For Ezra Braves, owner of Ezra’s Pound, running a sustainable coffee shop isn’t about finding a way to be cost-effective or meet consumer demands, though both happen to be by-products of the sustainable policies that govern the successful downtown cafe. For Braves, and his café, going green, is personal.

Ezra’s Pound is a coffee espresso bar and chain located in Toronto that has successfully been selling sustainable coffee for just over five years. The chain is dedicated to forwarding sustainable practices throughout the industry and leads by example: “We’re in a type of business that uses very exploitative products; sugar, milk, coffee and packaging. If I am putting stress on the environment and workers who produce coffee, I consider myself a bad person. I can’t serve customers something that I wouldn’t serve guests in my own living room – that wouldn’t be right.” says Braves. It doesn’t get much more personal, than that.

Put a lid on it

So, what exactly does Ezra’s Pound do that is so over the top? Well, in this case, the top is a great place to start. In an effort to maintain producing merely one bag of garbage per week, Ezra’s Pound has now adopted biodegradable coffee lids to go with the rest of their packaging. When asked how the decision to pursue biodegradable lids took shape, Braves said that at this point he doesn’t contemplate whether or not to buy biodegradable cups or lids, that’s a given. The question has become from where should he source the lids? Whether or not it’s more ethical to source out a manufacturer based in North America or purchase those readily available in China – that’s the real question.
This ethical dilemma resulted in Ezra’s Pound working with a local company in order to develop the lids together. While it took a while longer to find the exact formula for lids were stable enough to prevent spills, they are now fully recyclable and can handle a full cup of coffee without risk. “At the end of the day, if the company we’re sourcing from has demands for a biodegradable lid, that’s what they’re going to make. They aren’t interested in the environmental impact – it’s a business deal.”

The ugly side of the coffee industry

Unfortunately, according to Braves, not many companies are willing to invest in eco-friendly packaging, a choice that has catastrophic results on the environment, and that’s not all. Apart from the packaging, the production of coffee itself has a huge impact on the environment and the well-being of those involved in the production process. Stories of mothers with babies on their back, working in the plantations and getting sprayed with pesticides is something that Braves just can’t stomach, literally.

According to Braves, the coffee industry uses up hundreds of pounds of sugar a month, coming from countries that are unstable and politicized. “Where the sugar comes from has a direct impact on people in growing regions and others on the planet. If they use 200 or more litres of milk per week, where they source milk has an enormous impact, in multiple directions. Businesses could be supporting an entire farm with the amount of milk they go through.”

Braves suggests that both the business and the consumer have a role to play when it comes to supporting green initiatives within the coffee industries. Coffee companies (particularly the 80% that focus on take-out and are, according to him, in the business of producing garbage) are responsible for ethical packaging as well as the sourcing, production and implementation of sustainable packaging, products and policies. Customers, however, particularly those for whom coffee is a daily purchase, also have to be more aware of the decisions being made behind the counter. “As an individual, depending on how much coffee you consume, you can be responsible for thousands of cups and lids,” says Ezra,  “the way you drink your coffee can impact organic sugar production in Brazil or dairy farming in Canada; it’s all connected”.

Certifications and sustainability

In order to ensure the most sustainably sourced coffee, Braves insists on being triple certified – for now. In addition to being certified Fairtrade and Organic, the company also has the stamp of approval from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), ensuring the protection of habitat wherever coffee is produced. The chain is currently investigating additional third party organizations in an effort to overcome the green washing affect that Braves says is diminishing the currency of existing certifications. As too many products misuse logos, labelling products of which less than100% actually meet certification standards, the credibility of chains eager to support sustainably sourced product, is called into question. “Nowadays, an environmental tagline is associated with just about everything”, says Braves.

Despite the dispute about logos, one thing’s for sure: 100% Ezra’s Pound’s coffee meets certification standards, 100% of the time. Moreover, whenever possible, Ezra’s Pound seeks to use local, organic food – as long as it makes sustainable sense. “When you’re applying organic terminology to an item, you still have to ask where it came from”, says Braves, pointing to the fact that organic alone just doesn’t cut it. It has to be local, and it has to be grown in a responsible way. “We would never serve a grape, melon or strawberry that isn’t grown responsibly.”


When asked about the financial repercussions of serving an entirely sustainable menu, Braves insisted that the policies worked in the favour of the café. “The thing funny thing about going to all this trouble is that the coffee is way better. Sure, we serve eggs that are organic, and yes, they are expensive, but they are an essential menu item, so why wouldn’t we want them be the best on the market?”

According to Braves, when you use better quality product, when you taste good quality milk or coffee, you are blown away. Braves says he is shocked every time he goes to a restaurant where, after spending a hefty sum on dinner, the coffee tastes bad. “When you have access to good quality stuff and don’t capitalize on it, that’s just bad business. There are really only three ingredients: coffee, milk, and sugar. It’s not hard to do well with proper training and proper thoughtfulness. Good quality coffee is good for business. If you serve something of quality, people become extremely loyal. People who drink our coffee don’t drink coffee anywhere else.”

That being said, Braves admits that adhering to such strict policies does require you to be more careful in the way you conduct business: “Some coffee chains have a policy where you get a lid, sleeve, cup, sugar, milk and napkin; but we realize that not every customer needs all those things and so we don’t put out stacks of napkins; we hand customers napkins with their orders, as needed. Because we don’t give into wasteful ways of conducting business, we are able to keep our waste to one bag a week, something we are extremely proud of. We put policies in place that ensure we’re as efficient as possible.”

Small steps, big change

According to Braves, if the coffee industry wants to move away from exploitation, they have to work together, one cup at a time. While a lot of pressure is put on the big players within the industry to adhere to sustainable policies, Braves suggests that independent cafes can make a difference by making changes in numbers. “Instead of trying to squeeze every penny from that profit margin,” says Braves, “we ought to be working together to encourage sustainable packing and sourcing trends throughout the industry.”

Braves turns to the example of big players like McDonald’s, who, if they invested in products like biodegradable lids, could potentially change the face of global agriculture. “When they stopped using Styrofoam containers, the whole landscape changed” he says. “Change has to come from the top – the government has to say ‘if you make this much garbage, you are responsible for it’”.

In an effort to forward awareness and sustainable policies, in 2010 Ezra’s Pound launched The Espresso Institute of North America Inc., advertised on their website as “Toronto’s first, full service, barista training and café/restaurant consulting coffee education facility”. The institute supports innovators, and implements training, says Braves. “They enable access to good quality espresso making; restaurants get training in order to lower their environment footprint”. The institute works with businesses that need improvement or start-ups looking to understand the economics of running a sustainable business.

Keep an eye open within the next two weeks as the institute launches the first ever training studio, dedicated entirely to espresso training!

Questions or comments about Ezra’s Pound and the art of building a sustainable coffee business? Leave them in the comments section! We’d love to hear from you.