With the dust having settled on the news that Nespresso has become a B Corp certified company, we have had time to reflect and discuss the implications of such a move in light of our own recent certification. We were surprised to be one of the only coffee companies to speak up about the news at the time, although that has changed recently with an open letter addressing labour concerns signed by several prominent US-based companies.
Glen Lyon Coffee is very proud to recently have been certified as one of only two B Corp coffee roasteries in Scotland. The certification scheme sets the highest of standards for environmental and social responsibility. To achieve it we have looked at all aspects of our business and made changes to our sourcing, packaging and accountability to give our staff, society, and the planet as much prominence as the financial realities of the business.
As part of this, we also see our role in this community to consider companies who have also been B Corp Certified. Some of them are much bigger than us and we understand that the umbrella for this movement is a wide one that is potentially open to anyone willing to make genuine commitment to ‘business purpose.’ But we feel a line needs to be drawn somewhere to protect the reputation of the certification scheme as well as businesses like ourselves who have signed up to it.
The question is: where is that line? When we heard that Nespresso was about to be certified as a B Corp our initial reaction was dismay. There is no escaping the fact that the huge volume of waste that this company is responsible for is bad for the planet. Every coffee made with one of Nespresso’s capsules produces approximately one gram of aluminium. With conservative estimates of 14 billion capsules being produced each year, this equates to 12,600 tonnes of aluminium waste every 12 months, equivalent to 60 Statues of liberty.
Nespresso says it is working hard to remedy this, with an estimated 30% of the coffee capsules it produces now being recycled through dedicated collection points. Nespresso also has an ambitious tree planting scheme in its journey towards net zero, and invests in education and infrastructure projects in farming communities around the world.
When we raised our concerns with B Corp on Twitter, the organisation replied that “Becoming a B Corp means Nespresso now has both a verified framework & an influential community holding them accountable to continue to improve their social and environmental performance & be transparent about progress.”
In the interest of transparency and accountability, here is a list of our concerns about the news:
Nespresso coffee capsules
Nespresso’s composite aluminium and silicon capsules can not be recycled by regular means and the company’s estimate of 30% being currently recycled through their own collection centres is considered by some commentators to be overly optimistic. In this age of environmental collapse there is no way of finessing the fact that making coffee with throw away coffee pods, even with the best recycling efforts, is bad for the planet.
We recognise that Nespresso is taking some steps to improve its environmental record. These include committing to making every cup carbon neutral by the end of 2022 and planting 5.2 million trees in nine countries between 2014 and 2020. However good these deeds are they do not balance up the fact that coffee pods are environmentally unsustainable. We agree entirely with B Corp when it states that “positive aspirational practices and negative practices or rights violation can not and should not be equated.”
We recognise Nespresso’s commitment to social responsibility and its work with farms on a number of projects around the world in recent years. This includes the ‘Reviving Origins’ project with a focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as investing in clean water and healthcare in coffee farming communities.
However the cost of these high profile initiatives seem to be dwarfed by the business’s overall turnover, profits and marketing budget. Reviving Origins will reportedly cost Nespresso US$10 million over a five-year period, while it paid George Clooney a reported US$40 million to be the face of the company. Meanwhile Nespresso had reported sales of $7 billion in 2021. We are therefore concerned that Nespresso remains, despite the marketing, a business that is primarily driving profit for its stakeholders and parent company Nestlé.
Furthermore there remain serious concerns about just how ethical practices are in farms that supply coffee beans to Nespresso. The Channel 4 journalist Antony Barnett uncovered evidence of child labour on Nespresso farms in Guatemala in 2020. Nespresso responded that they have zero tolerance of child labour and that where there are claims that their standards are not met, they act immediately.
Nespresso and Nestlé
B Corp’s position is that despite Nestlé being the parent company to Nespresso this is not relevant to the certification process. The original statement that was sent to us by B Corp stated that “Nespresso is a corporation in its own right with full control of its product and operations.” By nature of being a parent company, Nestlé will surely exert some direct or indirect control over its subsidiary.
It seems extraordinary that Nespresso can be certified while its parent company evades scrutiny. Shouldn’t Nestlé also be put through the full B Corp assessment process to evaluate its environmental and social practices? This is especially relevant given the present and past controversies that surround Nestlé.
What does this mean for Glen Lyon Coffee?
We’re still proud to call ourselves a certified B Corp company, proud of the steps we’ve taken to reach this point and proud of the internal processes we’ve put in place because of the certification. But we believe that being a member of this community also means speaking out, holding ourselves and others to account.
We are hoping for more clarification on the assessment process that was carried out for Nespresso and are asking at what point a review would be triggered should further damaging revelations were to made about Nespresso or Nestle’s social and/or environmental practices.