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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 news 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 produce as a company via something known as ‘carbon credits’, which are allocated when an organization 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. They undertook a circular assessment of our business operations – everything from our roasting, production, and shipping practices to office practices like daily vegan meals, team commutes, and business travel. 

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. The total we produced and needed to offset was 1,588.90 tCO2e - which is equivalent to the carbon footprint of flying from New York to London some 1,200 times.

The emissions are split in two categories: products and corporate emissions. Corporate emissions represent the team’s emissions, such as our collective commutes to the office, the vegan meals we cook daily, utilities, paper, flights, trains, and other modes of transport we take. It really is as extensive as it sounds!

To offset our CO2 emissions, we invested into two Gold Standard Carbon Projects: Biogas in Vietnam, and Clean Cookstoves in Peru. We chose these projects because they work at a grassroots level and have a tangible impact on the daily lives of local communities, especially those most directly affected by the negative effects of climate change. These offsets help generate work and improve livelihoods, which in turn improves education, local economies and all of the good stuff. 

Biogas, Vietnam

Helping to supply Vietnam with clean energy, this initiative contributes to 14 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How it works: small-scale biogas plants are constructed in households throughout the country, using organic matter such as animal manure, which ferments when deprived of oxygen to produce biogas. This is a clean and affordable source of energy that can be used for cooking, heating and fuel, and negates the need for burning wood or coal. Not only does this counteract deforestation, but it also helps improve sanitation and produces a natural fertilizer that can then be used for harvesting.

Clean Cookstoves, Peru

This project provides clean, energy-efficient cookstoves to households across Peru who would otherwise depend on open fire in enclosed spaces. Clean cookstoves cuts vast amounts of carbon emissions, contributes to 12 of the UN’s SDGs, and has so far supported around half a million families living in poverty. How it works: Supplying efficient and clean cookstoves to families in poor, rural parts of Peru helps prevent the use of traditional stoves which not only guzzle huge amounts of energy but pose serious health risks such as respiratory and eye problems, and can even lead to death.

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. 

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 & Fairtrade 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 Fairtrade 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.

Becoming a B-Corp

A Certified B-Corp is a company that looks beyond their financial success - AKA the ‘bottom line’ - when measuring performance, placing importance and value on the social and environmental impact as well. When you see a B-Corp certification, you can trust that the brand takes care of its people (suppliers, employees, you name it) and the planet. That triad forms the “Triple Bottom Line”.

We chose to apply to become a B-Corp because the certification system helps us take a critical look at ourselves and enables us to know we are doing the absolute best we can be doing in all the aspects of being an ethical business that matter to us. Best of all, it helps us to be totally transparent with all the people who are invested in Minor Figures too - be it the at-home baristas, professional coffee drinkers, investors, or cafe-owners who stock our Oat M*lk. We submitted our application to become a B-Corp certified company in June 2020, but it takes a while to process the whole thing due to the high number of companies doing the same thing (which is great news) and the limited number of employees at B-Lab (the company delivering  the B-Corp certification). We’ll shout about it once we get it.