Sustainable Business in LA: One Cup at a Time

Is farmers' market produce trucked in from Fresno and Madera sustainable? Given the water and other input-intensive nature of raising beef, is it better to buy meat raised in Nebraska and shipped west or do I need to give up meat altogether?
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Last week's announcement by Mayor Eric Garcetti of the Sustainable City pLAn has gotten Angelenos' attention. Indeed many around the world seem to have noticed and are now looking to LA, yes Los Angeles, for leadership on large city sustainability.

The mayor's "roadmap for a Los Angeles that is environmentally healthy, economically prosperous, and equitable in opportunity for all -- now and over the next 20 years" is ambitious and visionary in many regards. The plan targets Housing and Development, Mobility and Transit, Air Quality, Environmental Justice, Urban Ecosystem, Livable Neighborhoods, Carbon and Climate Leadership and more.

The widely reported-on plan got me thinking about what it means to be a sustainable business in Los Angeles.

Is farmers' market produce trucked in from Fresno and Madera sustainable? Given the water and other input-intensive nature of raising beef, is it better to buy meat raised in Nebraska and shipped west or do I need to give up meat altogether? Shorter showers and a bucket in the bathtub to capture water as it warms up are probably here to stay until gray water systems which direct the water that comes out of the shower, bath, sink and washing machine to our landscaping become standard practice. And what about coffee which grows in Central and South America, Africa, Asia, Hawaii and the Caribbean but not here in California?

I am a morning person but like much of the rest of the northern hemisphere, caffeine is a required part of my routine. And as I was up late last night, today was very much a coffee rather than tea day for me. But there it was, that pesky sustainability issue.

Given the water and special weather required for growing coffee, even with climate change, coffee is one thing that will probably never grow here in the Southland.

So we compromise, like riding the bus and walking when we might want to drive and taking a quick, low-water shower instead of a longer one. After all, we are not like President Johnson who famously said about the plumbing in his White House shower, "If I can move 10,000 troops in a day, you can certainly fix the bathroom any way I want it."

Still, though I won't be giving up stuff like coffee any time soon, making the choice to patronize businesses that are committed to sustainability makes sense. Particularly when the product is so good.

From my home it is not a bad bike or bus ride to the Hollywood Farmers' Market. That is where I get my fix many Sunday mornings.

Bicycle Coffee LA at the market roasts and brews as sustainable and good a cup of coffee as can be found in LA. And at $2 a cup for a pour over, it is about half the price of a cup at many of the chain and artisanal places one finds all over LA. They also sell coffee in bulk.

Bicycle Coffee LA is the third outlet for the small business; the original is in Jack London Square in Oakland and a second store is in Tokyo.

Started in 2009, the company grew from an idea hatched by the founders while trekking through coffee country in Central America to deliver coffee by bicycle. The small-batch roaster supports sustainable farm cooperatives.

The Los Angeles store on Santa Monica Boulevard just east of Western in East Hollywood, is run by the wife and husband team of Kellen and Andy Ellis. The location works well for the couple who for now do most of their wholesale business in Hollywood, East Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park. You can find Bicycle Coffee at groceries like Lassen's and at a growing number of area restaurants. They are at Space 15 Twenty at the Hollywood Farmers' Market every Sunday.

Bicycle Coffee is the sort of natural partner one would expect to find at CicLAvia, Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Streetsblog LA and Amoeba Music events. But the bicycle delivery is not just a gimmick for selling a cup or bag of coffee. The company is also committed to selling their product in environmentally friendly compostable bags and roasting locally so that the coffee comes to you as fresh as possible.

Kellen Ellis of Bicycle Coffee LA acknowledges that opening the business in Los Angeles was a challenge compared to bike-friendly Oakland. Between the potholes and traffic, it has been a learning curve figuring out which streets to avoid at which times of the day. But, she adds, in contrast with being trapped in the car, it is really nice to ride "with the breeze in my hair and I get a free workout with this job."

Of course being a sustainable business isn't a one size or strategy fits all proposition. And not every commodity or purchase can be delivered by bike. But there are things all of us can do starting today to make LA more sustainable. So here's an idea; get caffeinated and check out the mayor's sustainability action plan to see what you can do to help set us on the path to a different, more sustainable, Los Angeles.

Also, please let me know what you think of this post and whether you would like to read more about local businesses that are trying to be more sustainable.

Yours in transit,