La Colombe started as a small chain of cafes in the 90s that specialized in selling draft lattes, or coffee infused with nitrogen to give it a unique, frothy texture. In the past few years, La Colombe has expanded to selling disposable draft latte cans, a shelf-stable version of the original product. While these lattes are expensive, I have begun to enjoy them over other coffee products because of their unique texture. I could only give the La Colombe draft latte 1 planet out of 3 because of its lack of specificity regarding production practices. La Colombe gains some points for its social impact work, but overstates the sustainability of its packaging and ignores fair, sustainable production practices.
La Colombe insists that sustainability is “top of mind” and that its packaging is sustainable. The company highlights its use of NEO technology, which involves incorporating organic additives that allow some products to be converted into reusable energy after the products have been disposed of in landfills. These products would degrade more quickly than traditional plastics, resulting in biogasses that can be turned into clean energy. However, this technology is only being implemented for a small number of products compared to everything La Colombe sells, and isn’t a part of the company’s signature draft lattes. These lattes come in metal cans with plastic lids and a plastic outer cover. Although these cans are recyclable, the plastic and metal parts must be separated beforehand, and not all recycling plants engage in this process. While La Colombe sources its milk for draft lattes from farms near the company’s production plant in Michigan, the sustainability practices of these farms are unclear.
There is little information about La Colombe’s main processing plants in Pennsylvania and Michigan, making it difficult to find any sustainable production practices in-between ingredient sourcing and the finished product. It is also not possible to determine the amounts of carbon or methane emissions from the coffee farms, cattle farms, production plants, and transportation required to produce a single draft latte. La Colombe has supported several additional social justice initiatives in the past by donating a small portion of the profit from specific products (not including the draft lattes) to groups like Feeding America and the ACLU. There is also a long list of various groups and organizations that La Colombe has donated to in the past. Overall, it seems like La Colombe has taken a “quantity over quality” approach to its social justice impact. While La Colombe’s original founders, Todd Carmichael and JP Iberti still manage the company’s operations, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya became the majority owner in 2015. It is unclear what effect, if any, Ulukaya’s ownership had over La Colombe’s practices.
La Colombe is vague about how and how much of its coffee is certified. Even if producers are paid “high above fair trade price”, there is no evidence that the company’s coffee or products meet the specific Fair Trade certification. While its website indicates that the company prioritizes certified coffees, it does not reveal what percent of its coffee beans are certified nor what specific certifications it prioritizes. La Colombe’s founders did help start the Haiti Coffee Academy, a farm with training programs and a coffee crop nursery meant to empower Haitian farmers. La Colombe also pays the salaries of matrons at the Trinity Children’s Centre in Uganda through its partnership with the nonprofit organization ECHOES.