Everyone loves coffee. Even hard-core tea-drinkers cross over, once in a while, to embrace a delicious steaming jolt of joe. But when you think about how most coffee is grown and packaged, there can be a lot less to love. Especially when it comes to the ubiquitous disposable K-cup coffee pods—those individual servings that conveniently pop into coffee machines in homes and luxury hotels, ending up in landfills.
Kevin Hartley wanted to change that. Hartley and his wife and co-founder, Ann Hutson, decided to create a more sustainable option, which is why they launched Cambio Roasters three years ago. “The U.S. will consume 18 billion K-cups this year, and millions per day will go into landfill,” Hartley says. “Our vision is to be the most socially responsible K-cup,” he continues. The couple is dedicated to transforming the industry with Cambio (“Change”) Roasters, a 100-percent recyclable pod coffee company. Consumers can compost the coffee grounds “and everything else goes into the blue bin,” says Hartley.
Hartley has a successful history of supporting sustainability, along with social and economic justice, through business. “My life’s purpose is building companies that have people and planet values baked in,” he says, “and helping people change the world with their checkbooks.” Hartley founded Green Mountain Energy in 1994, and sold it to British Petroleum several years later. He was the Chief Innovation and Chief Strategy Officer for Keurig for close to a decade.
According to Hartley, most coffee farms are not the kind of John Deere operations we are used to when we think of farming in the Midwest. Coffee grows best in 3,500-plus feet of elevation above the equator, where farmers live in modest homes on the sides of mountains. Pre-Covid, Hartley would visit Cambio’s coffee-farming regions two to four times per year. “The blends are all specific to the regions where they’re grown,” he says. For Cambio, that includes Sumatra, Nicaragua, Colombia.
Food insecurity in those coffee-farming communities is rampant. That’s why Cambio gives 20 percent of its profits back to the nonprofit Food 4 Farmers, which goes to feed the coffee farmers over the six-month period when there is no harvest and helps them build gardens so that they can feed themselves. Philanthropically speaking, the company’s goals are ambitious: “If we hit our targets, 10,000 farming families would no longer have food insecurity issues,” says Hartley.
Cambio offers several free programs that reward customers, too. After a minimum purchase, The December’s on Us program averages the number of coffee pods ordered from January through November and sends that amount to customers as a gift in December. With the Personal Pantry auto-renew, customers are rewarded for their loyalty with 10 percent off each order. And if you Refer a Friend, your friend gets 20 percent off after his or her first purchase, and you get a free carton.
“ ‘Cambio’ is Spanish for change,” says Hartley, “and we are going to change the K-cup aisle, one cup at a time,” he says.