same way, we’ve earned and maintained the ISO 14001 standard. This shows all our suppliers, customers and coworkers that we measure our impacts to the environment and work hard to reduce our impact.

Transparency and corporate governance: We do formal analyses to make sure we compare favorably against other reputable businesses. We voluntarily participate in the BASC anti-smuggling and security alliance. We promote transparency in all our business dealings. Our goal this year is to increase awareness of our Code of Ethics and train staff in its application.

Our co-workers: We do market comparisons to ensure we pay over-market salaries to our employees. We encourage training and employee development so our coworkers may grow with the company. We analyze employee job satisfaction annually. We emphasize safety using employee brigades trained to respond to fire, earthquakes and terrorism attacks, as well as health emergencies by administering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

Our coffee growers: We pay above-market prices for their premium quality crops, but we expect them – and help them – to commit to Britt’s social and environmental standards. We’ve also pioneered organic coffee growing in Costa Rica and now have a label of Fair Trade coffee.

Artisans:  Britt works with Costa Rica’s Ministry of the Economy, and the Technical Institute to help our artisan suppliers improve their production processes and product quality. We sell many of these improved arts and crafts in our stores.

Volunteerism: Our employees undertake projects to improve our schools and communities, reforest lands, improve parks. In addition, we recycle, produce organic fertilizer, save energy and water and otherwise reduce our carbon footprint.

I don't like “greenwashing.” I don't like people who over-promise and under-deliver. I feel more comfortable exceeding expectations by under-promising and over-delivering! However, if we want to change the world, as our customer from New Jersey showed me, we may have to do a better job getting the word out about all we do. Let's change the world while we still have time. We’re trying to do it by example.

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