Sandhill Coffee is committed to numerous business practices that follow the 2030 UN agenda for sustainable development and promote wholesome growth in Central and South American farming communities, as well as Oceania.
Loyola University Chicago
Sandhill Coffee has implemented sustainable innovations that have made their coffee distribution more ethical. Additionally, they exclusively partner with sustainable coffee farms, which promotes the growth of these environmentally conscious farming communities and allows Sandhill Coffee to distribute coffee that is not actively harming the environment.
Sandhill Coffee purchases coffee bags and cups from a supplier that derives packaging entirely from plant materials, making them compostable. At local farmers' markets, CEO Phil Wingo can be seen handing out fresh cups of coffee in these eco-friendly containers.
Sandhill Coffee partners with multiple coffee farms that are committed to protecting their local ecosystems and ensuring more ethical working environments. Sandhill works most notably with coffee farms in Nicaragua (Gold Mountain Coffee), Honduras (Finca Terrerito Coffee), Guatemala (De la Gente), and Papua New Guinea (Benchmark Coffee). These farms are optimized to grow coffee beans without detrimentally impacting any of the surrounding tree growth or water sources. The coffee is either grown in pre-existing fields or under the shade of tree canopies. The farms utilize natural fertilizers from animal excrement and other compostable materials. Additionally, they collect rainwater to use as irrigation, and the water used to filter the coffee beans is passed through all-natural filters, like volcanic rock, to guarantee that the run-off does not contain any harmful chemicals before being returned to reservoirs.
CEO and Founder of Sandhill Coffee, Phil Wingo, has always felt a connection to nature. Since he was a child, he can fondly remember fishing and hiking, and still loves to do both to this day. “All the brands that I purchase from for fishing, hunting, my outdoors stuff, they all have a very strong connection to the outdoors,” says Phil, “so that’s where I wanted to incorporate that.”
It was not until Phil was waiting in a hospital for the birth of his son that he realized that there is a product that not only connects people to each other but connects people to nature: coffee. As Phil says on Sandhill Coffee’s website, “To this day, nothing energizes me more than enjoying the company of family and good friends in the great outdoors. For so long, I’ve wished that I could bottle that feeling and share it with the world. Both nature and coffee bring people together.”
Through Sandhill Coffee, Phil hopes to connect people to nature and promote stewardship for all-natural spaces, or, as Phil says, take “what we enjoy, and make it better for the next person.”
Conservation has always been at the center of Sandhill Coffee’s mission. As a result of their sustainable innovations and partnerships, Sandhill Coffee has been able to significantly support conservation efforts. Locally, Sandhill Coffee can provide a guilt-free and environmentally responsible cup of coffee to Illinois consumers. As a result of these sales, Sandhill Coffee has joined the 1% for the Planet initiative, in which they donate 1% of their overall yearly revenue to The Conservation Foundation which bolsters environmental causes in Northern Illinois. Additionally, they contribute part of their revenue for 1% for the Planet to the Billfish Foundation, a global conservation effort to save the billfish population, some of which are known to inhabit the oceans near coffee-producing countries. “All the products that I buy...personally, are a part of this organization,” Phil says, referring to 1% for the Planet, “If I’m purchasing from them, I want that represented in Sandhill.”
In purchasing coffee from Central American and Papua New Guinean farms, Sandhill Coffee stimulates economic activity and growth in these communities. These farms have used this revenue to expand their local conservation efforts and invest in better housing and working conditions for their employees, as will be discussed in the Social and Environmental Impacts section.
“The more you learn about something, the more you want to protect it,” says Phil, and Sandhill Coffee continues to push for environmental protection and ethical bean harvesting.
Sandhill Coffee currently has partnerships with eight retailers in Illinois and one retailer in Michigan that sell their coffee, from food co-ops to fishing supply stores. Additionally, Sandhill Coffee can often be found in kiosks at Illinois farmers' markets and online.
By providing a product with a commitment to sustainability, Sandhill Coffee is statistically able to sell their coffee at a higher price than non-sustainable competitors. According to a 2019 CGS survey, 47% of consumers are willing to pay more for a sustainable product (CGS, 2019). At the time of our interview, the price per pound of coffee in the wholesale C-Market was $1.14 (Business insider, 2020). Phil reported paying an average of three times the C-Market price to receive coffee beans directly from sustainable farms. He goes on to say that sustainable coffee sellers “don’t mind paying more knowing that the farmers are being taken care of.” In congruence with the survey, Sandhill Coffee can charge higher prices for their coffee and remain popular with sustainable consumers. This will not only garner proportional profits for Sandhill Coffee compared to the rest of the coffee market but will also allow them to maintain their mindful partnerships with sustainable farms.
Under Sandhill Coffee’s bean-buying structure, they purchase beans directly from farms, cutting out the need for extraneous distributors in their coffee production. While the unroasted beans of larger coffee wholesalers may be shipped multiple times between distributors before being roasted, Sandhill Coffee receives their beans straight from the farm and roasts and packages them locally. The connection to the farms diminishes transportation costs while reducing the carbon emissions that accompany global shipping.
Additionally, while most major coffee franchises purchase from South American coffee farms that are harvested by machine, smaller coffee companies like Sandhill Coffee buy beans that are harvested by hand. Seeing as harvesters will possess better discretion than a machine about which coffee beans are at the correct ripeness for best flavor, Sandhill Coffee can guarantee that the coffee beans are harvested at the optimal time.
Concerning social innovation, Sandhill Coffee has established partnerships with farms that each implement their own social betterment programs. At their Guatemalan farm, while the men in the community are working during the harvest, funds from coffee bean sales are used to host classes for the women in the area to provide them with skills to sell pottery or cook. Phil recalls learning how to cook delicious Pepián, a classic Guatemalan dish, in one of these classes when he visited the farm. At their Papua New Guinean farm, free healthcare and housing are provided to families employed on the farm, and education and books are provided for the workers’ children. The Honduran farm from which Sandhill Coffee buys connects the company to neighboring farms, some of which are owned by women. These women-owned farms guarantee that the men and women who work on the property are paid equal wages.
As for the environmental benefits that result from these partnerships, Sandhill Coffee guarantees that none of the coffee farms that they purchase from currently contribute to local deforestation. Additionally, on the Nicaraguan farm from which they purchase beans, the owners of the farm have bought acreage of rainforest behind the property “just to do nothing to it,” as Phil says. In buying this property, the farm can effectively conserve the forest in their community and keep other companies from potentially harming the ecosystem.
Phil Wingo, Founder and CEO
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Naperville, Illinois, US
Business Website: https://www.sandhillcoffee.com
Year Founded: 2018
Number of Employees: 2 to 10
Sandhill Coffee is dedicated to providing its customers with a delicious, eco-friendly cup of coffee. They believe that both coffee and nature can bring people together, and they work to foster those relationships.