Have you ever thought about where your office coffee comes from? We think it is about time you do.
King Coffee have been members of S-HUB since December 2018, and they are an uplifting example of how integrating of sustainability into every aspect of the business model generates great benefits, both locally and globally. By way of example, they turn their coffee grounds into mushrooms, they ensure water supply for three Ethiopian villages and work for gender equality in developing countries. We had the pleasure of talking with King Coffee Founder Erik Låbakk.
Read on to learn about some of the murky aspects of the coffee industry, and how a small Norwegian company is changing it from the inside out. Maybe you will reconsider your office coffee?
Please tell us a bit about your background
I have spent my working life on the commercial side. Fighting for profit and market shares. Some years ago I “changed side” and had a spell within procurement. That experience led my attention to social responsibility as a part of business conduct. In 2014 I started to write a document on how social responsibility can be built into a business model and used as a weapon when it comes to attracting the market and employees. The more I read, listened, investigated and wrote - the more I was dragged into it. The result is King Coffee. For me it is hard to see any other areas of business making more meaning and being more interesting, than working with social responsibility.
Why is sustainability important to King Coffee?
King Coffee is an impact-company working with coffee, so it is the reason why we are here. My driving force was to establish a no-compromise company that took its social responsibility very far. And I wanted to prove that social responsibility gives position, position gives customer and customers gives profitability, which again will give more social responsibility. A nice circle.
We have developed a model that ensures that more of the value created within coffee chain goes to the countries that grow the coffee. We want the coffee that is consumed in warm and safe Norwegian offices to contribute to sustainable development in the coffee countries. It is not more difficult than that. To succeed we must serve high quality coffee and do right when it comes to sustainable choices.
The coffee industry is not nice, mainly because there are big players that are too focused on their own profit. We are the opposite. Society first and we share the values. Our experience so far is that once the customers know, they care. So we are growing, and are thankful for that.
What are the greatest sustainability challenges and opportunities for your industry?
The coffee industry has big challenges when it comes to the environment, working conditions and poverty. It is the second largest commodity in the world, after oil. Grown in countries with less developed democracy and economics.
Unfortunately the industry is quite ugly actually. It takes 4000 hand-picked berries to make a kilo of coffee. And after it is picked there is a lot more to do. Wash or dry the berries, separate the berry from the peel, sort them, pack and store, ship them. Some players are happy to pay less than 20 kroner per kilo. Beats me.
The big players along the value chain of your coffee are not enough involved in the industry challenges. They are in pole position to help the farmers, the countries, but choose their own bottom line. That is sad. I will say that is a big sustainable challenge.
So we need new capitalists and we need customers using their purchasing power.
Moving forward, what are your plans and goals (in relation to sustainability)? What do you wish to learn more about/see of changes in the years to come?
Right now we are launching the first version of “Kafferegnskapet”. Maybe we can label that as a little innovation. Kafferegnskapet shows each customer the positive impact of their coffee consumption. We build water systems and schools, both initiatives of UN's Gold Standard. We have already built water systems ensuring that three villages in Ethiopia have fresh water each day for the rest of people's life. We have also built an early childhood care and development (ECCD) for children in Uganda. That is a direct result of choosing us as a supplier of coffee to their office. So business can really change peoples life, can't it?
We want to grow and do more good. Help more people, giving more people opportunities. And we want to show it to our customers, so they can see what they are a part of.
We want to establish new partnerships like the one we have with Gruten. Gruten is a beautiful circular company who makes value out of the coffee waste. We have, pro bono, used every Friday to collect waste from some of our customers and delivered it to Gruten. Coffee waste is Grutens commodity. Gruten makes absolutely lovely and high quality oyster mushroom of the waste. The mushroom goes back to the cantina and the employees can have a lovely, circular lunch based on their own coffee waste. Or buy the mushroom and take it home.
What I want to see more in the years to come, what I hope for? I hope more companies can give more bold sustainable statements and follow them through with their actions. That would be nice.
Who is your sustainability role model?
I do not have any specific person or company as a sustainability role model. I read a lot and there are so many inspiring people around. If I should give some names, I am inspired by Tony's Chocolonely, Patagonia (btw a customer in Norway), Ben and Jerry's, Paul Polman, but also Norwegian capacities such as Petter Gulli and your own Andreas Friis.
Unfortunately, it is easier to find anti-role models, but probably best not to mention by name.
Any advice for other companies? What can companies do to maximize their impact?
I do not fancy giving advice. Our experience is that doing good creates position and profitable business. Within reasonable frames, the more the better. Do more good. Show the impact to your stakeholders and talk loud about it so others can be inspired.
And change your supplier of office coffee!