Caffe Agust: Green ideas, infinite possibilities in sustainable coffee roasting

A Native American once told Marco Corsini: “When one person has killed the last animal on earth, after the last fruit has been eaten and the last fish has been caught, when everything is destroyed, only then will they learn that money cannot be eaten.” It is this powerful proverb that Corsini, Managing Director of Caffe Agust, says he refers to each time he makes an executive decision about his roasting company.
At the foot of the Alps in the town of Brescia in Northern Italy, Corsini’s father Augusto founded Caffe Agust in 1956. The company took its title from Augusto’s nickname, and he sold his roasted coffee door-to-door to local residents with the slogan ‘The smallest roaster – but the best coffee’. Corsini, an agricultural technician, now leads the 56-year-old company, with his son Giovanni, incorporating the sustainable principles that build on his father’s environmentally-conscious philosophy. Twelve years ago, Caffe Agust was one of the first companies in Italy to start in the organic sector. “At that time, there was no market for organic coffee in Italy, but we persisted because organic coffee is not just good for people, but especially for the planet,” Corsini says. Adapting to organic farming, Corsini helped established a new line of organic coffee and developed Natura Equa from a selection of Fairtrade and Certified Organic Arabica coffee from farmers in Central and South America. Corsini says this blend is one of the most sustainable coffees in the world thanks to its certified ‘Zero Impact’ to the environment packaging guarantee. Corsini says he wanted to launch a new line of organic coffee for years, but couldn’t move forward as the green coffee available on the market did not reach the company’s desired standards. The Natura Equa blend was awarded a gold medal at the 2008 and 2010 International Coffee Tasting competition in Brescia in the espresso category. Caffe Agust also won a gold medal for their ‘Espresso Made in Italy’ blend in the pod and capsule category. As a coffee roaster, Corsini says that he finds the demands of the market challenging. “We know that the packaging we use, and that of other companies all over the world, has an impact on the environment,” he says. “We are constantly looking for alternative packaging methods that don’t include aluminium, plastic or polyester, and that have zero impact on the environment.” Corsini says that he’ll always try to choose the option with the least environmental impact. For instance, the company decided to produce coffee pods instead of coffee capsules because capsules generally have a higher impact on the planet. Currently, Caffe Agust uses carton boxes for packaging distribution instead of plastic materials, and Corsini says they are on the hunt for a more eco-friendly option.
“If everyone in the industry can look for similar [environmentally-friendly] packaging, then for sure, we will find the solution,” Corsini says. “If everyone in the packaging industry pushes in this direction, then someone will be obliged to produce it – but at the moment, it’s not the way many companies think.” Corsini installed a photovoltaic plant in 2007, consisting of solar panels mounted on the roof of the Brescian roasting facility. The annual capacity of this system is more than 52,000 kilowatts, meaning that their coffee is actually “roasted by the sun”, taking less than 5 per cent of their power from the main grid throughout the year. Corsini says that strict Italian laws make Caffe Agust’s sustainable efforts difficult. “Initially, the laws didn’t allow us to exceed over 50 kilowatts from our solar panels,” he says. “We wanted to increase the panels on our roof, but we’d have to change our business activity and be recognised as an energy producer, and not an Italian roaster.” Thankfully the laws have since changed.  Corsini has also installed a catalytic converter on his roasting machines to convert harmful gases into less toxic emissions. As it’s not required by Italian law, Corsini says it’s rare for Italian companies to install these machines because they are expensive. This machine allows a further elimination of pollution particles from combustion, and for the conservation of clean air for people living near the roasting plant. When asked how such a small family business is able to promote such advanced environmental initiatives, Corsini says it all depends on the individual. “You have to ask yourself how much you want to gain and how much you want to invest in the green philosophy,” he says. “How much do you want to buy a villa or apartment or live near the seaside?” Corsini says he’s fighting to maintain a balance between profit and personal satisfaction. Another of Corsini’s initiatives is to reuse the leftover parchment from roasted beans. Corsini has bought a special compacting machine that compacts the protective membrane into coffee logs. The organic logs are chemical-free and are given to companies in the agricultural sector of Brescia to be used as firelogs, compost, or animal bedding on farms. “Why throw away material that you can salvage? We need to respect the earth as much as possible,” Corsini says. On the transport side, Corsini has switched the company’s vans from gasoline to natural gas, and has purchased an electric car to complete Caffe Agust’s office needs. The car is recharged by the plant’s solar power. Caffe Agust produces 300 tonnes of coffee a year. Corsini says he is satisfied with the company’s progress and intends to increase its production moderately, year-by-year. Looking back, he says it’s certainly a huge leap from the eight tonnes of coffee Caffe Agust produced in 1992. Predominately, Caffe Agust’s main market is based in the province of Brescia where the business supplies around 800 bars, cafés and restaurants. Caffe Agust now exports 40 per cent of their production throughout Europe, Russia, Canada, and Australia. “Our immediate aim is not to increase our turnover but to increase our quality. It’s always our aim to improve,” he says. “I’m not interested in selling more quantity with low quality. I’d rather distribute to smaller companies at a higher quality.” Corsini says he also puts great emphasis on his employees’ work-life balance. “I’ve worked in this sector for 30 years, meaning I like what I do. I want to work with pleasure and that my team has the same pleasure in working for me. A big part of our life is working and I want my staff to live and feel this part of their life in the best way possible.” 
The roasting company also takes great pride in its social responsibility, working with La Mongolfiera, an Italian organisation that helps people with mental disabilities enter the workforce. Since the early 1990s, Caffe Agust has collaborated with the non-profit organisation that aims to improve the living conditions of people living with disabilities and their families. Each year the company invites mentally impaired workers to perform small tasks at the Caffe Agust factory,  such as counting coffee pods and packaging them into cartons for distribution. Corsini says his involvement with this organisation is rewarding because he sees a positive change in the workers’ confidence, personality and social skills.
For many of the staff from La Mongolfiera, Corsini says this is the first time they have done paid work. One such student, Luca Colosio, 26, is now a part-time staff  member at Caffe Agust. He packages 1000 gram coffee bags and has gone on to win gold in a number of athletic events at the 2010 European Special Olympic Games in Warsaw, Poland, for people with handicaps. Corsini says that he doesn’t see his own contributions as anything special, but simply the bare minimum: “What we do here at Caffe Agust is just a little drop in the ocean, but if everyone does a small drop, then we can change the world.” 

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend