By Dylan Klempner
At Volta Coffee & Chocolate in downtown Gainesville, Florida, sustainability has been a primary goal since the company’s inception, said owner Anthony Rue. While hosting a recent Green Drinks meeting at his coffee shop, Rue outlined the steps he has taken over the years “to be as sustainable as possible.”
There are many different ways to interpret sustainability, said Rue, but a primary consideration has to include a low environmental impact. Rue says his company created a business plan designed to create as little waste as possible while at the same time producing the best quality product they can.
“At every step we tried to figure out a way to minimize the amount of waste generated by the shop,” said Rue. Volta also composts or reuses organic waste and limits the amount of packaging and the use of consumable products like paper cups and plastics.
Rue said his company buys local, organic products whenever possible, a commitment that was integrated into Volta’s architectural design and materials. Rue said that all of the cypress used in the shop’s bar was recovered from nearby rivers or salvaged from construction sites.
Volta purchases as much produce as they can from Gainesville’s downtown farmer’s market for their baked goods program, while also participating in the market as a vender. “Whenever possible, we try to keep the money here in the city,” said Rue.
Honey served in Volta’s teas is harvested from hives located at Rue’s own house. “The bees are harvesting honey off of wild flowers on Paynes Prairie like three miles from the door of the shop,” he said.
Rue said his commitment to sustainability carries over to his relationships with providers of his primary products. His company works with suppliers like Inteligencia Coffee & Tea of Chicago, who Rue says, “put sustainability and quality ahead of other concerns.”
Intelligencia started in 1995, operating initially according to international fair trade standards. Today the company works as a Direct Trade supplier, which Rue considers to be a good alternative to the Transfair sponsored fair trade paradigm.
According to Rue, Direct Trade benefits farmers in ways fair trade cannot. Companies like Intelligencia offer growers higher prices for their coffees based on quality by negotiating contracts directly with farmers and coops according to a sliding scale. They also invest in local infrastructure like schools, processing stations, washing stations, fermentation processes, and transportation.
Working with Intelligencia means fewer than a dozen hands have touched the coffee by the time it reaches the consumer, and they know the names of all the handlers, he said. Rue has met several farmers who grow the coffees he serves in his shop. Rue said that he knows who tended to the coffee while it was on the tree, who was in the picking crew, who milled and processed the coffee. “We know who shipped it and who received it in Chicago, who roasted it, and we’re the ones putting it in the cup.”