“Greenwash,” sceptical consumers shouted, when they saw what they felt was corporate hypocrisy around sustainability.Genuine sustainability has obvious benefits but how can an SME really act sustainably? It’s something that Steven Macatonia of Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, an award-winning artisan coffee producer and roaster based in East London, wrestled with when he and his business partner set up the company in 2001. As one of the world’s foremost experts in the sourcing and production of high-quality coffee, Macatonia travels extensively in remote regions visiting farmers to understand their needs, so they can produce exceptional coffee for Union. A trained social auditor, he’s a juror for Cup of Excellence and spent four years on the board of directors of World Coffee Research. He believes that far from being an additional burden for a business, sustainability can bring advantages. “The business benefits of adopting sustainable thinking and integrating this into day-to-day operations are extensive,” he said. Consumers and other businesses are growing more and more discerning when it comes to choosing providers that operate sustainably and tapping into this can help to generate long-term loyalty and new business opportunities. “Staff too are often invigorated by working for a sustainable company, by the sense of wellbeing that comes with working for a company that positively impacts on the world, not just lining owners or shareholders pockets,” he explained. Macatonia and co-founder Jeremy Torz pioneered a concept called Union Direct Trade, making their company the first UK roaster to introduce a “charity-free” way of linking sustainability with exceptional quality coffee. All of Union’s coffee is Q-graded as 84 and above – the industry standard for high-quality coffee – and the company is currently aiming to change perceptions about the way coffee is sourced, crafted and enjoyed. “At Union Hand-Roasted Coffee, sustainability sits at the very core of our business,” he revealed. “Essentially it’s our business model. Inspired by sustainable business owners such as Anita Roddick of the Body Shop and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s, Jeremy and I made a conscious decision to take an ethical approach to sourcing our coffee.” Union Direct Trade means that, in practice, the company agrees to pay coffee farmers a price that not only covers their cost of production, but also enables their farming practices to be commercially viable and improve the livelihood of their families.
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