Dark Woods Coffee’s Path to Net Zero

Dark Woods Coffee is an award-winning specialty coffee roasting business that is on the path to net zero. Based in a refurbished textile mill in the West Yorkshire Pennines, Dark Woods Coffee supplies wholesale and retail coffee for cafes, restaurants, coffee shops and delis.  

Founders Damian Blackburn, Paul Meikle-Janney and Ian Agnew launched Dark Woods in 2014. They knew right from the start that it was an opportunity to create a business that reflected their values and commitment to environmental and social sustainability.  

We contacted Dark Woods Coffee to find out about how they’ve been measuring and reducing their carbon footprint and embracing circular-economy principles. They talked us through some of the key areas they’ve been working on: 

Switching to electric vehicles

All Dark Woods Coffee’s company vehicles are now hybrid or fully EV. Dark Woods also encourages alternative commuting for their staff, such as car shares, cycling, taking the bus or walking.  

Reducing business travel

Dark Woods use video conferencing when they talk to UK suppliers and contacts and coffee producer partners internationally.  

Reducing commercial building energy use

Dark Woods started their carbon reduction efforts with the obvious first steps:  

  • installing low-energy lighting 
  • switching off equipment when not in use 
  • reducing waste

More recently, they replaced the large gas blower factory heaters with a low-energy air source heat pump, located inside the building to capture exhaust heat from the coffee roasters. This generates hot water which is piped around the building to heat exchange fans to provide warm air. The heat pump also provides all the hot water to staff kitchen and hand washing areas.  

This new system is enhanced by high-level destratification fans which recirculate risen heat to the workspace below; and by insulated polycarbonate, which has replaced the glass in the roof. 

Renewable energy to reduce production costs

Dark Woods have worked with their landlord to install 600 high output solar PV panels on the mill roof, contributing to the decarbonisation of the operations.  

Dark Woods Coffee employee checking coffee roasting equipment

Dark Woods Coffee employee checking coffee roasting equipment

Replacing equipment with more efficient alternatives 

Coffee roasting can be energy intensive. Dark Woods have invested in a new, larger capacity, efficient lower-emissions roaster. This has improved productivity and reduced energy use.  

They have also invested in a hot composter. They now compost all their kitchen waste, chaff from roasting, shredded paper and bags. The compost they produce gets used in their kitchen garden, from which they share out the harvests of vegetables and salad with their team. 

Download Dark Woods free composting guide for Food Service Businesses 

Embedding circular economy principles

The use of packaging and how much of it ends up in landfill is a huge challenge within the coffee industry.  

Dark Woods have reduced their materials footprint and embraced circular economy principles. In 2022, they switched from plastic to plant-based home-compostable kilo bags.  

The new bags are manufactured in Yorkshire, dramatically reducing the production and shipping carbon associated with their previous bags, manufactured in the far east. They sell more than 100,000 kilo bags of coffee each year. 

They use fibre drums as coffee “cans” for food-service wholesale customers within Yorkshire. Manufactured in near Manchester, each fibre-can holds 6kg of coffee, equivalent to their traditional case size (6x1kg bags) and is returnable, reusable multiple times and recyclable at the end of its life.  

The company has implemented bespoke tracking software and unique QR codes on each ‘can’ to track the number of uses and carbon saved. The cans are delivered and collected by their electric van or cargo e-bike; which has also improved engagement with customers.  

Dark Woods estimates that they will save more than 30,000 bags each year, with a reduction of 10,000kg in associated carbon from packing and transport activities.  

Protecting their local environment

Dark Woods is embedded in the local community and sees sustainability as the cornerstone of their operations. One of their directors sits on the Board of the In the Colne Valley (ITCV), a local non-profit voluntary group that aims to connect local small businesses and promote all aspects of their community and the environment. Dark Woods provides their premises, free of charge, for networking events and meetings. 

An e-Cargo bike in Dark Woods Coffee's workspace

An e-Cargo bike in Dark Woods Coffee’s workspace 

Supporting coffee growing communities

Dark Woods only partners with suppliers that have an: 

  • ethically sound approach within their own business 
  • care for their workforce 
  • respect local laws and regulations 
  • respect the local environment and communities in which they operate 

Dark Woods have an increasingly interdependent relationship with coffee producing communities around the World. They source more than 175 metric tons of coffee annually, mostly from producer cooperatives and family-run farms, either through a direct-trade or direct-relationship model. 95% of their green coffee sourcing is through forward-contracts, enabling producers to invest in their farms and communities, and securing Dark Woods the quality and supply security it needs.  

They have expanded their direct-relationship partnerships, building on the success they’ve had with their longstanding partnerships. They are working closely with a small group of farmers in Yemen on direct-trade micro-lots. They have also established close sourcing relationships with producers in Ethiopia, Colombia, Panama, Honduras and Guatemala.  

They’re an active supporter of World Coffee Research, an international charity developing the next generation of coffee plants to enable farmers to meet the challenges of climate change. Dark Woods donates funds to them annually through their Checkoff Programme.  

Through their direct-trade relationship with Ardent Coffee in Ethiopia, Dark Woods is a core funder of the Ardent Children Centre in the Sidama region. The Children Centre provides a safe and supportive home for up to thirty orphans from the local coffee growing community.  

Dark Woods has a long-standing relationship with Farmers’ Voice Radio, a UK charity that supports small farmer communities, mostly in Africa, to run their own community radio programmes. One of their directors now sits on the Board of Trustees.  

Packet of Dark Woods speciality coffee 'Under Milk Wood' and certified B-Corp logo

Packet of Dark Woods speciality coffee ‘Under Milk Wood’ and certified B-Corp logo

Net zero transparency and accountability

Dark Woods wanted to make a public commitment to give substance to their sustainable aspirations.  

They chose B Corp to independently assess the environmental and social impact of their business across a range of metrics. B Corp is a globally recognised platform that includes some of the world’s most sustainable and recognisable brands.  

Dark Woods was one of the first companies in Yorkshire to be certified as a B Corp in 2020. They publish impact reports on their website to demonstrate their commitment to being open, transparent and accountable to all their stakeholders.  

In 2024, they recertified, achieving a score of 147.4. Certified B Corp businesses must score over 80 points in assessed categories, so this outstanding score highlights the success of their sustainability so far. 

Find out about more SME net zero case studies.

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Take part in the UK Net Zero Business Census