Tiny Footprint Coffee is rooted in a simple concept: “You Drink Coffee. We Plant Trees.” Over the next stretch of months, our blog will take you through the process of our reforestation efforts with the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation in the Andes mountains of Ecuador. You’ll learn exactly how your morning cup of coffee flows funds to reforestation and how this work has various co-benefits for the climate, for biodiversity, and for the communities where you help plant trees by drinking Tiny Footprint Coffee.
Today, we introduce this series with an overview of the funding process of the reforestation you support, and outline the coming series of blogs based on this process.
But before we jump into all of this, we first want to backtrack to our founding in 2010 when this journey began, and share with you some of the motivation and preparation that went into it. Realizing that not all of our customers were with us back then and after having time to reflect throughout the pandemic, we thought we’d tell the story again to get everyone up to speed.
Have you seen the weather lately, all the disasters? The climate crisis is here, and the coffee we love comes from very specific micro-climates in tropical mountains, vulnerable spaces where dedicated growers’ livelihoods are at stake. For this reason, we see that coffee has a special responsibility to contribute solutions to the climate crisis, for our own benefit and for the farmers and all the many actors along the coffee value chain. So as we planted the seeds for our company, we affirmed: Tiny Footprint Coffee would be a carbon negative roastery.
At our founding in 2010, the Tiny Footprint team knew that to become a carbon negative company, the most important step in any serious attempt to manage, compensate, neutralize or offset a carbon footprint was first reducing and avoiding emissions in the first place. At the Tiny Footprint Coffee roasting plant in Brooklyn Center, MN we opted into renewable electricity sourcing available from our utility. We financed new windows, doors and high efficiency HVAC equipment through our lease payments. We also shifted to lower waste packaging, while also retrofitting our coffee roaster with more efficient ribbon and ratio burners. We source environmentally and socially sustainable coffees. We lower our thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer (wear a sweater and shorts, as need be). And our company has never owned a vehicle - instead we deliver and make customer care visits in our personal vehicles leveraging to and from work trips whenever possible.
Once we established these eco-friendly standards, we started analyzing how much CO2 is released in the growing, picking, shipping, trucking, roasting, packaging and delivering our coffees to the average customer’s door. The initial data showed that each pound of coffee represented about 3.6 pounds of carbon emissions. We later repeated this analysis with support from the Sustainability Department of St. Thomas University, arriving at a significantly lower number, but not enough below 3 pounds to change our official math. As a catch-all for any errors or omissions, we committed to offset 4 lbs of CO2 for each pound of coffee we sell. And as became our standard, we added 50 pounds to that commitment to become the world's first carbon negative coffee.
At the same time, the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation (MCF) in Ecuador was beginning a reforestation project designed to meet both the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community, Biodiversity Alliance standard (VCS and CCBA respectively), and was subsequently validated to both standards in 2012. We came to terms to start contributing to the effort, and the cycle was solidified: “You Drink Coffee. We Plant Trees.”
Today, eleven years later, this key relationship continues, our sales have grown, and Mindo Cloudforest is now a pilot innovator project on the LandScale platform brought to life by Rainforest Alliance and Verra, the organization behind both the VCS and CCBA standards. This is one piece of a larger puzzle wherein MCF is designing a much larger carbon sequestration project that aims to build on all the lessons learned over the years - linking Key Biodiversity Areas, and featuring IUCN Red List threatened tree species and even several species thought to be new to science.
As we get to greater levels of detail in this series of blogs, we’ll look at this year’s specific tree planting project, which you’ll be helping to fund with your daily coffee. We’re getting a bit ahead of schedule, but as a teaser: With the coffee you drink this year, we’ll send roughly $40,000 to the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, to match funds for a project with the Flemish Fund for Tropical Forests from Belgium. This effort features an alliance with three other Ecuadorian NGOs for improving livelihoods, and restoring forest connectivity and community development with local farmers within the UNESCO designated Choco Andino of Pichincha Biosphere Reserve.
By the end of this year, we’ll have funded the MCF to supply 30,000 trees for this specific, impactful project. At the time of this writing, they’re two thirds of the way done planting, aiming to finish in coordination with the rains later this year, which we’ll be sharing with you as a part of this series when that work gets underway.
But before we wrap up, any introduction to Tiny Footprint Coffee would be incomplete without mentioning another key relationship that underpins all we do: Tiny Footprint’s managing partner, Alan Krohnke is the older brother of Brian Krohnke, co-founder and executive director of Mindo Cloudforest Foundation. While these two grew up in the Twin Cities and Tiny Footprint is based there, Brian hasn’t stayed for a full winter in Minnesota since turning eighteen over three decades ago. The tropical bug bit hard, and for more than twenty-five of those years he’s been in Ecuador working to conserve, protect and restore cloud forest when he's not drinking coffee, biking, birding and raising kids.
(Photo: Mindo Cloudforest Foundation Founder Brian Krohnke with wife Leila López on a visit to the Tiny Footprint Coffee Roastery in 2021)
All the while, Alan remained in Minnesota, where he’s continued to dedicate himself to Tiny Footprint and the mission since its founding: to provide people with delicious craft roasted coffee, while making the world and our environment a better place (and also raising his own kids and drinking lots of amazing coffee). The partnership between Tiny Footprint Coffee and Mindo Cloudforest Foundation is at the root of our story, our continued successes today, and the ongoing impact of our efforts as the world’s first carbon negative coffee company.
(Photo: Tiny Footprint Coffee Owner Alan Krohnke at 2021 event with Tiny Partner, Urban Roots)
So please, accept our invitation to come along for this series of blogs that will detail what we do, the impact of every cup of Tiny Footprint Coffee you enjoy, and feature great images and stories of coffee, birds, trees and the people that make it all possible. We look forward to sharing it with you, our customers, who are of course the ultimate enablers included in that group of awesome, eco-minded, and coffee-loving people, and hope you’ll appreciate seeing your daily cup of coffee help this year’s efforts continue to bloom.
Written by Laurel Zoff Pelton with co-collaborators Brian and Alan Krohnke