Plants In the Sky
With the sudden arrival of the green trend sweeping across the globe, many businesses are jumping on the green wagon. Local businesses in Fort Collins are certainly not getting left behind.
A survey from Fujitsu Siemens Computers found that one in two employees encourage their employers to implement greener business practices. Employees working under McCabe Callahan, owner of Mugs Coffee Lounge, do not have any reason to apply pressure to be green. Callahan has developed a unique approach to sustainability that separates his business from other green coffee places.
In addition to providing the commonly used “corn cups” made from corn that is developed into plastics, Callahan has grown the roots to being green in the basement of his coffee shop. In addition to the usual coffee lounge area, Callahan has also developed a garden consisting of vegetables including basil, baby spinach, cilantro, lettuce and spouts, among others. The basement garden is just a first step in series of steps towards implementing a roof garden. The next step that has already begun is the uprising of remote gardens.
“The roof garden will help us eliminate energy consumed in the basement garden as well as eliminate any transportation emissions that would be incurred with the remote gardens,” said McCabe. “It works by using the heat that rises to the top of the building and maintains a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Community Through Coffee
Sticking to his community through coffee motto, McCabe hopes that this will set the standard and encourage other restaurants to develop their own greenhouses or participate in communal gardens, also known as community supported agriculture. The latter is an idea that a group of individual will invest in a community garden together and share the benefits that it provides.
McCabe also hopes to involve the CSU horticulture department in this effort as well as the roof garden. The demand of vegetables is not met just through the garden so some produce comes from various locations at different times and predicting these locations of the distributor is always changing and unpredictable. He hopes that the attempts to expand on the basement garden will eliminate this challenge.
Mugs has also partnered with Zero Hero, a Fort Collins based environmental program that helps businesses reach zero waste goals. ZeroHero helps make the controversial corn cups more efficient in their purpose. A problem with corn cups, which are made from a combination of paper and corn, is that they do not compost as quickly as other items in backyard compost piles. ZeroHero alleviates this problem by picking up the cups from the “Compost Center” inside of Mugs and taking this waste to a commercial compost facility where it can be broken down properly and more efficiently.
While being green can be rewarding, it’s not always easy.
“A challenge I face is the added expenses that this takes,” said McCabe.” A business usually takes 2-5 years to start making a profit and right now, I’m at a point where I’m reinvesting my profits and trying to develop a good business model,” said McCabe.
Following the Green Brick Road
While some business owners, like McCabe, have managed to develop a plan through their own research and experiments, there is help for those who need guidance. Eco-Officiency is an example of the help available. This organization helps businesses create sustainable business models and serves as an advisor for the implementation phase as well.
“I saw companies were needing more help in creating a sustainable plan and more importantly, how to create a culture within their organizations.” commented CEO K.J. McCorry on the founding of Eco-Officiency.
McCorry is a longtime environmentalist and created this business in order to address some issues she was seeing in the corporate world.
“A big issue in businesses is waste. If coffee shops could begin by using 100 percent recycled cups, offer dishware for in house customers, composting grounds and food waste, and offer recycling, that would help.” advised McCorry, “ Water would be the second issue since many of these coffee machines have a running spout constantly running.”
Starbucks, the coffee shop frequented around the world, has recently come under fire for their usage of six million gallons of water every day as a result of the running spout practice that McCorry described.
“I think Starbucks has done a great job in a lot of areas. Right now, only five percent of Fortune 500 companies have Corporate Sustainability Officer positions and Starbucks is one of them,” commented McCorry. “They aren’t perfect but I think they have made some great efforts and I look forward to seeing more initiatives in the future.”
While McCabe was able to build his businesses on environmental practices, owners of businesses that have been long established are sometimes slow to catch on to the green wave.
“A challenge I face is getting all of the leaders and executive team members on board. It all starts from the top and if you don’t have the support it doesn’t go very far,” said McCorry. “We overcome this obstacle through a lot of discussion, education and showing the ‘skeptics’ that being green makes sense from a profit, efficiency and environmental standpoint.”
By observing the number of “corn cups” provided around local coffee shops,including Mugs, Alley Cat, the BeanCycle, Cups, Catalyst Coffee and Wild Boar Coffee Shop, it is evident that local coffee shops, as a whole, are making an attempt to decrease their waste.
Fort Collins businesses are steadily receiving more support to turn their businesses green.
The city’s natural resources department has provided an opportunity for local businesses to gain valuable guidance and insight on greening their practices.
The annual Business Environmental Program series recently held a seminar titled, “ Zero-Waste Events and Meetings”. The Colorado Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council also held its annual meeting in Fort Collins.
Local businesses in Northern Colorado seem to have plenty of resources to guide them into a greener future but Colorado as a state seems to have room to improve.
“We now have a mayor and a governor who are strong advocates of sustainability and environmental initiatives. I think Colorado is doing good but we do have a long way to go, “said McCorry. “Our recycling rate is one of the lowest in the countries. In USA today ,back in March, they cited Denver as one of the six lowest populous cities for recycling.”
Colorado has experienced an increase in people moving from coast states in order to gain a better quality of life. With both Boulder and Fort Collins being rated as top places to live, this pattern is predicted to continue. Some people fear that this influx of new residents could take a toll on the environment.
“Colorado also has the opportunity with the most sunny days per year to be very aggressive with renewable energy, such as solar,” advised McCorry when asked about how to address this issue. “ I don’t think our water issue is getting enough attention. We are in a drought state with increasing population and I think this will be one of the biggest issues we will face in this coming decade.”
The coalition of local green businesses and the efforts of local government hope to steer these issues into the right direction.
A Green Future
Fort Collins businesses, including its coffee shops, recently got another push forward towards environmental sustainability. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded Fort Collins with a $6.3 million grant to fund a project named FortZED. This project aims to create a zero energy district (ZED) in downtown Fort Collins. Mugs is currently working with this project in hopes that others will soon follow. The project aims to reduce peak energy usage by 20 percent to 30 percent.
Although businesses play a key role in sustainability, McCabe points out that he hopes that he can inspire his customera to take their initiative on utilizing sustainable practices by providing reminders in his coffee shop. These strategies include discounting customers who bring in their own cups or who buy a Mugs reusable cup that is also made from corn.
McCabe has also created a “compost center” in his shop and is in the process of creating a “reuse bin” where employees can dispense of used jars and kitchen tools in a bin that is available for the public to pick through to use in their own homes.
“We also hope to empower our customers through education,” said McCabe. “We are in the process of putting together an e-newsletter that gives our customers some insignt on how to live more sustainably.”
With the 450 individual transactions made each day, McCabe hopes that this green epidemic can spread quickly.
“I am continuing to see an increase in customers month to month. With the economy in its current state, that says something,” remarked McCabe. “The advantage of being a small coffee shop is that I can make small changes and adapt to the needs of the customers and I plan on continuing to work with the community to reach its full potential.”
Mugs is located at 261 S. College in Old Town. For further questions please call 970-472-6847 or visit Mugs on the web at www.mugscoffeelounge.com.