An Interview with Ethical Bean

 Fair trade coffee - Ethical Bean

I am delighted to introduce you to Ethical Bean. This coffee company started with an adoption story and ends with long term sustainable job creation, community care and delicious coffee. I spoke with employee Lauren Archibald about fair trade, sustainability, critics and what you're actually supposed to do with that open bag of beans. Need a bigger fix? Check out more coffee related reads from fellow ethical writers Holly and Gina !

Your brand chose Fair Trade certification which is not an easy process. Why did Ethical Bean choose fair trade certification or 'self certification' or other certifying bodies?

Ethical Bean Coffee has been committed to sourcing 100% Fairtrade and organic certified coffee since day one. In 1999, co-founders Kim Schachte and Lloyd Bernhardt, took a trip that changes both their lives. Their journey to Guatemala to adopt their daughter sparked a passion for the culture of the country and inspired a desire to better the lives of the farmers and families living and working in the coffee industry. The couple returned to Vancouver and in 2003 launched Ethical Bean Coffee.

There is a lot of critique about the fair trade movement as a whole, not necessarily the certifying body but the entire concept. Some have even gone so far as to say that it actually doesn't matter at all (this article comes to mind) and it's just a gimmick.  Clearly you are conscientious about every step of your process and so your decision to source fair trade beans is a thoughtful one. What would you say to critics or those that are unsure about the importance of fair trade?

As a conscious buyer, we at Ethical Bean are aware that Fair Trade by itself is not the solution for all challenges that small-scale farmers face in producing countries. The issues entrenched in international trade go far beyond what can be addressed by pricing and standards alone. However, the International Fair Trade model is a first step that roasters and importers can take in order to make a positive impact in the coffee supply chain.

The certification goes far beyond a minimum coffee price and premium, it also makes sure that producer organizations comply with a set of economic, social and environmental standards such as having a water and waste management plans, banning the use of harsh chemicals for the health and safety of the farmers, making sure that child and forced labour is not used in their member’s farms, making sure there is a democratic structure in the organization and that the organization has access to pre-financing to cover their business needs, etc. All of these additional mechanisms help to strengthen farmers’ businesses and make them more resilient and empowered entities in the face of volatile global markets.

The author of the article mentions studies where it says that only 12 percent of the premium actually reaches the farmer. However, they do not mention that the premium is additional sum on top of the price paid for their coffee that was in fact paid directly to the cooperative. The way members benefit from this premium is not only in cash but in other services such as investments in healthcare, scholarships for their sons and daughters, better infrastructure for their businesses and communities, improvements of quality and productivity etc. Though these may not translate to additional money in the pockets of Fairtrade farmers, these investments have wide reaching impacts for them and their families, many of which can lead to more financial stability down the line.

The author recommends to choose free trade above fair trade; however in conventional supply chains coming from countries that have signed a free trade agreement there is no way to know the conditions on how these products are produced and if there is a wider benefit to their local communities. Through Fairtrade certification, the entire chain of custody is verified and required to meet recognized and respected international standards.

Fairtrade should be a first step towards a better and fairer trading system but in order for it to have a deeper and wider impact we need more conscious buyers and roasters who buy under Fairtrade terms. The system will never work if producers get the certification and are not able to sell their products under Fairtrade terms.

As if your fair trade certification wasn't enough, you are also B Certified AND Climate Smart certified. Tell us about your affiliation with those certifying bodies and why they're important to you.

At Ethical Bean, we believe that when it comes to sustainability initiatives, third party verification is the gold standard. There is so much confusion with ‘green-washing’ in the consumer marketplace that third party verified certifications add a lot of value and supported trust.

In 2010, we we’re thrilled to become one of Canada’s founding B Corporations - a growing movement of organizations redefining success in business. In order to be certified, there’s a rigorous assessment that an organization needs to pass every two years. We were excited to join this community as it provides a new business standard that applies to our operations beyond what Fairtrade and Organic certifications provide for our coffee.

Working with Climate Smart helps us to better track, measure and set goals to reduce our carbon footprint that supports the Environment section of our B Corp assessment. Their program takes complex, global standards and helps make it simple for us to assess our impact every year.

