Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Higher Grounds was committed to using only ceramic mugs, no paper. Mugs were taken in donation and guests returned them to the coffee bar or our outside dropoff bin. Unfortunately, health department regulations required that we pause that particular sustainability initiative. For now, we offer compostable paper cups for to-go beverages and are actively seeking a better solution. 

What does it mean to be committed to sustainability? Sustainability means creating a positive impact on the world and everyone who lives here. Coffee has the power to change lives, and specialty coffee companies have a responsibility and opportunity to address global development issues via our far-reaching networks. Furthermore, we need to support coffee producers as they deal with the impacts of climate change. With collaboration across our industry, we can end poverty and address climate change in the coffeelands.


Coffee makes an enormous impact. A recent SCA survey indicates that poverty is seen as the #1 issue in coffee producing regions. While a new generation of consumers are becoming aware of sustainability, it's simply not enough. Sustainability is currently viewed through a lens of environmentalism. And while that's part of the story, it's not the whole narrative. 

Coffee is the world’s second largest traded commodity, with 25 million coffee farmers depending on it for their income yet living in poverty, and consumption is skyrocketing.

Global supply chains largely ignore inequity, oppression, and environmental degradation caused by climate change. But we believe that coffee truly can turn this tide. We want to shift our industry toward a more inclusive approach that not only addresses issues tied to production—changing weather, quality, pounds per hectare—but also the fundamental human rights of dignity and equality, freeing our partners from poverty all along the supply chain.

Through the Climate, Carbon, and Coffee Initiative launched by our importer, Cooperative Coffees, we invest in carbon-sequestering agricultural practices and other environmental-service projects that contribute to sustainable development in farming communities.

Learn more about Climate, Carbon, and Coffee > 

We offer all local, in-town delivery by bike to reduce our carbon footprint.

Through our model, we aim to reach far beyond the coffee industry's currently accepted sustainability standards. The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development establishes goals to end poverty, fight inequalities, and tackle climate change. These goals go far beyond the Specialty Coffee Association Sustainability Council’s “Theory of Change,” the dominant trade model in the coffee industry today. Though the SCA's goals primarily address agricultural inputs, it generally avoids any discussion of community development.  

Through our partner nonprofit, On the Ground, we:

  • Created access to potable water for 13 communities in Chiapas, Mexico (Project Chiapas)

  • Built three schools, a library, and latrines in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia serving children of coffee farming families (Project Ethiopia)

  • Supplied medical resources and health care for survivors of sexual violence at Lemera Hospital, Democratic Republic of Congo (Project Congo)

  • Facilitated gender equality workshops and funded a women’s sewing project in coffee farming communities of DRC

  • Supported agricultural diversification and food security in Esteli, Nicaragua (Project Nica)

Through our importing partner, Cooperative Coffees, we:

  • Contribute an additional three cents per pound of coffee purchased from global producers to fund farm-level carbon smart practices and other sustainable impact projects at coffee origin

  • Supported 17 refugee families of the Maya Vinic cooperative in Chiapas who have been displaced by violence

  • Provide pre-financing for all coffees when requested by producer cooperatives

  • Publish PDF contracts with producers publicly at

  • Purchase 100% fair trade and organic coffee

Through our Coffee Bar and Roastery, we:

  • Are B Corp certified. In an effort to systematize some of our ongoing sustainability efforts, Higher Grounds became a Certified B Corporation in 2016. We were certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. 

  • Deliver coffee by bike in Traverse City, saving a quarter ton of CO2 in 2015 via delivering 12.4 tons of our coffee by bike, amounting to over 500 miles pedaled (to date, the total is 75 tons of coffee biked 3700 miles). We have been recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as a Certified Bicycle Friendly Business.

  • Participate in the reuse and redevelopment of a former state hospital saved from demolition (we are located in a space that was the laundry facility for the hospital).

  • Source drink ingredients from local vendors and choose organic options whenever they are available.

  • Compost all of our spent coffee grounds and food scraps, and recycle everything else, partnering with a local non-profit recycling organization.

  • Use non-toxic janitorial and kitchen products whenever possible, 100% recycled office paper, reclaimed office furniture, and rechargeable batteries.