What does it mean for coffee to be sustainable?​

Let's talk about what this overused word means, what it doesn't mean, and how we can make a more sustainable world together.

What's the Problem?

Our planet is in trouble. There is too much waste ending up in landfills, too much carbon ending up in the air, and people being paid too little to do things in a sustainable way.

We believe the solution is for companies and individuals to take action to reduce waste, sequester carbon (put it back in the ground or keep it from leaving the ground) and create a system that pays people well for doing things a more sustainable way. That way, the next 100 generations can enjoy a cleaner, sustainable future. 

Creating Environmental Sustainability

In order to create an environmentally sustainable world, we all must take action to stop unsustainable practices and start sustainable ones. These actions must be ones that are easy enough for people to actually do! At Firelight Coffee, our strategy is focused on things like fully recycling every coffee bag, continually reducing carbon throughout our supply chain, and streamlining our operations to limit waste and greenhouse gas emissions at the source. Read more about specific initiatives we have taken below.

Pursuing Economic Sustainability

A sustainable world must make economic sense. Every person must be paid fairly and rewarded for taking sustainable action. When it comes to coffee, this means each person who touches the coffee must be paid above their production cost and given incentives for great work. As a customer, your willingness to pay a small premium for better coffee enables us to not only pay our team a living wage, but to ensure that coffee famers, producers and logistics operators are being paid fair, living wages too.

Ensuring Social Sustainability

Earth care is important, but what if poverty, inequity, and horrible working conditions remain? A sustainable world is one that treats every human with respect and dignity. Anything less is unsustainable, because companies and their employees cannot flourish while being taken advantage of. By choosing Firelight you are also choosing to make the world better for the people living in it.

We're not Perfect!

While we’ve taken some bold steps toward making our offerings and product lines more sustainable, we at Firelight Coffee recognize that we have a long way to go to meet our sustainability goals. In the meantime, our goal is to be transparent about where we are and where we intend to go. We would love to hear your feedback on what we can do better. Read on for more information about how you can get involved, and know that every bag of coffee you purchase brings us one step closer to making the world sustainable for generations to come.

What is Firelight Coffee Doing About Sustainability?

Here are some answers to the questions we receive the most. If we missed anything, please use the form below to reach out to us!

Every 12oz bag we sell comes in a 100% recyclable package. We chose to use #4 LDPE plastics, which are recyclable in some facilities. We made our bags recyclable rather than compostable because it was the only way to offer a solution where 100% of the materials can be kept out of landfills (currently, the best compostable option that fully protects coffee from moisture and oxygen only reclaims 60% of the material). 

Most of our coffee comes from importers and exporters who do the work of transporting coffee from the farm, overseeing coffee processing (like de-pulping, washing, etc.) and delivering it to a port. This gives them on-the-ground access to each farm and a great opportunity to incentivize sustainable practices. We are very selective about which import/export companies we work with, and only choose those who share our vision for a sustainable world and have ongoing relationships with their farmers. We then work with our import/export partners on a set of benchmarks to make sure that the farmers’ living conditions get better from year to year. Lastly, we make sure that every person we hire at Firelight is cared for by offering a livable wage and making sure they are able to grow as a coffee professional and as a person by working with us.

First and foremost, we pay a premium for our green (raw) coffees and are very selective about the coffee importers we work with, making sure they share our vision for a sustainable world and have ongoing relationships with their farmers. We then work with them on a set of benchmarks to make sure that the farmers are seeing their living conditions get better from year to year. Lastly, we make sure that every person we hire at Firelight is cared for, both with a livable wage but also by making sure they are able to grow as a coffee professional and as a person by working with us. 

We capture the Free on Board (FOB) price for every coffee where it is possible, which tells us what the importer paid for the coffee at the port. We then try to match this with a living wage index or a production cost assessment to make sure that the farmer is paid fairly and that our importing partner is making enough margin to continue sustainably.

We are also pursuing ways to pay farmers a premium when they plant shade trees, install equipment to clean waste water, and switch to more natural pesticides, all of which make their farm more sustainable.

Certifications can be very helpful tools in discerning sustainable practices. At their core, certifications exist to offer a verifiable (most of the time) check that companies and individuals throughout the supply chain are doing what they claim to do. In coffee, you may have heard of Fair Trade, Organic, and Rainforest Certified coffees. The intent and practice of these certifications are noble and helpful, but for many smaller coffee farmers and producers (called small-holder farmers) these certifications are cost-prohibitive and out of reach. We never want to put an undue burden on the most vulnerable people in the supply chain, the small-holder farmer. However, with our commitment to long-term partnerships with farmers, we have plans to obtain third-party verification to verify sustainable practices.

On the other side of the supply chain, newer certification organizations like B Labs are acting as forces for good to help companies move toward shared sustainability goals. We are planning in the near future to seek B Corp certification so that we can prove our commitment to sustainability in a wide range of areas.

We’re reducing waste at our roasting facility by delivering our burlap sacks and coffee chaff (a waste byproduct of the roasting process) to local gardens that can use the sacks as planters and the chaff as composting material. With a number of partner farms on board, we have found avenues to reuse all of the chaff and burlap we create!

Additionally, we have a robust recycling station for any items that cannot be reused. Every other week, we drop off our recyclables, included collected #4 retail coffee bags, at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) in Atlanta. Through partnership with CHaRM, we can be confident that all our recyclables are actually processed and recycled.

In partnership with sustainability-focused companies like FAF Coffees, we are working to build models and incentive structures that give farmers and producers a clear path and monetary incentive to sustainably farm their land. Once this model is built, we then plan to introduce it to our other importing partners to increase sustainability efforts for all our coffees and make it a standard way of sourcing coffee at Firelight Coffee.

At our roasting facility we plan to invest in a recirculating or fully electric roaster to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency, continuing to keep as much carbon from the air as possible. We are also planning to open a sustainability-focused roasting facility featuring renewable energy generation in 2025.

From an organizational standpoint we plan to become B-corp certified and join the ranks of business who are publicly committing to creating a more sustainable future.

Coffee cherries

We Want to Hear from You!

Have some thoughts or insights that could help us in sustainability efforts? Fill out the form below to let us know what you think we’re doing well and where we could improve.