Genovese Coffee is leaving a sustainable legacy for the next generation – going carbon neutral, supporting farmers and projects at origin, and finding a better way of doing things.
Since 1970, Genovese Coffee has stood as a pillar of the Australian coffee industry. The family-owned coffee roaster was one of the first, and few remaining, to set up shop in Melbourne.
Over the past five decades, Genovese Coffee has grown not only in size and scale, but in quality, reach, and sustainable practices. Adam Genovese, the third generation of his family to run the business, sees the importance of preserving it and the planet for future generations.
“We take our responsibility to the environment and future coffee growers and drinkers seriously,” Adam says. “An individual can make a difference, but with the reach our coffee has to so many consumers, we can get a message out that’s clearer than one person shouting into a void.”
For years, Genovese Coffee has looked at how it can improve its own environmental footprint. In 2013, the business took advantage of government incentives to install solar panels at its Coburg facility. Adam says solar power has replaced about 60 per cent of the roaster’s electricity usage, reaching as much as 80 per cent in sunnier summer months.
“I don’t understand why most businesses aren’t almost forced to do it. We live in a country with a lot of sun, so why wouldn’t you tap into that?” he asks.
“Buying less electricity from coal-fired power stations even saves us money that can go into buying coffee or further projects.”
The roaster also uses recyclable or reusable packaging wherever it can. Some high-volume accounts receive their coffee in reusable aluminium containers that are switched out and cleaned between deliveries. Adam says sustainable packaging will be a big focus of coffee and other industries moving forward.
As for disposing of coffee itself, Genovese is a founding signatory of Coffee 4 Planet Ark, a project that aims to repurpose used coffee grounds rather than sending them to landfill.
“It’s finishing off what we started. It’s the last piece of something in the chain that needs to be dealt with. It’s a product of what we do with our café partners, and if we can help close that loop then we should,” Adam says.
However, in a supply chain as complex as coffee, it’s difficult for a roaster to completely wipe out its carbon footprint. Genovese Coffee works with the Carbon Reduction Institute to make its business and products carbon neutral.
“They audit our movement of products in importing and distribution, gas and electricity bills, consider our waste management system and solar power, and use a formula to determine the remainder,” Adam says. “Then, we offset every one of these emissions by purchasing carbon credits from renewable energy programs across the globe.”
With the Carbon Reduction Institute certifying its own environmental sustainability, Genovese Coffee has been able to turn its attention to offering alternatives to end consumers.
At-home coffee consumption is on the rise, and Adam says many people are turning from instant coffee to single serve machines like Nespresso. With the Shots by Genovese paper pod range, he hopes to offer a more sustainable solution.
“Nespresso has been very good at capturing that domestic market, but the problem is, as soon as you’re locked into that system, you have to buy their capsules or compatible ones. In Australia, a lot of the compatible ones are plastic, and there are three million plastic capsules going into landfill every day,” he says.
“About 50 per cent of Australia’s coffee consumption is still instant coffee. We can tap into the part of the market that hasn’t decided on their coffee machines yet and help them make a more conscious decision.
“We came across [Easy Serve Espresso] (ESE), a paper pod system that’s prolific in Europe but hadn’t taken off in Australia. Traditionally, the pods are individually wrapped for freshness, which causes its own packaging issue. We thought to ourselves, ‘how can we make it a bit better?’”
The answer was to package 20 paper pods in a recyclable aluminium tin. Adam says it only takes a household one or two weeks to go through a tin, with Genovese Coffee determining there’s no loss of flavour over that period.
Each pod is encased in an environmentally friendly, food grade filter paper which is completely compostable and biodegradable. “If the pods end up in landfill, it’s paper and coffee, and will break down. If they go in a worm farm or compost, they’ll add value like anything else in that environment. I want people to make a better choice rather than putting plastic into landfill,” Adam says.
Shots by Genovese is compatible with a number of ESE machines, with Genovese Coffee recommending the Tube Luxe and Pallina in particular. Currently, the range includes Bold, Mellow, Decaf, and a single origin sourced from the Orangutan Coffee Project in Indonesia.
This program works closely with Sumatran coffee farmers to improve farming practices in organic and ecologically friendly coffee farms, supports the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP), and fights deforestation.
“There’s a lot of projects around the world you can choose to support, but Indonesia is one of our closest neighbours and orangutans are beautiful animals so close to being wiped out. The number of orangutans left in the wild wouldn’t fill the seats behind the goal posts of the MCG,” Adam says.
“We’ve seen the work this conservation project is doing with our own eyes and the haven they’re building for orangutans to live out their lives where they can’t be put back into the wild.”
On top of the agreed green bean price, Genovese Coffee pays a premium to the Orangutan Coffee Project which is split 50/50 between the independent smallholder farmers and SOCP.
This is only one program Genovese Coffee supports at origin through its coffee buying. Another is the CriaCarmo Coffee Project, which provides social and athletic programs to around 150 at-risk and underprivileged youth from Carmo de Minas in Brazil.
“We could operate as a business that only worries about itself, but we’re gifted in coffee to reach so many consumers,” Adam says. “We sell a kilogram of coffee and that makes 70 or 80 cups in a café. That’s 70 or 80 people per kilo we can reach, who might want to find out more about us and the things we’re doing. Hopefully, it touches enough people to make a further difference.”
More broadly, Genovese Coffee contributes to coffee producing communities by paying prices and premiums for coffee well above market prices. Adam says Genovese Coffee’s direct and long-term relationships with its producing partners are pivotal to making this happen.
“All of our coffees are sourced as ethically as possible and we work closely with a number of direct relationships across 15 to 16 origins,” Adam says. “It’s about not treating coffee as a commodity where prices are driven down. At the very least, this helps the family we buy from and gives them continuity.”
With Genovese Coffee celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, Adam says he is proud of his heritage and the efforts he and his family have taken to be sustainable. He encourages others in coffee to reflect on their own legacy.
“I’d like to ruffle some feathers and have people take notice that there are better options. We shouldn’t just go for the easy one but the conscious one,” Adam says.
“Our initiatives have been put in place over time as the opportunities have come along. We don’t pat ourselves on the back and aren’t doing these things to land more business. We just want to do better.”
This article appears in the August 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.