Wouldn't it be nice if getting your morning cup of jo did no harm?
That is no environmental harm, as in no trees cut down to produce the paper cup, no trucks driven to transport the coffee beans to northern climes, no carbon emitted by heating the building where you’re buying that coffee, and so on?
That's the hope of Noble Café founder Dimitri Thompson. On Wednesday, he opened what he says will be the nation's first carbon neutral cafe, at 100 Grand Ave. in Oakland. What carbon the cafe does emit will be offset, Thompson said, through donations it plans to make to the Oakland Parks and Recreation Department and by offering the cafe's use to non-profits as a meeting venue a couple of times a month.
The café, with beautiful wooden tables built from reclaimed Monterey cypress, rattan chairs and bamboo floors also built from reclaimed materials, is furnished to avoid using things whose production or shipping caused carbon emissions. The cafe's huge windows allow lots of natural light, reducing the need to turn on electricity-using lights. But when needed, those overhead lights hold LED bulbs, which use only 20 watts each.
Noble Café will serve Blue Bottle Coffee – the roasted in Oakland, organic and fair trade stuff – and Rishi Teas, also organic and fair trade, but made in Wisconsin. The cocoa and sugar at the coffee bar also are organic and fair trade. Miniature energy efficient refrigerators hold milk so that energy is not lost in constant opening and closing of a large refrigerator.
Even employees' commutes are taken into account to reduce carbon emissions. Five of six employees live in Oakland and they've all vowed to walk, bicycle or take public transportation to work. The one San Francisco employee lives a BART ride away.
The idea of a carbon neutral cafe has lots of supporters in Oakland - city government being one of them. The city of Oakland gave Thompson a $55,000 economic development grant to refurbish the space to a carbon neutral environ. The ground floor corner retail front of 100 Grand had been empty and in need of a tenant for years. Building owner Essex Property Trust also helped out with the remodeling cost. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan came to a pre-opening lunch at the cafe last Friday, as did other city officials, well-known Oakland musicians, artists and political activists.
Thompson said his restaurateur background includes training at the Savoy Hotels in London, serving as a butler at Buckingham Palace and operating restaurants in Paris, Beverly Hills and San Francisco before setting his sights on Oakland and carbon neutrality. He is excited for the chance to help the local community in this new venture, he said.
"We buy food from local farmers so the money stays local," Thompson said. Ninety percent of the food served will be grown within 200 miles of Oakland and 90 percent of it will be certified organic, he said.
Thompson said he knew Oakland wanted something special, and its activist community, including his two co-investors Dana Santa Cruz and Jeffrey Harry, would want a café that did some good for the world. Thompson and his friends invested $600,000 to renovate the space and launch the business.
Santa Cruz and Harry, who met volunteering on the first Obama for President campaign, said this venture fits for them.
"It's about giving back," Santa Cruz said.
Santa Cruz said she'll be helping with the outreach to non-profit organizations and helping them use the space for events.
It's a tough claim, being the nation's first carbon neutral cafe, especially in the eco-conscious Bay Area. In neighboring Berkeley, Gather Restaurant in the famously green David Brower Center building, may have already have won that mantle.
But Thompson's Noble Cafe certainly is making a noble attempt.