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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

It's OK to Struggle With Sustainability

by Lisa Linsley, UMass Journalism student

It’s Okay To Struggle With Sustainability: Dean Cycon Tells The Steps to Reaching Goals By Lisa Linsley, UMass Journalism student Many of today’s consumers are concerned with their products being “green.” This often means that a company’s product is ecological, environmental, and economical. Exhibiting these three traits is beneficial to the consumer, the business, and everyone involved. Achieving sustainability; however, can be a tricky process. Dean Cycon, the owner of Dean’s Beans Coffee described it to a gathering of the UMass Family Business Center in April 2009.

Dean Cycon founded Dean Beans out of Orange, Mass. Dean’s Beans is a fair-trade coffee company, which ensures that no farm or farmer is being treated poorly. Cycon discussed the idea that people are integrating sustainability into how we do business due to the economic incentive and social aspects, recognizing that it isn’t an easy task to achieve sustainability, due to factors such as price.

Educating the Public

Cycon pointed out ways in which local companies (in the audience) can promote and explain their eco-friendly products. For example, a local pest control company is certified for Integrated Pest Management (IPM). However, on their web site they do not thoroughly explain what this means. They are missing the opportunity to educate the public that IPM reduces chemical use to limit need for pesticides. This is something many people are looking for. Cycon explains that by explaining this, the company will be more marketable. Similarly, a label manufacturer makes labels out of biodegradable paper. However, this isn’t something that the public is aware of. Many would be interested economically and environmentally. In these cases, Cycon stresses that educating the public will broaden the market. “You have to be honest and transparent with your customers,” Cycon says.

Honesty and Transparency

Many companies are headed for a big ethical meltdown. There are too many bogus claims. For instance, a regional coffee company, which claims to be eco-friendly and fair-trade, recently began to provide coffee machines, seen in many offices. The machine makes single cups of coffee by depositing a plastic container into the machine. The company asked Dean’s Beans to be the first company to make the coffee pods, however, Cycon refused, because they are not biodegradable and the price is more expensive. Cycon believes in using the “360-degree rule.” This means that one will turn around in an arc of 360 degrees to see how one is showing up at each angle as far as the goals to be ecological, economical, and environmentally friendly.

Going Where No Roaster Has Gone

Although struggle is inevitable, it is possible for a company to achieve the values it strives for. Cycon launched Dean’s Beans during a time in which coffee prices dropped so low, it went below what farmers need to survive. 600,000 farmers in Latin America lost land due to this pricing crisis. Many coffee companies look at this and acknowledge how awful it is but do little to take action. Cycon; however, encourages fair trade, which is the economic mechanism that recognizes that the price of a commodity goes up and down. However, he guarantees that when the marketplace goes down they will still be paid. In many of these communities, 3,000 people are getting clean water for the first time in history. Many children’s stomach issues have alleviated due to this and are able to concentrate in school.

Cycon “boldly goes where no roaster has gone” as his company benefits social aspects beyond the fair trade market. With People Center Development, Cycon has traveled to these farms in Latin America, South America, Mexico, and Africa to work directly with the community. He listens to what the people need and what they would like the community to look like. Cycon and family have gone to Kenya and have trained Indigenous women to begin healthcare program. This program has existed now for 16 years. Through this program every woman can get a loan to start a business, and the business pays for the healthcare program. This is the first women’s self-funded healthcare business in the world. The program has the young girls of the community help with the business to put money in a scholarship fund to go to college. “This difference is life-changing,” Cycon says. “Many women in this community don’t finish 6th grade.” Cycon incorporates his family into People Center Development. His 17-year-old daughter works with the teens of the community on self-esteem. “Starbucks can’t say that,” Cycon says.

Small businesses are usually the first to integrate human rights. Cycon labels small business as engines of innovation. After Dean’s Beans began the People Center Development program and put $10,000 dollars towards this cause, Starbucks put forth $10 million. “Small businesses are change agents. Big guys follow our lead. We don’t follow their lead.” Therefore, it is okay to struggle and struggle is inevitable. However, educating the public, being honest with customers, and going beyond what is expected are steps necessary to achieve sustainability.

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