San Jose’s Academic Coffee Wins Sustainability Grant

Academic Coffee has found that good environmental stewardship can pay off.

As a champion of sustainability since its 2017 inception, its owners have worked to ensure all products are compostable, reusable or recyclable.

The San Jose cafe, located at 499 S. 2nd Street, can now take that work to the extreme, after winning a $20,000 “Big Idea for Coffee” grant from Swedish alternative milk producer Oatly.

Academic already boasted compostable cups, lids, stir sticks, sleeves and coffee grounds, as well as repurposed burlap bags, wooden pallets and bubble wrap. During the pandemic, Academic also began roasting with an electric, zero-emission Bellwether roasting machine, and blossomed composting partnerships with Veggielution and Our City Forest.

Owner Frank Nguyen says Oatly’s award will be transformative for Academic's future, especially as sustainability is expensive for small coffee shops.

“The Oatly grant will help try to make some of our other dreams come true,” Nguyen said, adding that they will soon add compostable coffee bags to shelves.

Academic Coffee uses a zero-emissions Bellwether roasting machine for its beans. Photo courtesy of Oatly

Academic was one of seven awardees across the U.S. chosen from nearly 200 applications. While Nguyen was surprised to win, he attributes the success, in part, to plans of publishing sustainability tips and tricks for other cafes, restaurants and consumers to learn from, too.

“It really does take everyone to start making changes in order to protect our environment,” Nguyen said. “I’m hoping that Oatly putting a spotlight on (sustainability) makes it exciting.”

While San Francisco's citywide composting program, which became the first of its kind nationally in 1996, composts and recycles about 80 percent of its waste, San Jose has no comparable program.

Ngyuen said he hopes consumers and businesses like Academic can lead a wave of change. “The hardest step is that first step,” Nguyen said.

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