All things Earth Day with Christian O’Neill
In honor of Earth Month, we’re getting back to our roots. Doing good is fundamental to Caribou Coffee—it’s at our core! It’s something our founders, Kim and John Puckett, believed in when they started the company over 29 years ago. So, it’s no surprise that Caribou Coffee was the first coffeehouse in the U.S. to exclusively source Rainforest Alliance Certified™ beans. This special seal means that our coffee was produced using methods that support a commitment to environmental, social, and economic sustainability. It’s a commitment we strive to uphold from seed to cup—and throughout our business.
When we want to talk sustainability, one of the first people that comes to mind is Christian O’Neill—Director of Sourcing & Inventory Management. Over dark chocolate malted mochas (Christian’s favorite), we chatted about all things Earth Day and our efforts here at Caribou Coffee. Earth Day, in Christian’s eyes, is a less of a single day of celebration, and more so a way of life.
“So often when we hear the word sustainability, we think about environmental issues. But really, the definition of sustainability is the ability to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to also meet their needs,” explains Christian. “The thing about sustainability is that this is a journey, not a destination. It’s hard work, and these are not easy problems to solve for, but it is important work and Caribou has always been good at doing good because it is the right thing to do.”
Working at Caribou for over six years, Christian is a trailblazer, a question-asker, and a problem-solver. Her leadership has helped shape many of Caribou’s current sustainability programs and practices, and Christian works closely with a core team of leaders who have prioritized Caribou’s evolving ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) strategy. “I tend to be a very curious person by nature, and I love the fact that throughout my career at Caribou, I have always been encouraged to ask why, to seek out opportunities to learn, and to work cross-functionally and collaborate with others to drive change that has a positive impact on our business and organization.”
We’re constantly analyzing the way we do things and figuring out how to create new, better processes. But change is rarely comfortable. “Someone once told me that there is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone. I love the fact that I get to be a part of this incredible and fast-growing organization, with every day and every challenge representing a new opportunity to learn and grow.”
A recent growing pain? Perfecting the strawless lid.
“While our straws are already made from recyclable polypropylene, we know that recycling straws is very difficult in practice because of their size—they tend to get lost in the sorting process at recycling facilities. So, it makes sense to figure out ways to reduce our plastic straw consumption overall. This lid is a step in the right direction.”
Starting May 5, all coffeehouses will serve iced and Nitro beverages with strawless lids. Guests can request a straw if they prefer.
Strawless lids are just a small part of our commitment to sustainable practices. Caribou Coffee continues to prioritize efforts to reduce our environmental footprint. “We are looking across our business practices, understanding our key impact drivers, and figuring our ways to reduce our climate risk in a myriad of ways that include sourcing practices, product and packaging, operations, waste, and more.”
Don’t let those logistics fool you—sometimes, doing good starts with a simple email from one local company to another.
After traveling across the globe, transporting our precious coffee beans, we hated to see our burlap bean bags’ journey end as waste. So, we reached out to Bachman’s, a 138-year-old floral, home, and garden company in Minneapolis, Minn., to see if they had any interest in our burlap bags for their gardening and farming endeavors. It was a match made in heaven! Well, technically a match made in Minnesota (our home state)—but that’s basically the same thing.
Bachman’s operates a 670-acre growing range in Farmington, Minn., where burlap is in high demand as it is a natural plant fiber that’s both permeable and biodegradable. Since the program’s inception in 2020, Bachman’s has grown from using 3% of our burlap bags to 13%. We love the partnership because it helps us eliminate waste. Bachman’s loves the partnership because they can repurpose our bags to protect their harvested trees.
Sustainability isn’t a one-person show, just like celebrating Earth Day isn’t limited to one day on the calendar. It is only through collaboration and partnership will we make meaningful progress towards a better future. “I strongly believe that when people and organizations come together to solve challenges, the results of these efforts are significantly greater compared to working alone,” says Christian.
This isn’t to say that small solo efforts don’t make an impact. “Reducing personal waste is a great start for those looking to be more sustainable in their daily lives. Bring your own mug when you go to Caribou, a refillable water bottle wherever you go, and reusable bags when you go shopping,” encourages Christian. An added perk for Caribou guests who bring their own clean, reusable cup? A $0.10 discount on their beverage when ordering in-store.
There is plenty of work to be done. Earth Day provides an opportunity for us all to reflect on what we are doing individually and collectively. No person or organization can do it alone, but we hope our brand purpose to create day-making experiences that spark a chain reaction of good helps make our communities and planet a better place. Christian expands, “This purpose impacts everything we do as an organization end to end. If this is our starting point, imagine our potential!”
And as we sit here sipping our mochas, we imagine our potential, and we smile.