Pittsburgh’s Adda Coffee and Tea House goes carbon neutral

For journalistic transparency, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Adda Coffee & Tea. (If we haven’t met yet, hi! I’m Francesca Dabecco, Director of The Incline.) Whether it’s community connection, fundraising, sustainability efforts, or just downright delicious beverages, they’re making Pittsburgh a better place at their locations in Garfield (with Adda Baazar shop), Shadyside, and Northside. Plus, exciting news — a fourth location is setting up shop in the Cultural District this fall.

Today, we’re catching up with General Manager Morgan McCoy, a resident of Regent Square, to talk about Adda’s latest effort to go carbon neutral with the help of Paris-based startup CarbonCroc. Our Q-and-A follows, edited for clarity and length.

Adda’s Iced matcha latte (📸: @addacoffeehouse)

Can you tell us more about this partnership? How is it integrated into Adda’s business?

I came across a post from Dan Hadley, cofounder of CarbonCroc, on r/startups on Reddit where he shared the mission for CarbonCroc and said that they were looking for ecommerce shops to help them expand the platform. We are always looking for ways to reinvest in causes and community, so it seemed like a great opportunity. I reached out, told them about our online store Adda Bazaar, and we hopped on a call.

We were really moved by Dan and his co-founder, Paul Bie, and their mission to get companies to own up to their impact instead of passing the cost on to customers, like when airlines prompt you to pay an extra couple bucks to offset the impact of your flight. Their tech hinges on an algorithm that helps them more accurately capture the actual impact of any given product (while similar businesses use an averaging system) so they can evaluate impact sale by sale, making it much more possible for a small company like ours to evaluate and own up to our impact.

Their only product at the time was a Google Chrome extension that offsets the shipping of Amazon purchases. From their conversations with us and others, they decided to branch out into a Shopify app. We use Shopify for all of our sales, so it’s as simple as installing the program and letting it run in the background. Every month, we go into our dashboard to evaluate our footprint and purchase offsets that go to sustainability and carbon capture projects. Our customers can visit our public impact page to see the negative impact we have and how we’re offsetting it through these projects.

How does CarbonCroc remove carbon from the atmosphere?

There are two main strategies to carbon removal that CarbonCroc combines to make the most impact. The first is natural: this is land-based solutions like conservation or planting trees. This strategy often has both an ecological and social impact. The other is technological, like Direct Air Capture, a mechanical way to capture carbon to then either utilize or store it, removing it from the atmosphere.

When we purchase our offsets, CarbonCroc is the expert on where that money should be invested. They typically use a combination of natural and technological strategies. Dan shared this on how they evaluate those investments:

“We select a basket of projects to invest in, but we are always looking for more projects that are high quality. Any project which isn’t verified by strict carbon accounting standards (Eg: Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard) has not been considered. We then talk with outside experts and research to make sure they are: verifiable, unique, additional and long-term.”

Adda Bazaar in Garfield (📸: @addacoffeehouse)

Why is this investment so important to Adda?

Adda has always been about sustainability, both in the products we use for service in our cafes and who we choose to source our products from. But there is only so much you can do to minimize your impact as a business. If there is a latte, there will be a cup that ends up in the garbage can. For coffee shops in particular, we also learned that consuming coffee from a shop is one of the least sustainable ways to get your caffeine fix.

Our existence as a business is bad for the Earth, despite (we hope) being good in many other ways! But we aren’t interested in hiding all the bad we do with all the good we do, and we want to continuously challenge how we can be good stewards to our community and our industry. Carbon capture is not the solution to climate change, but it is a step. And a single coffee shop making these investments isn’t the solution, but it is a step. What’s important is that if we add all those small steps together and inspire others to walk with us, we can slowly chip away at these issues and lessen the burden: slowly, everyday, together.

How can other local businesses adopt that same kind of practice? (Is it less complicated than most would think?)

YES!!! I cannot exclaim enough that this is in no way special to Adda. If you use Shopify, you can download CarbonCroc tomorrow and start your offsetting journey. The CarbonCroc technology is there and they are working on ways to expand this work to other point-of-sale and commerce systems. We would love for every other small business possible to join in on this effort.

