Vanessa Hernandez

Co-Founder of Don Maslow Coffee

As the co-founder and Head of Partnerships & Sustainability of Don Maslow Coffee and also as a Honduran national, for Vanessa, it is morally incumbent to develop a business model that addresses the issue of value distribution and living wage concept in the coffee sector in Honduras.

Vanessa created Don Maslow Coffee as a way to reinvent the coffee business model to make it fairer and optimise for sustainability at every point of the value chain. This means that Don Maslow Coffee’s producers receive more money for their hard work, and its coffee leaves a much smaller carbon footprint through preventing deforestation and using 100% compostable packaging.

In an increasingly concentrated sector, the main corporate actors have successfully privatised an increasing share of the value generated by the value chain, whereas the producers are chronically underpaid (often below the living wage) and, more than ever, need financial resources to fight against the effects of climate change.

Where did the idea for Don Maslow Coffee come from?

Honduras’ history has always been characterised by long military rule, corruption, poverty, and crime, all of which have caused it to become one of the poorest and most unstable nations in the world.

While the future always seems pretty challenging, I have always known I needed to do something to help my country. I co-founded Don Maslow Coffee in 2019. The idea was to create a Honduran coffee brand with a low carbon footprint and eco-friendly practices.

To achieve this, we have partnered with coffee farmers that use a natural process for growing coffee that does not harm the rainforest and to reduce plastic pollution, we use 100% compostable coffee packaging.

During the global crisis of 2020, we could not export coffee anywhere in the world due to Covid 19. I decided to use my time to gain a better understanding of the coffee industry’s challenges by studying a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Leadership at the University of Cambridge.

Among my findings are.

Apart from Brazil, where production increases are driven by technology, a review of published data on coffee land-use change indicates that deforestation is the primary source of new coffee plantations in most countries where coffee production is rapidly expanding. This, despite increasing sustainability claims and initiatives.

Furthermore, through my research, I concluded that deforestation, water pollution, and biodiversity loss are outcomes linked to a larger issue: the failure to include socially and economically vulnerable stakeholders in the coffee industry (coffee farmers).

The unjust distribution of value in the coffee industry has already reached an unsustainable level. This means that even today, farmers in coffee-producing countries struggle to cover the cost of production and are reliant on unpaid family labour to remain profitable.

Because of all of this we need a framework for sustainability that does not only include sustainable business practices that target energy, water, natural resources, pollution and waste management but legally biding any wrongdoing and emphasising the importance of making sure that the industries of developing nations are economically viable, and they can improve their living standards is imperative.

Yet, the lack of transparency around coffee pricing is still backed by antitrust laws that prevent companies from sharing their prices; this results in brands sharing sustainability stories that lack an economic perspective. In consequence, consumer trust in brand stories around coffee farming is distorted as consumers already believe they support farmers’ livelihoods, which translates into less willingness to pay more and lower demand for change on the consumer’s side.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Emails; fulfilling orders; research; and talking and educating coffee farmers.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The rise of sustainable and ethical consumerism.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

For me, the possibility of living in a world where we can have it all (ethics, good business practices) is possible, and I love connecting with those who believe it is possible.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Start sooner on my entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The inequitable and unsustainable consumption levels of the wealthy and rich industrialised nations are dependent upon the violent processes of metal and mineral extraction, overwhelmingly in the world’s poorest areas.

The vast majority of proposals for a ‘green’ transition assume greater levels of material extraction alongside persisting inequalities in consumption levels.

The OECD Global Resource Outlook ‘Business As Usual’ scenario projects that the mass of extracted resources will increase by 111% by 2060, from its current global level of 79 to 167 billion tonnes per annum.

This would have catastrophic social and ecological implications and would overwhelmingly affect communities on the frontline of extractive projects and some of the world’s poorest populations.

Frontline communities would face increased displacement, eroded livelihoods, contaminated air, soil, and water, and cultural destruction but by all means, we must remove emissions.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Research – whatever your solution may be – it is imperative to be able to prove your claims and facts.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

An for ethical and sustainable businesses, perhaps?

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I paid for surf lessons.
Why? Because surfing is awesome.
100% recommend it!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Trello – to keep yourselves organised.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari reminds us that everything is pointless if we lose the perspective of why we are doing all of these in the first place.

Entrepreneurs are usually self-starters and go-getters, however ambition should never blind our vision, and we should always keep in mind the big picture, whatever that means for you. Freedom, self-expression etc..

What is your favorite quote?

“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” — Robert Swan OBE

Key Learnings:

  • Ethical consumerism is more than about trees
  • Sustainability is also about how we treat each other
  • Coffee farmers are not being paid fairly – no matter what they tell you
  • Have fun