Category • Best Coffee Buying Guide

How sustainable is my coffee habit?

Alex | August 21, 2022

It’s hard to imagine starting the day without a hot cup of coffee or enjoying a quick brew with friends or colleagues while taking a well-earned break. But with more of us caring about the planet, do we ever stop to wonder if our coffee habit is a sustainable one?

According to market insight leaders, Mintel, consumers around the world are increasingly ‘drinking coffee with a conscience.’ And it’s not only consumers that are becoming more environmentally aware, but businesses are also looking for ways to go greener. Whether that’s by saving energy, going paperless, recycling regularly or looking for more sustainable coffee solutions in the office.

Looking specifically at coffee, we’ll help you understand the small changes you can make at work and at home to enjoy your coffee, eco-anxiety free!

What is sustainable coffee?

The coffee industry has long been a hot topic for sustainability. So firstly, what is considered ‘sustainable coffee’? Put simply, it’s coffee that’s grown in a way that conserves nature and provides better livelihoods for the people who grow and process it.

Let’s look at how coffee is grown and the challenges it presents to the environment. Coffee is grown in tropical forests and these types of habitats are in decline. When farmers expand their coffee plantations as the demand for coffee continues to grow, the easiest thing is to cut down some more forests. This impacts its decline further.

Also, coffee is mostly grown on steep slopes which can cause issues with erosion and sedimentation of waterways. Add in the fact that processing coffee is water-intensive and these practices can escalate to become unsustainable. This is why steps are being taken to improve sustainability. And with predictions that demand for coffee could triple by 2050, it’s certainly an issue to prioritise.

Ultimately, the coffee we drink impacts the health, prosperity and well-being of 25 million coffee producers. It also affects the 10 million hectares of coffee farms and the continued ability of nature to sustain them. However, there are lots of simple things individuals and businesses can do.

What types of coffee are there?

Here in the UK, we love coffee. In fact, British consumers drank approximately 98 million cups of coffee per day last year. The United Kingdom also ranks among the largest European coffee-consuming markets. And in spite of being well known for our love of a good cup of tea, coffee now ties in the top spot for our favourite refreshment.

There are approximately 124 coffee species that exist in the wild, of which only a couple are commercially relevant. The two most important species on the market are Robusta and Arabica. Robusta accounts for just 20% of global coffee production and is considered to be slightly bitter in taste. Arabica is the most dominant species in the coffee market and much more popular with coffee lovers. Smoother and more subtle in taste, Arabica coffee represents about 75% of global production with the remaining 5% being made up of other, far less abundant species.

Ditch the takeaway cups

You may be shocked to know that a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee found that around 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away each year. That’s just in the UK alone, with another half a million also being littered every single day. The first thing you can do is to ditch the plastic or paper single-use takeaway cups.

Encourage your team to use their own cups and mugs in the office instead. If they’re drinking water, opt for a reusable bottle that can be refilled. Picking up your coffee on the go from a cafe? You can use your own travel mug and you’ll often be given a discount for doing so. And voila, you’ve immediately cut down your coffee’s carbon footprint.

Also if you have a coffee pod machine, ensure you’re using recyclable pods. There are a lot of different brands available now, but still, not everyone recycles them.

Alt-milk

By opting for non-dairy milk, you can reduce your overall impact on the environment. There are growing concerns over the environmental and ethical impact of dairy production which has led to people looking for alternatives. Today the alt-milk or plant-based milk business is booming, witnessing an astronomic rise in popularity over recent years. There are many different options to choose from including soy, almond, oat, coconut, pea, potato, cashew, hazelnut and many more.

Recycle your coffee grounds

The UK produces a quarter of a million tonnes of waste coffee grounds, but you can easily repurpose and recycle them. At FreshGround, we donate all our coffee grounds locally to vegetable growers as it makes for a brilliant fertiliser. At home, you can use them in your garden for composting.

Coffee grounds contain several essential nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus, along with micronutrients that help vegetables and plants to grow. If you’re a business, you could do the same so that none of your coffee grounds go to waste.

There are also services that will recycle your grounds for you. We work with Envar Recycling and encourage our customers to do the same and partner with them to help reduce waste. BioBeans send off used coffee grounds to their recycling factory in Cambridgeshire. It’s there where the grounds are dried, allowing them to be reused in valuable products that benefit both people and the planet.

Choose your coffee carefully

You’ve more than likely heard of Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance coffee, but what does each one mean?

The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organisation that focuses on business, agriculture, and forests. It helps to make ethical and responsible business practices the new normal.

Buying coffee with the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal means you’re supporting the conservation of biodiversity. You’re also helping to create more sustainable livelihoods by transforming farming and business practices. Products certified by the green frog seal mean that the product meets the Rainforest Alliance standards. Our premium coffee is Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Fairtrade was developed in direct response to the struggles of coffee farmers, following the collapse of world coffee prices back in 1988. Buying Fairtrade products means that you’re supporting farmers and producers to improve their lives and their communities.

The Rainforest Alliance has a stronger focus on the environment and sustainability, Fairtrade has a stronger focus on protecting workers’ rights and wages.

What’s right for my office?

Ultimately, you and your team’s coffee habits will vary. What you choose for the office will come down to a number of factors so we recommend you take the time to weigh up all the pros and cons. Our expert team are all Specialty Coffee Association trained so if you need a hand in making your decision, give us a call on 020 7553 7900.