To be fully honest: this can be expensive, but the cost is linear and it’s easy to manage. You only pay more if you’re selling more. You also don’t have to offset every month — if a major expense comes up, you are in control of whether you can afford the investment for that period. So it’s an excellent way to invest sustainably for your small business. Not everyone can do it right now and it is even a stretch for our business, but we’re passionate about it and believe that having the knowledge will help us make better business decisions so our impact (and therefore offset bill!) gets smaller over time. A perfect world is one where our impact is negligible, for now we hold ourselves accountable through CarbonCroc and are on standby for any fellow business that would like to do so.

Adda x Miir insulated travel mug (📸: @addacoffeehouse)

Consumers can actually see Adda’s carbon footprint and work to offset it. Tell us about that and why transparency is important.

Something Adda has struggled with is publicizing efforts like this for fear of cheapening our community work by using it for marketing. It was no different with this project. Calling ourselves carbon neutral and celebrating that fact is kind of hypocritical. “Hey! Look at all this negative impact we have! But no worries, we’re paying to make it not so bad, so buy more from us!”

Large corporations do this all the time, we call it greenwashing. We have no interest in doing that. We want to be honest and make it clear that no matter what, consumption = consequence. We also want people to know what kind of projects we’re investing in and what these offsets look like so we can back up our actions. It’s important to us that we say: here’s our consumption, here’s our impact and here’s our action. We can’t make your latte amazing for the Earth just yet, but we can take the dollar you choose to spend with us and do our best to invest it towards a better future.

Adda’s mission is in its name – it means both conversation and a place to have community connection. Tell us how this mission helps to shape how Adda serves its community.

Adda’s name and mission was, of course, decided by our owner and founder, Sukanta Nag. He is the most humble and giving person I think I’ve ever met, he’ll probably even be annoyed that I’m sharing this! He chose this name and chose to open Adda because he’s passionate about community togetherness. If there’s a barrier to that togetherness, we try to address it. That has led us to heavily and heartily care about and invest in the social issues that burden our immediate and global communities. We don’t have all the answers but are continuously adjusting our strategy and investments so that we can create a world where everyone has a seat at the table, the privilege to enjoy a coffee with friends, and a place to have conversations with every neighbor.

Adda Bazaar in Garfield (📸: @addacoffeehouse)

I thought it was kind of perfect that CarbonCroc, a Paris company, is working with Adda, a Pittsburgh company… like “Paris to Pittsburgh.” It’s no secret that people are watching Pittsburgh right now as an example of how an industry city can be transformed…and how much more work still needs to be done. 

How do you think more Pittsburgh businesses can start to be mindful of their environmental impact and set a good example in our city?

We thought that, too! It was funny when Dan told us he was calling from Paris and realized that synergy. Many of our fellow coffee shops and small businesses are already doing an incredible job investing in sustainability. I can’t think of one local shop that doesn’t use some kind of recyclable or compostable to-go container, which is definitely a more difficult and expensive choice than customers may think. We should continue on that path and seek out these opportunities to invest just a little more so we can make a larger impact together. The Adda team is prepared to provide all of our insight and experience to any local businesses that would like to work with CarbonCroc or learn more about offsetting, the cost, etc. Small businesses don’t have the same requirements as larger businesses, so it’s about opting for the cost of sustainability. Most of your favorite local spots are already doing that and we should continue to do so, and especially continue to share those practices with each other. We need to keep it up and keep talking about it.

Here at The Incline, we love getting to know our neighbors; tell us a little bit more about yourself.

How long have you worked at Adda?

I’ve worked at Adda since December of 2020. However, my partner was one of the first baristas at Adda Shadyside and I worked at Adda Northside when it first opened to help out. I’ve proudly been part of the Adda family for many years. 

What do you love about this city and your work at Adda?

I grew up in Brookline and went to both high school and college Downtown so the roots run deep. If I don’t know someone, we have a mutual connection and a project underway in the span of a 20 minute conversation. Pittsburgh has a lot of work to do, but leading Adda and partnering with the many amazing organizations in our community gives me the opportunity to do our part in moving the city forward. 

Favorite Adda drink?

GREAT question. I’m basic and love a good single-origin African coffee (Yirgacheffe lovers, hello!), but honestly my favorite of all time is the iced mocha with Brunton Dairy’s chocolate milk. It’s like a milkshake! Also have to mention one of our teas, I think the best is the Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong. The name and origin of the tea are so cool.