Ethical Experts: talking Sustainability with B-Corp Certified bio-bean
Like millions, my morning ritual is incomplete without a strong, aromatic cup of coffee. And as the boujee, privileged millennial that I am, I opt for freshly brewed coffee made with a french press. Still dazed, dressing-gown clad and half-asleep, I don’t think twice about throwing away any leftover grounds. In fact, I am someone who obsesses over the most sustainable vegan milk brand to add to my coffee yet I mindlessly put these grounds into the general rubbish bin. After speaking to bio-bean, my attitude to throwing away used coffee grounds has changed for the better. Now I have learnt from these ethical experts, and without the stain of guilt, my coffee addiction and myself are going strong.
The Issue of Coffee Waste
The world drinks over 2.25 billion cups of coffee a day – 95 million of those cups come from the UK alone. With an estimated average of 11 grams of freshly ground coffee going into each cup, around 381,000 tonnes of ground coffee are brewed every year. The result is an estimated 500,000 tonnes of wet, waste coffee grounds.
Like I used to do, people tend to throw these used coffee grounds into general waste, where they end up in the landfill. It’s here where they generate large quantities of methane – a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
bio-bean – Ethical Experts
Thankfully, bio-bean has found a way to combat this problem. As the world’s largest recycler of coffee grounds, bio-bean are truly ethical experts, leading the way in terms of corporate sustainability. In fact, bio-bean collects used grounds from businesses at every scale – including cafes, universities and instant coffee factories. Grounds are then transported to their factory in Cambridgeshire, where they’re dried and transformed into a range of sustainable bio-products that benefit both people and planet. I spoke with Jessica Folkerts, bio-bean’s head of marketing to talk about how B CorpTM provides a sustainable solution to the issue of coffee waste.
Ethical: Hey! Can you tell me a little about how bio-bean came about?
Jessica: In 2013 a student named Arthur Kay noticed the film of oil collecting on his cold americano and began to wonder. He was struck by the volume of used coffee grounds going to waste and delved in to find research supporting his theory that the used grounds contain oil and could therefore be used as a fuel source. He went on to develop coffee-derived biomass pellets and from there, bio-bean was born.
We grew rapidly, launching coffee collection services across the UK and building the world’s first industrial-scale coffee recycling factory only two years later. In 2016 we launched our first consumer retail product, Coffee Logs, and in late 2019 launched our first natural flavouring ingredient into the food and beverage industry. And we’re now gaining traction with our dried grounds as a bulk, raw material in other product innovations, like automotive brake pads and bio-plastics.
E: Can you tell me about the process of becoming a B CorpTM and what the accreditation means to bio-bean?
J: Initially, we weren’t trying for certification. But we saw B CorpTM as a gold standard for environmental and social sustainability and wanted to see how we compared whilst identifying areas for improvement. So we used the B Corp self-assessment as a framework for this comparison, and soon recognised that our efforts and ambition to achieve even more for both planet and people scored us above the threshold to become a B Corp. Knowing how much the B Corp movement aligns with the direction we want to take the business, we decided to apply for full certification.
We submitted our assessment, went through the rigorous verification process and officially became a Certified B CorporationTM in October 2020.
B Corp recognises businesses that are working to bring about change and operate in a way that seeks to benefit the wider community, whilst it also provides a framework for continuous improvement. For us, the ethos behind B Corp is aligned with what we are trying to achieve at bio-bean, so to become a B Corp is a fantastic recognition of the business that the team has built, as well as being a clear marker for the way in which we will operate going forward.
E: Has becoming a B Corp helped you achieve your sustainability goals?
J: As we only recently certified in October, it’s too soon to say. We’ve spent the past few months onboarding into the B Corp community, the working groups and looking ahead to how we, as a team, can make even more of an impact.
E: As bio-bean aims to utilise the chemical compounds that would otherwise be wasted in the coffee brewing process. What are some existing and potential examples of how you do that?
J: We recycle spent coffee grounds into a variety of sustainable bio-products, putting them back into a circular economy.
Our consumer-facing product, Coffee Logs, is a domestic fire log for wood burners and stoves. We also make coffee biomass pellets for industrial/commercial-scale biomass boilers. But before the grounds are turned into these solid biomass fuels, we extract the remaining flavour and fragrance compounds from the grounds in order to make a natural coffee flavour ingredient for food and beverage manufacturing.
Part of our recycling process is drying and sieving the grounds down to a fine powder-like material. We’re now selling this bulk, raw material into a vast array of industries to displace conventional, virgin petrochemical-based materials; from bioplastics and automotive friction to cosmetics and textiles.
E: bio-bean is known for its innovative products, including Coffee Logs and Natural Flavours. Can you tell me about your process of generating a creative idea and what it takes to actualise it?
J: Our process of having an idea, developing a product and taking it to market isn’t formulised. Rather, it’s been a bit of a learn-as-we-go process, particularly given the fact that we’re doing something no one else has done before at this scale, and that we continue to break through into new industries with our products derived from spent grounds.
We’ve had to develop and adapt our own technologies and machinery, and we’ve had to perform rapid deep dives into fields from bioplastics to flavour ingredients. It takes a healthy dose of ambition, tenacity, and faith in our purpose and in one another to do what we do.
E: This year, the World Earth Day theme is ‘Restore Our Earth.’ What do you think are some small ways in which we can all help achieve that goal?
J: The answer lies in your question. If we all do our part to make even small changes, step by step, those will accumulate to big, impactful change. All it takes is a decision to take that first step. Whether that’s recycling your coffee grounds at home, reducing your plastic consumption, using up your food scraps rather than throwing them away, driving fewer miles or helping to raise awareness of the climate emergency, we all just need to take that first step toward collective, large-scale behaviour change.
E: Are there any examples of businesses that bio-bean admires in terms of its sustainability efforts?
J: Now that we’re a part of the global B Corp community, we see thousands of businesses doing their best to lessen their environmental footprint and to be a better business for people and planet. Most of these businesses are further along the B Corp journey than we are, and we have the benefit of learning from their experiences.
E: How does bio-bean make sure that its employees are included in its sustainability efforts?
J: This is actually something we’ve been working on internally. While bio-bean is inherently built on a foundation of sustainability by the sheer fact that we recycle spent coffee grounds, there are improvements to be made in our day-to-day running of the business. So we’ve started on a sustainability improvement project, pulling in ideas, feedback and action from all departments. As part of this, we’ve started to drop occasional internal comms around the topic of sustainability, what it is and what it means to us; the idea being to educate and engage our team further in our purpose to make impactful change by innovating through coffee waste.