Written by Helen Russell, Co-Founder of Equator Coffees
Prior to starting Equator Coffees in 1995, Brooke McDonnell and I ran two coffee carts in the Bay Area. Business was good, but as we grew, so did our desire to learn more about the products we were bringing to our customers. We wanted to have information about the coffees we could share with the people we were serving. We asked our roasters about the products we were buying, wondering what coffees made up the blends, where the beans were grown, what elevation they came from, the makeup of the soil, and who grew and handled the beans. Since the 90’s weren’t exactly a time for supplier transparency, we didn’t receive many answers and were left with little insight about the coffees we bought.
Taking Pride in Our Product
The lack of shared knowledge sparked the idea to create a business that sold a product we could be proud of — a business that was socially responsible, committed to excellence in every aspect, and had transparent business practices. We wanted to educate and build trust with our customers, taking them on the journey with us. The only way we knew how to do it was a fresh start and a new business model.
In 1995, we launched Equator Coffees in Corte Madera, CA. Like many startups at this time, our humble beginnings were born in a modest garage where we had a small roasting machine running for 12 hours each day. As we roasted batch after batch, our curiosity to continuously learn led us to consciously seek out higher quality coffees that could be traced to their origins and were grown by people we could build relationships with.
Making a Difference
We believed that sourcing and roasting the highest quality coffee was only possible when we held our supply chain to the highest standards. It was paramount to make sure it contributed to the social welfare of the farmers and producers, benefited our employees and community, and led to environmental sustainability at home and abroad.
We developed relationships directly with farmers in coffee-growing regions and were one of the first roasters in the country to partner with Fair Trade USA in 1999, ensuring our farmers a higher standard of living. We were also one of the first roasters to pursue a cleaner and more efficient roasting process by purchasing a Loring Smart Roaster, helping lower emissions and energy use. We even established our own coffee farm in Panama, called Finca Sophia, to gain a deeper understanding of the production process starting at the farm level.
Making it Official
In 2011, we wanted to formalize what we were already doing as a company and worked to obtain a B-Corp Certification. This validation would tell us that we were doing something right. The certification process requires us to legally consider the impact of our decisions for all stakeholders and forces us to look inward to answer questions that demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accountability, not just financially but throughout our supply chain. It’s a valuable process that pushes us to articulate policies around issues we may not have considered previously, such as employee volunteerism. The certification also establishes benchmark metrics for improving diverse areas of our business like energy usage and minority hiring.
Utilizing the B-Corp platform gives us a template for best practices and sheds light on areas we can improve upon so we can grow as a company and make a greater impact on our community. This is our commitment as a Certified B-Corp and every 3 year assessment is our opportunity to validate we’re on the right path across every aspect of the business. Tracking these benchmarks has helped us grow from a B-Corp score of 82.8 in 2011 to a 92.6 in 2020.
A Lasting Commitment
In 1995, we made a commitment to use this business as a force for good and to operate with the idea that better coffee can create a better world. This certification is about our community, stakeholder value, and striving to impact every aspect of a sustainable and equitable supply chain.
When I look into a cup of coffee now, I see the faces of people we’ve worked with and know the hands that have touched this product from tree to cup. As the first coffee roaster in California to achieve a B-Corp Certification, we are proud to join a group of forward thinking companies spanning 50+ industries.