How B Corp Coaltown Coffee provides meaningful employment through speciality coffee
Wales based B Corp Coaltown Coffee: “B Corp keeps us in check."
Coaltown Coffee founder, Scott James, has always been passionate about coffee, and decided to capitalise on the rising popularity of specialty coffee by starting a business with a clear purpose: to create meaningful employment in former mining communities. He and his co-founders wanted the business to be ethical, transparent, and unlike mining, sustainable.
- Company: Coaltown Coffee is an ethical coffee roastery
- Location: Ammanford, South Wales
- Founded: 2013
- Size: 20 employees
- Sector: Consumer goods
- Purpose: To provide meaningful and sustainable employment in post-industrial mining towns through speciality coffee
- Discovering accountability for sustainability
- Continuous improvement
For Coaltown Coffee, being sustainable means trading directly with small, often remote, farms from across the world’s coffee-growing regions; removing as much waste from its operations as possible; and adhering to the principle of continuous improvement so that the business outlives its founders’ involvement.
Josh Clarke, director of coffee, operations and culture, explains: “Coaltown isn’t a flash in the pan, a trendy coffee company that will disappear in ten years’ time when we all get a bit old and aren’t cool any more.” The team recognised that becoming a B Corp was consistent with their aims, and would hold them accountable for continuous improvement. B Corps (or Certified B Corporations) are verified by B Lab to meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.
“Having to follow set guidelines forces us to hold a magnifying glass over what we do to make sure we are really doing what we say we are doing,” says Josh. “The B Corp impact assessment also means we can’t stand still; we have to constantly pursue our next challenge.”
- Engaging employees
- Simplifying decision-making
Josh is B Corp team leader, but everyone in the business is encouraged to hold others accountable to the B Corp standards. The business has set up a dedicated B Corp channel on Teams where people can share what they are doing, and, once a month, a different colleague speaks at the daily team meeting about an aspect of the impact assessment that they feel passionate about. “It’s a way of growing people, and colleagues jump at the opportunity because they really live this stuff,” says Josh.
There’s also a channel called ‘two-second improvements’, set up as part of the company’s war on waste. Everyone is encouraged to make one two-second improvement to their job every day. Josh explains: “The idea is that if everyone has that mindset, all the two seconds will add up to create value."
Coaltown has also used B Corp Certification to simplify decision-making. Josh explains: “When you are a young, dynamic business full of creative people, you can get caught up in all the potential opportunities that surround you. That’s fun, but it’s not always good for business. Now, whenever we have a decision to make, we ask whether it aligns with our founding principles, and what impact it has on our commitment to be a sustainable B Corp business. In that way, B Corp keeps us in check.”
- Greater brand awareness
- Stronger relationships with customers and employees
- Faster growth
Since the start of the year, almost 50 per cent of the candidates who apply to join Coaltown note that they are attracted to the company because of its B Corp status. B Corp Certification has also given employees a sense of purpose. Josh explains: “During and after the pandemic, many people questioned what life is all about. Now we wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose and belonging that is directly linked to our purpose as a B Corp, and to the knowledge that we are part of something that is much greater than Coaltown — millions of other businesses, like us, driving for a sustainable future.” This sense of purpose and belonging leads to improvements to the business, and improved scores in the impact assessment: “It’s a virtuous circle,” says Josh.
B Corp Certification has enhanced the brand in the eyes of consumers too. Josh explained how the business has seen “a huge growth trend in retail sales since 2019,” which can be attributed to its B Corp status. The business has received coverage in The Financial Times, the Guardian and on the BBC that reflects Coaltown’s desire to be, in Josh’s words, “more than a business — rather, a movement for post-industrialisation in Wales.”
Coaltown Coffee’s war on waste has meant it's now moved to just-in-time production, reducing the process of manufacturing and packing coffee from eight hours down to two hours and 15 minutes. “Being a B Corp has helped all our staff understand the importance and significance of reducing waste,” explains Josh. “It’s what we do, every day.” Switching to reusable and recyclable materials means that less than 0.1 per cent of sales are now generated from single-use plastic. The business has seen so much success that it can now expand with a chain of Coaltown Coffee espresso bars in former Welsh coal mining towns. Three out of the planned 20 will open this year, doubling employment — and all will be B Corp certified.