In 1981, future owner of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), Bob Stiller, purchased two-thirds of a little coffee roasting business in Vermont after tasting what he considered to be the best coffee that he had ever tasted. During this time in the United States, specialty and gourmet coffee was a rarity and still in its infancy. Foreseeing an opportunity to get ahead of the premium coffee game, Mr. Stiller purchased the remaining shares of the company and started full-steam ahead with his coffee roasting crusade. GMCR has to lead the way as one of the largest and most eco-friendly coffee companies in the world and from its inception, Mr. Stiller has endorsed innovation and ego-friendly sustainability from the beginning.
Mr. Stiller’s willingness to innovate paid off in 1993 as he was approached by the creators of a start-up firm called Keurig. Keurig, at the time, was revolutionary and Mr. Stiller saw this potential. Promising a machine that would utilize a single-cup coffee brewing system, GMCR instantly invested. Moving rapidly and witnessing the potential that a single-cup coffee brewer would have in homes across America, GMCR bought a 35% stake in the company (Green Mountain Coffee, 2015). By early 1997, GMCR became the first coffee both offered and brewed in what was being called a K-Cup pod. This massive movement into the home coffee marketplace firmly entrenched GMCR into the coffee roasting world and enabled them to compete alongside the stalwart of the coffee world, Starbucks.
Starbucks, the Amazon equivalent of the coffee world, still had a massive hold of the coffee market, despite being very late to the single-cup brewing scene. If GMCR was to carve out an even bigger piece of their pie they would need to adopt an even more refined and strategic business plan. This business plan would go back to Mr. Stiller’s desire to be both sustainable and environmentally conscious. This awareness was forged from the very beginning of the company’s inception and its practices and policies would go on to define the company to this day.
With its ethos firmly established by its owner’s example, GMCR set out to build and incorporate a sustainable business practice that the coffee marketplace did not concern itself with. GMCR, unlike others in the marketplace, focused its efforts on what it took to get the coffee into the K-Cup. This methodology would prove to be rewarding for their business plan as they covered the big three sustainability sections; profits, people, and the planet. Looking back, GMCR began its ego-friendly practices in 1983 when Mr. Stiller had his employees start composting the used coffee grounds. Then again in 1986, his company entered into the markets organic coffee. Come 1989, GMCR had created its very own Employee Environmental Committee, which saw GMCR get ahead of the recycling program game (Sustainability, 2015). Still thirsty for more sustainability options, GMCR turned towards the rainforest.
In 1990, the world’s rain forests were drawing attention from populations around the world due to deforestation. To pander to both the people and the environment, GMCR created Rain Forest Nut coffee, to sponsor and preserve the world’s rain forests by donating the new coffee’s profits to a non-profit rain forest organization (E–The Environmental Magazine, 2014). Despite GMCR’s best efforts with regards to the environment and sustainability, eco-advocates around the world have chastised GMCR for the billions of K-Cups hitting landfills a year. Critics of the single-serving device say that the cups are not recyclable and most definitely not biodegradable, and even harsher strain on the brand’s eco-friendly push. This type of criticism is far from the sustainably sourced dream that Mr. Stiller envisioned for his premium company. As GMCR always does, they set out to do something about the pressure.
After the turn of the 21st century, public awareness of greenhouse gases and the ozone’s deteriorating condition became a political maelstrom, with opinions spread all over the aisles. This reaction leads to the United Nations instituting a Global Reporting Initiative, which would create a planet-wide list of guidelines and procedures on sustainability for the world to follow (Howard & Jaffee, 2013). Always a company with foresight, GMCR became the first coffee company to support and endorse the initiative, going so far as to create its environmental board of directors and even create a vice president of environmental affairs that reports only to the CEO of the company. As of this writing, that position has now turned into the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) (Sustainable Business Cases, 2012). With this new position and absolute focus on sustainability, GMCR set strict and note-worthy goals for their carbon footprint.
With a new position and focus, the CSO set out to prioritize the following goals; 100% elimination of greenhouse gases, 100% elimination of waste, 100% reliance on self-sustained energy sources, and life-cycle sustainability for the duration of its products (Dinero, 2014). In 2014 GMCR published in their sustainability report of 2014 that their single-serving K-Cups were now 100% recyclable without the need of separating each component of the K-Cup into different recycling bins, as was previously needed (Sustainability – Creating Sustainable Products, 2015). Seemingly hitting their stride on sustainability and the environment, GMCR continued to innovate with the release of their Keurig Vue brewer, a new device that saw the company utilize #5 recyclable plastics and a name change from GMCR to Keurig Green Mountain (KGM). As of this writing, the Keurig Vue was discontinued and short-lived, the brewer was replaced by the Keurig 2.0 which saw the features of the Keurig Vue get rolled into the Keurig 2.0 and thus making the Keurig Vue redundant.
Redundancy, however, did not hurt the now named Keurig Dr. Pepper company, the third-largest soft drink company in the United States at the time of this writing. For example, in 2015, Keurig Dr. Pepper sold 983,000 brewing systems, while shipping out a staggering one billion K-Cups, this represents a 105 percent and 59 percent increase respectively, from the year prior (Phillips, 2015). Furthermore, the Keurig Dr. Pepper company now possesses a 60 percent market share of single-serving coffee brewers. This massive slice of the pie is the reason that Keurig Dr. Pepper sold 32 million pounds of coffee in the same year. This massive amount of growth and continued expansion is a perfect illustration of Mr. Stiller’s vision for his company many decades prior.
In 1981, Mr. Stiller tasted a premium cup of coffee while vacationing at a ski lodge resort. He knew at that moment that the world needed easy and readily available access to this type of product. He purchased the roasters of this fantastic cup of joe and transformed it into the third-largest soft drink company in the United States. By utilizing a continuous process improvement mentality and an ability to foresee trends before they become reality, Mr. Stiller’s company puts the environment and innovation in the same sentence when developing new technologies. The name Keurig is now synonymous with a single cup of coffee regardless of the machine for which it came. There were bumps and bruises along the way, but Mr. Stiller’s company utilized their sustainability practices to almost perfection and it shows in their continued growth, profits, and acquisitions.