Greening a Giant

Named for the mountain range bisecting the company’s home state of Vermont, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) had humble beginnings as a single coffee shop in the town of Waitsfield (population 1,300). When GMCR began wholesaling beans in the late 1980s, its businessand square footageboomed.

In 1992, the company broke ground on a new 10,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in nearby Waterbury, establishing it as its headquarters. It went public a year later. After acquiring the coffee-brewing system Keurig in 2006 and becoming the face of the new single-serving beverage market, GMCR made the official transformation from grassroots to giant. Today, the company employs about 6,000 people and has a market value of $12 billion. 

GMCR may be traded on Wall Street, but it never lost its Main Street style. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the company’s relationship of over twenty years with local architect Joe Greene, whose Waterbury-based firm Joseph Architects has designed more than 60 projects for GMCR since 2001.

Founded in 2000, Joseph Architects is all about relationships. Until 2012, Greene didn’t even have a website for his firm, instead relying purely on word-of-mouth referrals and continued business from clients, many of whom he says have become close friends.

The key to Greene’s business plan is no different than the key to a good friendship: listening. “I want all of our clients to feel, whether we’re in a meeting or talking on the phone, as if they’re our only client,” Greene says.

GMCR may not be Greene’s only client, but it’s certainly one of the largest. Joseph Architects has designed about 600,000 of GMCR’s 1.8 million square feet of manufacturing space, in addition to tens of thousands of square feet in renovations and corporate office space; the firm also consults on company projects outside the region. The number of sustainable buildings has grown in lockstep with GMCR’s other green initiatives, which include certifying fair trade and organic coffee lines, developing the industry’s first biodegradable bulk bags, converting Waterbury’s delivery vehicles to biodiesel, and taking steps to reduce waste and energy use.

Below, we explore three LEED-certified, Greene-designed projects that emblemize where GMCR stands today.

GMCR's Waterbury Plant expansion came in 2009 and earned LEED Gold.

GMCR’s Waterbury Plant expansion came in 2009 and earned LEED Gold.

Waterbury Plant Expansion

The Waterbury plant is a reminder of the company’s architectural beginnings. “When I first came to the company, we had a 13,000-square-foot building, a couple of old houses transformed into offices, and this 100-by-110-foot distribution center in Waterbury,” says Jason King, director of facilities and engineering at GMCR.

Completed in early 2012, this addition—the fourth to the Waterbury center—represents a turning point on GMCR’s design timeline. The company’s workspaces during the late 1990s and early 2000s were fairly generic, reflecting only a pragmatic need to keep up with increasing staff and production. But as mass production has moved from Waterbury to larger facilities, “we’ve repurposed Waterbury to be a front-and-center innovation and research center,” Greene says. “This was the first time we were able to fully integrate the Green Mountain Coffee brand into the workplace.”

This LEED Gold addition comprises two floors of administrative offices and one of low-volume manufacturing. The workspace is filled with bold brand graphics and artwork with colors inspired by—what else?—roasted coffee beans and coffee trees’ cherries. Large windows offer natural light and views to the employees’ cubicles lining the perimeter, while conference rooms and executive offices are placed at the building’s core.

That employee-centered layout and brand design has become the new mold for future projects. “It’s important to echo the sentiment across your organization that no matter what state, country, or continent you’re in, this is you,” Greene says.

Innovation Center

The GMCR Innovation Center houses offices, meeting areas, product development labs, a warehouse, and a cafe.

The GMCR Innovation Center houses offices, meeting areas, product development labs, a warehouse, and a café.

From the get-go, “it was foundational to our culture to understand that there was a social component to doing business,” King says. A large part of GMCR’s sustainability policy—particularly as it’s grown to include cocoa, fruit, and tea—has to do with drilling down through the supply chain to ensure efficiency, quality, and social responsibility in regards to economics and politics. GMCR’s plants also compost chaff, burlap, coffee, powder, and tea and recycle corrugated cardboard, reducing solid waste sent to the landfills from 1.6 tons per $1 million in revenues to 1.0.

OEmphasis on sustainable buildings started with the company’s early decision in 2001 to build a cogeneration facility in Waterbury. The Innovation Center, a LEED-certified research and development facility completed in 2012, is perched on a hilltop nearby. The structure used to be a technology complex. “We gutted it right back to the studs, putting in a new insulated roof to meet a higher performance value,” Greene says. Other features include low-flow fixtures, a greywater system, direct digital thermal controls, and high-efficiency air-handling. This building, as well as the nearby Waterbury plant, uses an air-to-heat plate exchanger to capture excess heat from boilers in the Innovation Center and coffee roasters in the plant and then warm the interiors, heat water for domestic use, and even melt snow on the sidewalks outside during the winter months.

Because this is the building from which new ideas arise, the design focuses on fostering the food scientists’ innovation and collaboration. The natural light-filled building features a variety of casual gathering spaces for employees and whimsical touches, like a high-peaked interior roofline, an old-timey clock, street signs that depict urban-inspired “neighborhoods” within the building, and exposed millwork and wrought iron. “We’re asking the folks who work there to create the beverages that will take us into the future,” King says. “It’s truly a creative space.”

Essex Plant

“I always tell people that a project for GMCR would start like this,” Greene says. “Jason would call me. He’d say, ‘I need a building.’ I’d say, ‘Okay, how big?’ and he’d say, ‘Don’t know.’ I’d say, ‘What are we putting in it?’ and he’d say, ‘Don’t know.’ Then I’d say,’ When?’ And he’d say, ‘Tomorrow.’”

In other words, throughout the past decade, GMCR’s needs have not always been easy to predict. “Joe and I were always staying one step ahead of the business,” King says, “coming up with solutions before it was too late.” The plant in Essex, however—which replaced Waterbury as GMCR’s Northeast production and distribution facility—jumps more than one step ahead, laying a template for GMCR’s future. “It’s an absolute word-class manufacturing facility, one clearly designed to take us into the next decade,” King says.

The facility, which can produce more than a million single-serving K-Cups a day, consists of three buildings, only one of which is new. “One of my key sustainability policies is to use a building that exists,” Greene says. “Not only is it the greenest form of construction, but if we can take six months off the schedule because we don’t have to build a new facility, it helps a lot.”

The Essex plant’s custom equipment is able to process GMCR’s products more efficiently, decreasing energy use, natural gas, and greenhouse emissions. Variablespeed compressed air systems, variable fans for roasting and drying coffee beans, efficient pipe design, and thermal controls save on the plant’s major energy drains. The building saves nearly 4.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, shaving off nearly $2 million in operating costs. LED and Super T8 lighting, as well as smart controls for shutting off lights in unoccupied warehouse areas, help make this possible.

And it’s not just the coffee company’s bottom line that benefits. “They’re taking a load off the grid, which is completely transferable to the general population,” Greene points out. “The average homeowner won’t get hit with a rate increase to cover the cost of infrastructural upgrades supporting a major manufacturer.”