Some Michigan Coffee Shops Take Major Steps To Minimize Environmental Impact

Jul 3, 2019

Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of your cup of coffee? We stopped by Michigan coffee shops to find out what owners and roasters are doing to minimize the impact on the environment. 


This summer, we are bringing you a series of stories by Ray Garcia as part of a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.  

John Roos, the owner of Ann Arbor based Roos Roast Coffee shop thinks hard about what he can do to make his business stand out. Roos takes the quality of his coffee seriously. However, as an environmentally conscious person, he understands the impact coffee making has on the planet and tries to find ways around that.

“One of the things we do right off the bat is we purchase a lot of products locally, which kind of lowers our carbon footprint,” said Roos. 

Running a coffee shop uses a lot of milk. Roos prefers to buy it from Calder dairy, another small business in the area. Not only does it help the local economy but the bottles used to hold the milk are glass. 

“We use a lot of milk," said Roos. "So that means we have no plastic waste, the glass bottles get returned every week, washed and reused again. So that's a huge impact right there.”

Like many coffee shops, Roos Roast prepares specialty beans on site and donates the leftover grounds to community gardens. They also offer customers a small discount if they bring in a cup rather than using a disposable one.

In nearby Ypsilanti, Cultivate Coffee & Taphouse uses part of their space to house a 12-bed garden. They donate the crops to local food pantry. Cultivate operates as a non-profit with proceeds going to more than 170 local programs and agencies.

However, staying environmentally conscious isn’t always as simple as buying local and contributing to the community. How beans are grown is a significant factor for people in the coffee industry. 

Phillip Jewell is the COO of Blue Hat Coffee in Coldwater. One of the biggest things he looks at when buying beans is how and where it was grown. One of their primary goals is to sell coffees that are grown without pesticides. 

Jewell looks at high quality flavors, which typically means shying away from beans grown in lower altitudes because pesticides often have to be used and are harvested with machines. 

“There’s several reasons for that – one is that when you grow at high levels in the mountains you tend to have less problems with defects because you have less problems with bugs and other problems you would have at lower levels,” said Jewell.

According to David Ortega, an agricultural economics professor at Michigan State University, consumers are interested in knowing more about the origins of their food. In a recent study conducted through MSU, he found that when consumers know more about how their coffee was grown, they are willing to pay more.

“In terms of the coffee shop owners, I think really focusing on conveying the story behind the coffee and who produced the coffee and where it was produced, I think that’s that information consumers are really keen on and often times can fetch a premium,” said Ortega.

While issues like banning plastic straws receive lots of attention from consumers, many in the industry are looking to innovate new ideas.

The owners of Ann Arbor based Mockingbird Coffee are looking to the future. In the backroom of their shop, amid boxes and crates and dozens of burlap bags of beans, sits a large industrial-sized coffee roaster. 

However, their goal is to stay carbon-neutral or carbon-negative, which means offsetting their carbon dioxide emissions, also known as CO2, or removing it altogether.   

According to co-owner Peter Woolf, one of the major problems with coffee production is the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. 

“In Michigan, in the middle of winter, when it’s minus 20 [degrees] outside, most coffee roasters here are roasting coffee," said Woolf. "And then they have a smokestack that comes out, which is about 1500 degrees Fahrenheit – it’s enough to melt aluminum."

However, that heat can recaptured. Rather than see the emissions as unusable waste of the coffee roasting business, they have created a piping system to re-direct that heat. They can use it to heat their store and water, and are working on using that heat to heat the entire building, which houses about a half-dozen other businesses. 

They also plan on using the open lots around their building for a garden. They want to use the plants they grow  in the beverages and food they sell. Another goal is to sell to other businesses, so they can further help to reduce the Co2 emissions used to import fruits and vegetables from other places. 

They want to share their ideas and help push their work as a new standard within the coffee industry and other industries. 

Many in the coffee industry are hoping to make Michigan a rich blend of environmental consciousness, community and sustainably. 

Follow Ray Garcia on Twitter @RayLGar

Ray's story was brought to you as part of a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. Look for more stories later this summer.