Caribou Coffee closed 2011 on a high note, announcing that the company had achieved its goal of sourcing 100 percent of its coffee and espresso from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.

The Minneapolis-based company is the first major U.S. coffee brand to reach that mark.

Alfredo Martel, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Caribou, says the Rainforest Alliance Certification is the most “comprehensive and rigorous” coffee certification.

“It’s not just a certification that addresses environmental [issues], it addresses environmental, social, and economic elements and impacts in the industry,” Martel says.

Farms wanting to earn a Rainforest Alliance Certification must meet all of the standards laid out by the Sustainable Agriculture Network. The standards include having a social and environmental management system; conserving existing ecosystems, water, and soil; protecting wildlife; ensuring good working conditions for all employees; having occupational health and safety programs; reaching out to local communities; eliminating the use of dangerous chemicals; and managing waste through recycling, reducing consumption, and reuse.

Caribou had previously sourced roughly 30 percent of its coffee from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, but in April 2010 committed to reaching 100 percent by the end of 2011, Martel says.

“Behind the leadership of our CEO Michael Tattersfield, he took a stand and he put a challenge to the team,” he says. “Sometimes you’ve just got to make a bold statement for something you know is right.”

Caribou plans to educate consumers about the importance of the Rainforest Alliance Certification, Martel says, using touch points in retail locations and online.

“We believe that our customers and our guests also support it,” he says. “It is a way for us to connect with not only what we try to accomplish here in Minneapolis and in our coffee shops with our daily experiences with our guests, but trying to leverage and drive that extraordinary partnership all the way to our origin farms.”

With several certification bodies available to the coffee industry—such as the well-known Fair Trade certification—Martel says it’s easy to get caught up in which certifications companies have and not the bigger picture.

“Rather than have a debate on who’s certification is better, let’s just get educated on what all of them are doing and then look at the collective impact of all of them and realize that it’s all good,” he says.

Martel also says Caribou will also help encourage other farms around the world to earn the Rainforest Alliance Certification.

By Sam Oches

Beverage, News, Sustainability, Caribou Coffee