Sustainability is a cornerstone of your brand. What are some of the initiatives your brand is taking toward environmental sustainability?

Sustainability is an ongoing journey for us at Ethical Bean and we’re always looking for new ways to further reduce our impact. Following a model of measuring impact, reducing consumption, and lastly offsetting, we have been carbon neutral since 2010.

In 2015, we invested in an energy-efficient Loring Smart Roaster. With the new roaster in place, we roasted 11% more coffee while reducing natural gas usage by 70%. That is equivalent to planting 942 pine trees, taking 30 cars off the road for a year, or heating 65 BC households for a year.

With the remaining natural gas that our roaster, production facility, and office uses, we purchase the equivalent amount of renewable energy from Bullfrog Power, Canada’s leading green energy provider.

Your compostable coffee pods are such welcome addition to the single serve pod market that is currently overwhelmed with all those little plastic cups! 

We’re really excited about the launch of our new 100% compostable coffee pods. It is estimated that 10 billion single serve plastic coffee pods are thrown into North American landfills every year. Now consumers can enjoy the convenience of their Keurig, feeling less guilty about the waste. Made from coffee bean chaff and other renewable materials, the entire pod can be thrown directly into the green bin and will completely break down in a municipal composter in less than 84 days.

While we continue to search for a more sustainable solution for our whole bean and ground coffee bags, that meet our freshness and food safety requirements, we offer a bag take back program. Customers can send in 12 empty bags of coffee in exchange for a free one. A percentage of our returned bags are upcycled into tote bags, some gardeners even use them as seeding pots, and the remainder are recycled through a program at TerraCycle.

We could gabb on about our compostable coffee cups and other sustainability initiatives but won’t bore you with all the details. If you’re interested to learn more, feel free reach out on Facebook or Twitter!

Your coffee is fantastic and you offer lots of great coffee related advice on your website...but you are adamant about not storing beans! For the heck of it, if someone WAS going to store beans how should they do it? Ideally how fast should we consume beans once the bag is open?

Ah the good ‘ol storage question. First things first, let’s clear up the freezer myth. There’s something quaint and endearing about this – the wooly mammoth of coffee myths. Our response? No fridges, no freezers, no funny business.

Once a bag of coffee is opened the best place to keep it is in an airtight container in your kitchen away from extreme temperatures or humidity. Fridges and freezers are moist, damp, and full of smells that kill the natural breathing processes of the beans (Yes I know how that sounds – but it’s true!). Looking to keep your beans fresh? Buy smaller quantities more often, store them in an airtight container once they’re at home, and only grind what you’re about to brew. From there, I wouldn’t keep your beans any longer than a month. Do that and you’re golden!

Last question! Which of your coffees would you recommend to the following people:

Coffee Snobs

Exotic, Medium Roast, Single Origin Ethopian - A complex cup of ephemeral aromatics laced with fruity, floral innuendo. Never boring – a co­ffee you won’t soon forget.

Foldgers lovers (aka I don't care I just drink whatever is on hand don't give me anything fancy)

Classic, Medium Roast - A co­ffee insider’s favourite and the little black dress of our lineup. Elegant acidity highlights a nuanced, medium bodied cup.

Former Starbucks addicts (me!)

Superdark, French Roast  - The love child of dark alchemy and complete combustion. A hammering dark roast, blended to display body, balance and a dazzling dark cocoa-laced finish.

I taste tested the Classic, Super Dark and Lush compostable coffee pods. My testing buddies included two keurig drinkers, one drip pot drinker and myself (I typically use an AeroPress). The unanimous favorite for all of us was the Lush, which is a full bodied medium-dark. It's so good I almost tore a pod open this morning to use in my aeropress since I don't have a Keurig. Instead I decided to be a little more grown up about it and I got the Subscription on Amazon. I think it's also worth noting that the price point on this coffee is AMAZING. Cheaper than most fair trade coffees I've found in the grocery store and you know you're getting something really fresh! 

Today's post is sponsored by Ethical Bean and brought to you in collaboration with the Ethical Writers Coalition. Thank you for supporting the brands that support our blog. Please check our twitter and Facebook this week for more coffee related posts from EWC members!