Sustainable Business Review: Lemonjellos

Since it opened eight years ago, Lemonjellos has been one of Holland’s most progressive small businesses on the environmental front, making all decisions with long term sustainability in mind.

The coffee shop at 61 East Ninth St. is standing out among other stores in the downtown area for this commitment.   It was responsible for getting the city to expand its recycling program to downtown businesses and continue to push for new changes to better the downtown area, like finding options for composting, finding more sustainable products, and influencing other businesses to reduce their waste.

“The push for sustainability has come almost exclusively through the our customers,” says Lemonjellos’ owner Matthew Scot.  “From day one customers started asking about when fair trade coffees would be available.”

When the trash cans where pulled from the shop’s floor, customers were supportive and understanding. Most of the organic products have come through suggestions or questions from customers. The organic chocolate was found after a customer told Scott that he would come back when a better chocolate was sold.

The business model takes into account a whole picture environmental ethic in which all activities are done to the highest environmental standard and sustainable products are used whenever possible.

Lemonjello’s draws a range of customers, including many students from Hope College, area high school students, and community individuals. At certain times every day the store is filled with customers. The shop thrives due to a loyal customer base that encourages responsible stewardship.

Scott explained that the push to become waste free has included extra costs.  Sustainable food service products are still not easy to get.  The cost for every recyclable paper cup is higher than for the standard Styrofoam cup. Corn-based and soy-based plastic food containers are more expensive than the non-recyclable, non-compostable alternatives.

“As soon as recyclable cups were available I jumped on them,” Scott says.  “I watched as other shops  made a couple extra cents off of each cup of coffee they sold, but I couldn’t go back.”

To fight the extra costs, the store encourages customers to use mugs instead of to-go cups. But even with the extra costs Lemonjellos has continued to grow through an economic drought. Scott has found that monthly costs for containers, although more per container, have gone down recently.

Beyond only self-sustainability, Lemonjellos is interested in community and international sustainability.  It works with a local organic farm that takes coffee grounds and organic waste for composting. It also has a relationship with the Holland Rescue Mission, which collects recyclable materials that are not accepted by the city’s recycling program.  Padnos, a waste company located near the Mission, sorts and recycles the materials for the Mission and gives them the money made from the products.

“We wouldn’t be around today if we were only concerned with [economic] growth,” says Scott.

Internationally, Lemonjellos works with small coffee farms where sustainable growing practices are used and where workers are paid sustainable wages.

The city of Holland is currently testing a new recycling and composting program for downtown that will hopefully give better resources to downtown stores and restaurants and make recycling and composting an easier practice.  Scott realizes that if Holland is going to market itself as a forward-thinking town, one of the happiest towns, they are going to be in the public eye.

“People are going to come expecting high standards of businesses – including better recycling and composting programs. … You have to give people something to care about.”

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