If you are Canadian or live in a U.S. border state, you know Tim Hortons. This coffee and donut/fast food shop completely dominates the carry-out coffee market in Canada, with over 2,700 locations serving around 3 million cups of coffee a day, leaving Starbucks a distant second. Tim Hortons is such a Canadian cultural icon that there is even a store in Kandahar, Afghanistan, serving Canadian troops. There are also 345 stores in the U.S. with a goal of 500 by the end of 2008. Tim Hortons was acquired by Wendy’s International in 1995, but divested and spun it off late in 2006, so Tim Hortons is once again an independent company.
Is Tim Hortons coffee sustainable?
The one-sentence summary is this: Tim Hortons does not sell organic coffee, does not sell Fair Trade coffee, and does not disclose the source of its green beans.
On their web site, the company explains, “we decided against buying fair trade coffee” and instead developed a program that works directly with the growers. This program, initiated in 2005, is called the Sustainable Coffee Partnership, and is implemented and managed by the outside organization EDE Consulting, of the Neumann Kaffee Gruppe, Hamburg, Germany. The Partnership will focus on three-year projects. These will provide technical assistance and investment in infrastructure to improve productivity and quality, aid in crop diversification (such as bananas), address the needs of families, and emphasize “the need to respect and
protect the environment.”
The 2006 Tim Hortons annual report notes that part of the purpose of the Sustainable Coffee Partnership is to “fight against poverty among the people who provide one of the Company’s most important products, and to play a meaningful role in providing for the future supply of quality green coffee.” Therefore, the sites of the projects presumably give an indication of where Tim Hortons sources some its coffee. The first project was in Guatemala, with 750 producers in the communities of Zacapa, Chiquimula and Jutiapa near the Honduran border. Other projects are with 200 producers in Colombia in northern Huila, and in Brazil.
Colombia and Brazil are two of the biggest producers of technified “sun” coffee in the world, but there is no information on how much coffee they source from which countries or how it is grown. Their annual report merely says they have “many suppliers and alternate suppliers for coffee.”
I found that one couldn’t research Tim Hortons without coming across a lot of material on the ubiquity of disposable Tim Hortons coffee cups. They evidentally paper Canada. An article in Macleans quoted a Sierra Club representative who said, “The Tim Hortons cup is easily the No. 1 recognizable item of litter in the country.” One often-cited statistic is that 22% of the litter in the province of Nova Scotia was from Tim Hortons.
Of course, it’s not really the company’s fault if people don’t properly dispose of their, and the company has started some anti-litter campaigns. Nonetheless, Tim Hortons cups contain no recycled material and are not recyclable. The company objected to a proposed tax on non-recyclable cups in Toronto, saying “We’re not a waste-management company. Our product is very price-sensitive.” They have recycling at some of their locations, but I’m unclear on whether it includes the cups. Tim Hortons apparently also offers a discount for bringing your own mug, but this customer (scroll to the bottom) discovered that the employee used a paper cup to fill the customer’s mug. I have had this happen myself on more than one occasion at different establishments, although not Tim Hortons.
Updated addition: Tim Hortons also objects to having its drive-through lanes be subjected to an anti-idling ordinance in Ontario.
Frankly, I’m not impressed with the sustainability efforts of Tim Hortons, or their products.