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Ethos

Minor Figures started out life as a little carton of cold-brew and a couple of friends who just really, really like coffee. Our focus to start with was just that - making the perfect coffee with the perfect bean.

One of our founders also founded KeepCup, the reusable coffee mug company, and brought his passion for sustainability with him, but it was a couple of years before we discovered the full extent of our plant-based calling.

Enter James.

Our head product guy, James, went vegan. And the rest is pretty much history - we either had to re-jig our entire product line to go plant-based or lose our head taste-tester. Guess he’s a pretty special guy, because we decided to commit to the plant-based lifestyle with him - which has since snowballed into a full on sustainability mission focused on sourcing principles, carbon neutrality, and becoming a B-Corp.

As Minor Figures has grown, we’ve learnt more about both coffee and business - what we like, what works, and what leaves a bad taste in your mouth. We’re always looking for new ways to improve, grow, change - especially when it comes to sustainability. From reducing our carbon footprint to offsetting the greenhouse gasses we emit, we’re committed to reducing the harm done to the planet and finding ways to create a world we want to live in, supporting communities, restoring ecosystems and biodiversity.

How we offset ourselves

In order to become carbon neutral, we need to ‘offset’ all the emissions we generate in the manufacturing process of all Minor Figures products. We do this via something known as ‘carbon credits’, which are allocated when an organisation takes steps to reduce their emissions or invests in initiatives that have a positive environmental impact. We worked with Ecofye ↗, an independent climate action advisory, who undertook a circular assessment of our business operations.

We then asked Climate Partner ↗, to assess our carbon footprint and recommend programs we could support which would offset that footprint with the biggest impact. We have been able to gather enough reliable data to offset our emissions retrospectively from July 2018.

By offsetting our emissions from July 2018 to the end of the financial year 2021 alone, we offset 4,445 tC02e. That’s equivalent to the carbon footprint of flying from London to New York some 1,709 times.

Different types of offsetting

There are a few different paths you can take when offsetting your carbon emissions. You can either turn down the route of ‘emission reduction’ or take the path of ‘carbon removal’. These routes each lead to different kinds of projects that you can invest in to offset the carbon emissions you’ve produced.

While carbon removal projects remove carbon that’s already been released into the atmosphere, projects which ‘reduce’ or ‘avoid’ emissions prevent excessive carbon emissions at the source. They replace harmful environmental practices with cleaner energy - fossil fuels for solar power, electric vehicles for diesel-guzzlers, energy-efficient cookstoves for communities which rely on them. 

These projects have wide-reaching social benefits and a hell of a lot of long-term value if we’re thinking about how we’re gonna create a society that thrives without killing the planet we live on. For the financial year 2019-2020 we paid $12.5 per tonne of CO2e for these projects and generated 21x the impact in return.

We support a range of projects, last year’s being carbon removal projects (see below for details). This year we are once again supporting a carbon reduction project, investing all our carbon credits in one initiative to concentrate the impact we’re able to have. 

What project are we currently supporting?


Solar Energy, India

This is a renewable energy project based in the small village of Surel in the Gujarat region of India. A photovoltaic plant was built with a capacity of 25 megawatts that provides sustainable, clean energy to India’s NEWNE grid, which supplies energy all over the northern, eastern, and western parts of India. This renewable energy source replaces some of the energy from fossil fuels, saving  about 32,760 tons of CO2e per year. 

The growth of renewable energy production is essential to prevent global warming and secure energy supplies for the future. Investing in this solar project not only supports the avoidance of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, but also supports the local community by strengthening the economy.


Past initiatives we've supported


Shade Grown Coffee Project, Nicaragua

Coffee farming is threatened by climate change, with rising temperatures expected to reduce the size (and output) of coffee farms by 50% in Latin America. Degraded land over periods of time have left farms more susceptible to pests and diseases, prolonged draughts, landslides caused by heavy rains, and a loss of natural pest control. But new forests create habitats for animal and plant species, and opportunities for local people. Shade grown coffee reduces erosion and landslides by improving the soil while often improving the quality of the beans.

By supporting this project, we are helping to provide coffee farmers with technical and financial support; they’ll invest in high value crops and get premium prices for their coffee. This project removes carbon by enabling farmers in Nicaragua to reforest their own land and restore the areas at higher elevations which are degraded by climate change by cultivating shade-grown coffee. To date, there are 445 farming families participating and together they have reforested 915 hectares of land.

 

 

Bamboo Afforestation Project, Nicaragua

Bamboo is one of the most efficient biological tools for fighting climate change because it grows so fast. Unfortunately, it’s often used in places where it’s not native and ends up causing disruption to local ecosystems. But not this time! because Bamboo is a native species to Eastern Nicaragua

Supporting this project will help plant 1 million native giant clumping bamboo trees; transforming a degraded landscape into a flourishing, biodiverse ecosystem. The bamboo trees are harvested for use in fibers and building materials to create livelihoods for vulnerable communities in a low-carbon economy. In contrast to cutting trees, harvesting giant clumping bamboo does not kill the plant, so they can have a lifetime of 80 years. So far, the project covers 2,361 hectares while protecting an additional 1,000 hectares of old forest as a conservation zone.

