Spokane Journal of Business

Mutu Coffee earns B corporation certification

Owner says company aspires to serve as an example for others here

  • Print Article

Mutu Coffee Roasters LLC, an organic and fair-trade coffee roaster, recently has earned a certification enabling it to become the first B corporation to be headquartered here in Spokane. 

B corporations are for-profit companies that pledge to achieve social goals as well as business ones. Such companies are certified by Pennsylvania-based nonprofit B Lab to have met standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

The certification isn’t the same as a legal incorporation, but it’s comparable to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s certification for organic milk or a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification for a green building in terms of being a quantifiable business certification process. 

Russell and Tammy Fleming started Mutu Coffee Roasters as an in-home business in 2016.

Last June, the couple purchased a grocery store called Petunias Gourmet Market, which is located in a three-story, 1,600-square-foot, former residence at 2010 N. Madison, in northwest Spokane.

Fleming says the store, which has two full-time employees, now serves as the headquarters for both Petunias and Mutu Coffee.

“We purchased Petunias, when we were looking for additional commercial space in which to expand Mutu,” he says. “But right from the start, we really wanted Mutu to focus on doing some good and making a difference in the world.”

Fleming says he started by researching other roasting companies that shared his vision for a company committed to social and environmentally responsible products.

“I was searching for other like-minded roasters that I could meet to discover who they were and why they were doing what they did,” he says.

Fleming soon discovered many of the roasters he was interested in speaking with were also certified B corporations, so he did additional research into what becoming a B corp. would mean.

“Being a B corp. meant that what we say and do is verifiable, and we are accountable to B Lab, our community and customers,” says Fleming. “That mission was exactly what we wanted to do with Mutu.”

As a B corp., Mutu provides small-batch, craft-roasted specialty coffee from farms and co-ops that are certified organic and fair trade.

He says Mutu currently purchases more than 80 percent of its raw coffee from Vancouver, Wash.-based Organic Products Trading Co, a supplier of organic green coffee that also started the Café Femenino initiative in 2004.

Café Femenino is a nonprofit that provides grants to help female workers in coffee growing regions, and sales from the coffee they harvest go directly back to help the workers and their families.

“I heard about Organic Products Trading Company when I was searching for an importer that not only imported certified organic and fair trade coffee, but was available in the area,” Fleming says.

“Once we discovered that they co-founded the Café Femenino initiative and that it was about empowering women, we were onboard.”

Fleming says Mutu supports both the Cafe Femenino Foundation, which gives grants toward special projects, as well as the coffee growers who are affiliated with it.

“The growers receive an amount of money through our purchases above fair trade dollars that go directly to them,” he says. “We also are committed to give back to the Foundation annually.”

Fleming says Mutu also currently donates 2 percent of revenues to charitable organizations, including Spokane-area women’s organizations.

“It seems like kind of a small amount now, but our goal is to increase that amount as we grow,” he says.

Mutu is also a member of 1 Percent For The Planet, a global organization through which members commit to donating 1 percent of their sales to environmental causes.

Kara Odegard is a local sustainability consultant and owner of Odegard Consulting. She served as an adviser for Mutu Coffee as it went through the process of becoming a B corp.

While there may be other B corps. that have operations in Spokane or sell products here, Mutu Coffee is the first to be headquartered here, she contends.

“A B corp. is a company that focuses on the triple bottom line (social, environmental, and financial),” she says. “B corps. make business decisions based on the benefit to all stakeholders (workers, customers, suppliers, the community and the environment) rather than just shareholders.” 

By becoming the first certified B corp. here, Odegard says, Mutu can help provide a local example of the triple bottom line business model and how it translates to profitability and community impact.

“While there are many local companies focused on environmental and social sustainability, corporate sustainability models frequently take on only one or two specific community-related challenges,” she says. “By introducing a B corp. in the area, we hope that more companies will consider how their cumulative day-to-day decisions impact their local communities.”

Odegard says the B corp. movement is gaining momentum in Washington, with about 36 different businesses being officially certified so far.

“Most of those companies are along the West Coast or in the Seattle area,” she says. “And what’s happening in those communities is great, with B corps. coming together to support each other in mission driven, socially conscious efforts. We hope to see more of that in the Inland Northwest soon.”   

Odegard says she has also reached out to city officials, to explain the benefits of B corps. and to ask for their help in spreading awareness and support for them here.

“I have received some positive feedback from our city officials, as well as independent businesses here who are interested in helping to support companies that would like to pursue this business model,” she says.

Fleming says he hopes to continue growing  Mutu as a coffee business and keep spreading the word about B corporations.

“Our idea of success isn’t just monetary. We’re out to make a difference in everything we do: quality coffee, excellent practices, and community involvement,” he says. “We’re proud to be contributing to a new awareness of how business can be conducted in the future.”

LeAnn Bjerken
  • LeAnn Bjerken

  • Email LeAnn Bjerken
  • Follow RSS feed for LeAnn Bjerken

Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list