Changing the World, One Nuanced Bean At a Time
Your alarm sounds. The internal battle of your id and superego is excruciating, as you need to get up to perform your duties as a member of society, but are also in a state of lethargy so profound that you would prefer nothing more in the entire world than to roll over and re-enter a peaceful state of sleep. The devil on your shoulder is reminding you of the thread count of your sheets. The angel on your shoulder is reminding you of your obligations. But the angel has a trump card; there will be a reward for your risk, because a taste-bud tantalizing sip of wakefulness lies in your imminent future, if you get up. The angel always seems to win. Your cup of coffee awaits your arrival. Coffee is a beverage full of pleasure, there is no doubt about it. But could the consumption of coffee not only be a selfish endeavor, but also be an action full of ethics and sustainability? The answer is yes.
Grounds for Change, a small coffee roaster out of Poulsbo, WA, not only produces a darn fine, nuanced bean; the team members at Grounds for Change wish to make a positive impact on the environment and every person affiliated with their company. Grounds for Change roasts certified organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee, offsets all of the carbon emitted along its production process, is a member of 1% for the Planet, and is a certified B Corporation.
Grounds for Change has many certificates and awards to exhibit, but the purpose of these accolades is not the ability to flaunt them (even though they are very attractive to customers); Grounds for Change is certified in all of these regions because of its desire to be transparent and sustainable, as well its desire to benchmark its progression as indicator of where Grounds for Change stands as a company.
Wendy Churchman, Grounds for Change’s development and outreach specialist, stated that, “Grounds for Change operates as a holistic system, rather than just [the embodying the mindset of] ‘here we are. We are making coffee. It goes out the door mysteriously. I don’t know where it came from or where it is going.’” From what I have observed (and this is in no way associated with Churchman’s statements or beliefs), Americans frequently look at a product (i.e. a cup of coffee or a t-shirt) and do not think about the production that led to that product. Products come from systems and every product has a story. Americans, especially those who live in cities, are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of products every day. Engrained in the consumer culture is the exaltation of products and the lack of awareness of systems. Grounds for Change imparts equal concern unto the quality of the system producing its roasted bean and the quality of the roasted bean itself.
Co-founder of Grounds for Change, Stacy Marshall, explained how Grounds for Change is not solely concerned with satisfying its employees in Poulsbo and its customers in the United States; Grounds for Change is concerned with every person and process involved in the production of their roasted beans. Marshall brought to light that the hard work was not only taking place in Poulsbo; the difficult work in coffee production also happens on the farms where people are growing, schlepping and processing the coffee. Because the people on the farms are performing the grueling labor, and because Marshall views Grounds for Change as “a community,” Grounds for Change strives to establish a human, face-to-face connection with the farmers and co-ops it works with. Imagine if a great chef was never able to meet or hear feedback from any of his customers; the chef would feel his work is pointless, and, therefore, feel less happy and fulfilled, and create a meal of diminished quality. Many coffee farmers who grow, schlepp, and produce coffee for Americans may never meet a single American or ever travel to the United States. The Grounds for Change team believes that it is their duty to establish a personal relationship with the coffee growers from which they receive beans, in an attempt to promote their values of transparency and compassion. Efforts like these, which spur from being mindful of every person and process necessary to produce a roasted coffee bean, differentiate Grounds for Change from other companies and organizations.
The B Lab is a nonprofit which recognizes companies like Grounds for Change as companies who not only want to be the best in the world, but endeavor to be the best for the world. One of the B Lab’s philosophies is that “business – the most powerful man-made force on the planet – must create value for society, not just for shareholders.” Grounds for Change, because of its meticulous nature and devotion to mindfulness, compassion, and empathy, was honored on the B Corp’s “Best for the World” list (recognized for creating the most overall positive social and environmental impact), “Best for Community” list (recognized for creating the most positive community impact), and “Best for Environment” list (recognized for creating the most positive environmental impact), all of which signify placing in the top 10% of in these fields among other B Corps. Grounds for Change is successful at being the best for the world not only because of its mindset of empathy and compassion, but because of the manner in which it uses assessment tools like the B Lab. Marshall and Churchman agreed that one of the most important, simple things companies can do to make a difference in the world is to get themselves evaluated by an assessment tool which works well for them. The B Lab, for instance, provides the public with the ability to get assessed for free, in 20 or 90 minutes, here. For many companies, it is extremely difficult to find paths for self-betterment without getting assessed. The B Lab assessment acts sort of like an outsourced form of introspection, informing a company where they stand in terms of its governance, its workers, its community, and the environment. Marshall and Churchman believe that being assessed by the B Corp is very profound and worth one’s while.
There is much to be learned from a company like Grounds for Change. Grounds for Change is taking it into its own hands to ensure the well-being of the environment and every person in the company’s reach. If all businesses strived to be the best in the world and the best for the world, we would live in a very different society, existing on a very different planet. Marshall and Churchman agreed that the two simplest ways for a company to become more environmentally and socially sustainable are mindset change and assessment. When a company treasures empathy and compassion, and places equal value on processes (systems) and products, it is bound to operate in a more sustainable and ethical manner. The other way to easily make a tangible impact on the world is rooted in assessment; when a company gets assessed by B Lab or one of the other myriad assessment methods, it can easily spot ethically and sustainably problematic areas. Through their recognition, a company can work towards solving these problems.