Creating certified sustainable coffee

Summit Coffee Co. is a Certified Organic roaster and retailer based out of North Carolina that focuses on small-lot coffees sourced intentionally from all around the world. Coffee driven and community focused, they value relationships from farm to cup. Summit Coffee has reached Platinum Status at the Green Business Bureau, is Climate Neutral certified and a partner of 1% for the Planet through its roasting business, and is working through the B Corporation certification process.

Summit Coffee views sustainability broadly to consider the community and the environment, while also focusing on developing positive and collaborative relationships across their entire value chain.

Taking an all-encompassing approach to sustainability

Summit Coffee Co. operates across ten cafés distributed throughout North Carolina, and has four more in development across the Southeast, bringing sustainable specialty coffee to a larger market.

Sustainable coffee 1

At Summit, they believe the idea of sustainability is all-encompassing, from building relationships to minimizing the environmental impact of operations. Hence, the company is working to implement as variety of green initiatives including:

  1. Working with Certified Organic facilities to source and roast their coffee beans,
  2. Sourcing coffee from small-farm producers and sustainability minded importers around the world,
  3. Composting locally at their cafés,
  4. Building collaborative relationships with a range of stakeholders,
  5. Emphasizing the importance of transparency and quality,
  6. Working to build a green culture with well-founded values and a green mission statement.

Climate change action is a top priority for Summit Coffee

In 2021, Summit Coffee achieved Carbon Neutral certification, which meant all of the company’s emissions associated with their coffee value chain – 430 tonnes of C02e – have been offset.

sustainable coffee cafe

Summit coffee has achieved such a remarkable status by accounting for every stage along their supply chain that contributes to their coffee carbon footprint. This includes:

  1. Growing, processing, and shipping the coffee from countries around the world to Summit’s roasting facility in NC,
  2. Roasting coffee in their Certified Organic roastery,
  3. Delivering coffee to their customers (ecommerce, cafés, grocery stores).

To offset emissions at every stage, Summit Coffee supports carbon offset projects around the world, which includes the development of sustainable forests in Alaska, plus renewable energy facilities (wind and solar). Summit is also committed to reducing their overall footprint through Renewable Energy Credits at their roastery, and improving the carbon footprint of their coffee packaging through various bag and bagless strategies.

Once more, Summit’s roastery is a partner of 1% for the planet. This means they’re committed to giving back at least 1% of revenue generated from their coffee sales to non-profit organizations tackling the planet’s most pressing environmental issues.

Striving for success with green certification

Green business certification gives an independent validation of a company’s sustainability efforts while also working to guide businesses in creating more sustainable operations. And for summit coffee, obtaining green certification has been a vital component of their sustainability strategy.

sustainable coffee - 1%

Summit Coffee Co. is currently working through the B Corp certification process and hopes to submit for certification later in 2022. This process has pushed the company to think deeply about all facets of their business, and how they can be a better company for the communities they interact with.

Building on this, Summit then signed up to the Green Business Bureau, using the actionable green solutions given in GBB’s EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner to support B Corp certification. Summit Coffee Co uses GBB as an interactive guide to focus their sustainability efforts at the café level for their two corporate-owned cafés in Davidson, NC (both of which have achieved Platinum Status at GBB).

The Green Business Bureau not only helps Summit Coffee strategize for improvement, but also gives green initiative ideas and encourages additional franchise cafés to implement sustainable programs as well.

Helping customers make sustainable choices

Summit Coffee knows many solutions to sustainability have a personal element. By offering sustainable products, customers can choose to be greener, supporting a behavioral shift for improved sustainability.

For instance, in February 2022, Summit Coffee removed the surcharge for alternative (plant-based) milk at all of their cafés. They aimed to set the standard to show how specialty coffee can have a positive environmental impact.

This seems like a small change, but it’s a change that significantly benefits our environment, as explained below:

  1. Land use: Dairy milk uses 8.95m2 of land, compared to oat milk which uses 0.76m2, almond milk which uses 0.5m2, and rice milk which uses 0.34m2.
  2. Water consumption: Dairy milk uses 628 liters of water, compared to ~371liters for almond, 270 liters for rice, and 48 liters for oat milk.
  3. Greenhouse gas emissions: Dairy milk churns out 3.15kg of CO2e, rice milk 1.18kg of CO2e, oat milk 0.9kg CO2e, and almond milk 0.7kgCO2e.

In summary, plant-based milk uses less land, less water, and generates lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to dairy milk. With this in mind, Summit Coffee is excited to encourage a cultural shift supporting sustainable behavior and consumption.

Using powerful digital platforms to communicate attainable and sustainable choices to the consumer

To help spread the news about Summit Coffee’s plant-based milk, plus other environmental and sustainability programs, Summit recently launched a month-long marketing campaign called Summit Green.

This campaign featured press, video content, and merchandise releases, which will all culminate in the release of their first-ever transparency report.

Plus, Summit Coffee’s Green Business Bureau certification gives a transparent account of what green initiatives the business has introduced into their cafés. Using GBB’s clickable green seal, stakeholders can access Summit Coffee’s EcoProfile for an accurate account of their successful green achievements.

The challenge of creating sustainable coffee

One of the main challenges Summit Coffee has faced has been deciding what green initiatives or program to focus on next. GBB’s assessment tool has allowed Summit Coffee to rise to this challenge as they can filter initiatives by effort, cost and impact.

This tool allows Summit to strategically plan out what actions can happen right away, and what they need to work on over time.

sustainable coffee organic farm

Along with this, Summit Coffee has made sure they’re collecting as much data as possible and using that data to communicate and tell the story of Summit’s green journey in a very transparent way.

Creating sustainable coffee starts with the farmer and ends at the customer

Summit Coffee is part of a long chain of hands that starts with the farmer and ends with that cup of coffee in the customer’s hand. As such, sustainability is an idea that spans everything from community engagement to environmental concern. They strive to make responsible, creative, and sustainable decisions within every realm of the business.

This has led to the development of Summit’s motto, “beyond sustainability” which emphasizes summit’s push to enhance the traditional sustainability pillars of People, Planet, and Profit, while adopting the idea of continuous improvement.

Summit Coffee is committed to being intentional in their actions to find ways to better serve their communities today and those in the future. And to achieve their mission, Summit Coffee makes sure they stay curious, transparent, and have fun while finding the business solutions to today’s sustainability concerns.

Summit Coffee believe sustainability is a responsibility and not just a choice


We believe sustainability is part of our responsibility and not just a choice. As we grow, it is our
objective to make sure that we are being as conscious of our environmental impact as possible. We are constantly working to find ways to create positive changes today that will also make life better in the future.” – Brett Dioguardi, Director of Sustainability Supply Chain at Summit Coffee

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