 

 

Chinchiná River Forestry Project, Colombia 

The rapid expansion of agriculture and cattle grazing has put Colombia's Andean watersheds under threat. Reforestation of watersheds is critical for Manizales and surrounding municipalities who are highly dependent on sufficient water supplies provided by the Chinchina River watershed. 

The Chinchiná River Forestry Project involves reforestation, agroforestry and silvo-pastoral systems in order to increase biodiversity and connect strategic ecosystems in the area. Selected species are reintroduced to the areas for assisted natural regeneration, watersheds are restored, and the habitats of significant wildlife in the area are improved, such as spectacled bears and yellow eared parrots. The project also improves the supply of freshwater for local communities, promotes sustainable conservation, research and ecotourism, and generates additional income sources for local farmers and small-scale local industries.

 


Biogas, Vietnam 

Helping to supply Vietnam with clean energy, this initiative contributes to 14 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

 

Clean Cookstoves, Peru

This project provides clean, energy-efficient cookstoves to households across Peru who would otherwise depend on open fire in enclosed spaces.

 

Our sourcing principles

We love coffee, and we think the people who farm it should be paid living wages. Our coffee isn’t certified Fairtrade for two main reasons:

1. Fairtrade cannot guarantee the quality standard required for specialty coffee. Fairtrade certifications are standardized, meaning it assumes one batch of coffee is equal to another, which isn’t true for specialty coffee. That makes it more complicated to get specialty coffee certified Fairtrade. 

2. We’ve adopted sourcing principles that guarantee farmers a fixed and more premium price point than what they would get with Fairtrade, because it’s based on local living wages as opposed to variable coffee commodity prices.

We’re not trying to cancel Fairtrade - they do fantastic work - we’re just invested in finding the very best strategy for everyone, from the farmer who grows the bean to the person sipping on their latte at the very end of the chain, and we’ve chosen to go with another model of making that happen.

Our green coffee is sustainably produced and ethically traded. We’re dedicated to sourcing practices that prioritize the people we trade with. We have partnered with a Social Enterprise called Raw Material, who guarantee that all Minor Figures coffee is sourced at a stable price even higher than what is considered ‘Fairtrade’. This means farmers are paid a premium on top of the local living wage and protected against commodity trading instability. 100% of the profits generated from sales through Raw Materials is returned to producers through payments for coffee and community-level investments. 

New York Stock Exchange & Fair Trade prices for Arabica coffee, 1989-2009

Fairtrade minimum price acts as a safety net for farmers at times when world market prices – characterized by their extreme volatility – fall below a sustainable level. While the commodity market prices can range 6x between all time low to all time high, the farmers' cost to produce coffee, look after their family, and prepare for climate changes to come doesn't reflect those variations.

The Fairtrade system proved highly effective during the price crisis of the late 1990s-early 2000s. While world market prices fell to a 30-year low of 0.45 US$ / lbs, the Fairtrade system guaranteed a minimum price that was 180% higher. In recent years, the differential between world market and Fairtrade prices has been more modest, raising questions about the necessity of Fairtrade certification for small-scale farmers.

'Farm Gate' Raw Material vs market prices in Colombia, 2017-2019

Farm Gate prices is what Minor Figures pay for the green beans at the farm, before it's transported to be roasted. The cost of transport is not included to only reflect the changes in coffee price. Farm Gate prices are about 25% over cost of production to ensure farmers a guaranteed price and income.

'Farm Gate' Raw Material vs Fair Trade vs NYC prices, 2017-2019

'Export price' Raw Material prices vs Fairtrade and NYC prices (US cents/kg of green coffee)

Raw Material's impact on small farm holders

Let's change things.  in 2019, seeking through Raw Material generated an average 5.1x higher profit for families in Colombia.

Minor Figures is a B Corp

Only a tiny percentage of the world’s companies are B Corp Certified and carbon neutral. We’re incredibly proud to be among less than 5,000 B Corp companies worldwide who are pioneering a new way to do business.

The B Corp Certification is a new business standard, one which rejects the capitalist ideal of profit above all, perpetuating inequality and harmful environmental practices.  A company with a B Corp Certification has been proven to be meeting high standards of environmental and social performance across all areas of business: financial, people, and sustainability (also known as the triple bottom line). It has a legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. You can read more about what being a B Corp means to us and the steps we took to get there here.

The process was a long one, involving updating our business operations, implementing new policies, enlisting the help of a third party sustainability consultancy, Ecofye, and of course redrafting everything every time we made any changes. Which, for a business growing as fast as Minor Figures, was a lot of changes over a ~2 year period!

We received a final score of 81.8 points. The points system is complex and covers every conceivable element of business. Sometimes we received points for surprising things, such as our monthly wine tasting sessions, which fell under their assessment of ‘Health and Wellness Initiatives’. On the other hand, we lost points simply due to the way the assessment favours certain criteria: where two years ago we would have scored highly in the ‘Internal Promotions’ category, we no longer do thanks to the huge growth of our team over the last two years (the assessment doesn’t favour external hiring). And some areas you’d expect to carry a lot of weight, like offsetting our suppliers’ Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 100% on top of our own, only afforded us 1.16 points! 

We’re proud to join the small (but growing) percentage of companies who are committing to a new standard for the way business should be done. Companies have the power to have a huge impact on the world - and it's our responsibility to make sure that impact is an overwhelmingly positive one for the planet and the people on it.