Passenger is a Certified BCorporation

By David Shaub Stallings


Our mission: To seek out and thoughtfully present the world’s most memorable coffees and teas in a way that demonstrates the viability of an equitable supply chain.

To date, Passenger has not prioritized certifications, such as Organic, Fair Trade, etc., in our approach as a coffee roasting company. It's not that we are opposed to certifications, but we have never felt there was a certification that truly helped to propel the Specialty Coffee industry forward. Fair Trade prices remain a fraction of what most producers we work with are receiving, and while we, of course, agree with the ethos of organically produced coffee (and even purchase quite a bit of organic coffee), we see a number of issues with organic certification. These issues range from the ubiquity of "paper organic coffees" (coffees that have been certified organic through bribery or deception, but are not actually organically produced), to the simple fact that, for many producers, organic production is not a viable option at this stage of the industry's evolution - a fact only being exacerbated by climate change. Again, we are not fundamentally opposed to certifications, but rather have not felt compelled that committing to a specific certification helps us to meaningfully communicate the importance/relevance of the work that we do. We believe that this would be unnecessarily limiting to Passenger's mission: to seek out and thoughtfully present the world’s most memorable coffees and teas in a way that demonstrates the viability of an equitable supply chain.

There is, however, no question that the underlying vision informing the Organic and Fair Trade movements (among other certifications) is critical to our approach at Passenger. This vision being: an equitable supply chain which pays appropriate respect to the health of the planet and to those that depend on our planet for sustenance (i.e. every living thing). This includes not only our supply chain partners but also our employees and the community in which we live and work. As a small and relatively young company, it can be hard to concisely communicate these goals and document our progress as we work towards them. And despite the legitimate concerns outlined above, the allure of certifications is undeniably strong within our industry and for many of our customers. When a consumer picks up a bag with a Fair Trade certification mark on it they feel a certain level of trust in the product, a trust that can be otherwise hard to communicate on a bag, a website, or during a brief over-the-counter interaction.

From our first day of business we have felt convicted that we source our products in a way that not only lives up to many standards codified by existing certifications but often exceeds them. As a way to put ourselves under the microscope, roughly six months ago we began the process of becoming BCorp Certified. BCorp Certification is a comprehensive assessment that considers a range of social and environmental issues.

Why did we want to get BCorp certified?

BCorp is a globally recognized stamp of approval for companies who are using their business as a force for good to address social and environmental problems. Pursuing certification was a way for us to see how we compare to others in our industry, as well as to identify new metrics/tools to gauge our success in social/environmental areas. Our ownership and staff have always cared about being thoughtful and responsible in the way that we interact with our employees, community, and planet so becoming BCorp certified was the natural next step to helping us share those values with our customers.  

BCorp certification is rigorous and comprehensive. It asks questions/performs audits on topics ranging from transparency, supply chain, ownership, and poverty alleviation to energy input/output, waste streams, etc. We appreciated the holistic approach to what healthy business can look like and knew we were already functioning with care in those areas

What did we learn?

We learned the importance of documenting! It can be grueling to track data/metrics, but it is so incredibly important. How do we know our markers for success if we do not track what we wish to succeed at? The BCorp certification forced us to create platforms to track our energy use on a monthly basis and set reduction targets and goals for improved environmental sustainability. 

The certification looks into how you handle relationships with partners, how much you pay, if it is at a higher premium, what the working conditions are for local and global partners and their employees, etc. We have very direct relationships with many producers we work with, so a lot of the information the assessment requested we knew already, but we had to find a way to document what we were doing in a more tangible way that could be certified by a third party.

Internally as a company, we were already doing most of the things required of us in the BCorp assessment, but there was not a great way to "prove" that to our customers at large. Becoming certified demands third party accountability, so we had the task of taking all of our rigorous internal structures and making them certifiable and transparent, not just to our ownership and staff, but to our customers as well. We know we have always operated with integrity and intentionality through the ways we hire and the relationships we cultivate with producers and importers, but having this certification allows us to communicate that to our customers now that we're backed by a globally recognized force for good, BCorp.

What stood out and what decisions were made as a result of this process?

A lot! From the obvious (we are a 50% woman-owned company) to the slightly less obvious (we fall into the lowest category when it comes to the compensation ratio of the highest-paid individual to the lowest paid individual in the company). We learned a lot and we learned where we could improve. Here are just a few examples:

  • We treat our social/environmental impact as a primary measure of success for our business and prioritize it even in cases where it may not drive profitability,
  • We have amended our governing documents to require the consideration of employees, community, and the environment to legally ensure that its social and environmental mission will be maintained over time, regardless of company ownership,
  • Thanks to the BCorp process, we began a volunteer time-off policy allowing all employees 40 hours off per year to volunteer at/with a charitable organization. Eight of those hours can be paid volunteer time-off at their current rate,
  • We have a formal written Supplier Code of Conduct policy that specifically holds the company's suppliers accountable for social and environmental performance,
  • We have a company-wide recovery and recycling program that includes paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and composting,
  • We developed a written policy giving preference to suppliers owned by women or individuals from underrepresented populations,
  • We learned that 20-29% of our most significant suppliers are majority-owned by women or individuals from underrepresented populations.

Overall, the certification process was an incredible (and incredibly challenging) process! Further, we by no means feel like we have arrived, or that our work is done in the areas that this certification assesses. Rather, we are just getting started and look forward to refining and improving what we do, and how we communicate what we do, to our amazing customer base.

Visit our BCorp Profile to learn more