May 24, 2018
A Vermont food company, whose products are on store shelves throughout New England, is now making its coffee using an emerging power source that’s gentler on the environment. The coffee beans look the same—dark brown as always—but it’s green energy now fueling the operation at the Vermont Coffee Company in Middlebury.
“It was a huge morale boost for the company to accomplish something that no one had done before,” said company founder Paul Ralston.
The Vermont Coffee Company is boasting that it’s the nation’s first roastery powered entirely by renewables.
With all the heat and machines needed to roast coffee beans, this is an energy-intensive business, and Ralston wanted to reduce his carbon footprint.
So he ditched propane for biogas. It is made from the methane given off by a Canadian landfill.
Vermont Gas pipes the biogas to the roasting facility, which employs 35 people across its various departments. The renewable power source is considered cleaner than conventional natural gas.
Ralston also went with “cow power” electricity from Green Mountain Power, which is produced from the methane in manure on Vermont dairy farms.
“What can a small company do that a big company won’t do?” Ralston asked rhetorically. “A big company won’t spend the money on renewable fuels, but we can, because we know our customers will appreciate it.”
The biogas costs more than twice what his old fuel did, Ralston said, but the company assures customers across the Northeast that they will not face price hikes.
That’s because new roasting equipment that operates far more efficiently has cut energy consumption, the company explained, helping make those higher costs of renewables less of an issue.
“Efficiency is the most important first step to take,” Ralston said.
“I think you’re going to continue to see this more and more,” predicted Elaine Young, a marketing professor at Champlain College’s Stiller School of Business.
Young said she believes companies that make sustainability a key part of their branding and public messaging are primed for growth, noting that both millennials and baby boomers alike increasingly want to feel good about the ethics of the labels they support.
“It’s a crowded marketplace,” Young said of consumer goods. “You have to win [customers’] loyalty—you have to get on their radar to win their loyalty. Showing yourself as being sustainable and speaking to that particular market segment can have big dividends. But it’s not easy to do.”
Paul Ralston said he’s glad he put in the hard work.
“I do believe people will take notice,” he told necn.
While the Vermont Coffee Company may be the first roaster to switch to all renewables, Ralston said he hopes the company is not the last.