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Think Coffee Provides a New Model for Sustainable Businesses

This story appears in the June 2013 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In 2006, when Jason Scherr opened the first Think Coffee in Manhattan, he wanted to maintain a socially and environmentally responsible business. To that end, Think, like many other coffee shops, stocked certified Fair Trade coffee. Over time, however, Scherr and colleague Matt Fury began to question the validity of Fair Trade programs in some countries because, Scherr says, it was hard to trace the coffee to its origin. The two decided to see for themselves whether Think's dollars were ending up in the pockets of those who grow coffee responsibly.

So Scherr and Fury, Think's head of farmer relations and sustainable practices, went to Central America and Africa to meet with coffee growers, first using contacts supplied by their roasters and later relying on word-of-mouth on the ground. "We think the coffee business is a relationship business," Scherr says, "and we want people to feel good about our stores." If Scherr and Fury couldn't feel good about their relationships with farmers, they figured, how could customers appreciate their product?

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