What makes coffee sustainable?

Coffee is a well-loved beverage by many of us Brits. Some of us can’t function without it and we drink a lot of it. But how sustainable is our coffee habit? 

The British Coffee Association estimates that we drink 98 million cups of coffee a day. 80% of households buy instant coffee and the same percentage go out to a coffee shop at least once a week. 16% of us use a coffee shop daily and the same number of us prefer ground coffee or coffee pods. 

Where does coffee come from?

Coffee is grown in around 80 countries but the biggest exporter is Brazil and 95% of exported coffee is Arabica (CBI). Half of all UK imports are from Latin America and Brazil supplied 49,000 tonnes of green coffee to the UK in 2019. Brazil has mechanised coffee picking, which results in cheaper, lower grade quality coffee. This is mixed into blends.

Columbia, Honduras and Peru are also exporters of coffee to the UK. Columbia produces high quality washed Arabica. 28% of Honduras coffee is organic and sustainably produced. Peru has the second largest organic coffee production area and is graded fourth for sustainable production. 

Is coffee sustainable? 

Coffee can only be sustainable if it doesn’t entail stripping natural forests to grow it and it supports grower communities. 

Traditionally coffee was grown with other crops under the canopy. With the increasing demand for higher quantities, sun cultivation coffee is now grown (The Guardian). Any monoculture is bad for the environment, even though coffee is a green plant. 

Coffee trees take 3-4 years to reach maturity and produce the most before they reach 20 years old (National Coffee Association). Each tree produces 5 pounds of green coffee beans a year and only one pound of coffee (Nescafe). 

Coffee growers are often smallholders. The coffee market is competitive and dominated by the buyers. The coffee growers only earn around 10% of the eventual retail price. Fair trade was established to certify coffee growers and help them to earn a better wage but fairly traded coffee is more expensive for the consumer. 

Add to this the fact that coffee shops serve coffee in disposable paper cups, many coffee products are sold in plastic foil bags and coffee pods are made of plastic, all of which add to waste and landfill. 

Choose more sustainable coffee

There is much we can do to choose more sustainable coffee. We can shop with suppliers who we know are responsible and sustain the communities they buy from. We can buy coffee from a refill shop, like Jarr Market, so we are not buying plastic packaging. We can choose to use a reusable coffee cup instead of a single use paper or plastic cup. 

Source Climate Change Coffee have been passionate campaigners for coffee growers in Africa, Asia and Latin America for two decades. They supply single origin coffee that is fairly traded with the growers. They work with the growers to improve their community and preserve their rainforests. Source Climate Change Coffee also makes biodegradable & compostable at home coffee pods. 

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Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.