We’re a nation of coffee-drinkers. In fact, we drink almost 100 million cups of coffee every day in the UK. But how much do we really know about the coffee we drink? Are coffee pods really better for the environment? And can coffee production become more eco-friendly and sustainable?
Like everything else we consume, coffee has a supply chain – but it’s a little more complicated than the carrots grown down the road.
Most coffee is produced in Brazil, followed by Vietnam and Columbia, where thousands of workers are short-changed for their hard work. But there are a handful of brands who are changing the exploitative nature of coffee growing, by going straight to the source.
Nicole Farris, managing director of Climpson and Sons, has noticed that customers want to know exactly where their coffee comes from now. They’re also doing their own research online; and luckily, Climpson has nothing to hide.
The company has worked with some of its suppliers in Brazil for around a decade, and prioritises maintaining a good relationship with them.
“We’ve always got traceability in mind, and can pinpoint on a map where all our coffees come from,” Farris says.
“We want to ensure producers get a fair income for the products they sell – we treat them as business partners,” she says.
Union, sources coffee directly from more than 40 producers across 14 countries. They too have a short, transparent supply chain that’s fully traceable. The business works with the same producers for years, offering them stability and lowering risk, and supports them to meet its social and environmental standards, including no forced or child labour, no excessive working hours and no discrimination.
This social responsibility can feed into coffee’s environmental impact, too. By paying producers a fair price for coffee, Union is also supporting farmers become more sustainable.
“We believe that paying a fair price for coffee and ensuring the cost of production is always covered, and providing a sustainability allowance on top of that, allows coffee farmers to have better environmental practices on the ground,” says Union’s managing director, Violeta Stevens.
Farmers in the world’s biggest coffee-growing nations are being encouraged and supported to be more sustainable, and organisations like Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance are also helping to drive up sustainability standards across supply chains.
Meanwhile, here in the UK, Climpson is aiming to achieve a B Corp accreditation, which requires the company to calculate all the emissions along its supply chain. And Union sources its coffee under the Direct Trade social, environmental and business principles.
But there are still challenges. Farris has pointed to coffee machines as one of the biggest challenges along the supply chain. And it’s not pods! It’s the fact that using appliances to boil water has a large carbon footprint, and there currently is no way to avoid this if you need a coffee fix.
With coffee drinkers becoming increasingly aware of these impacts and challenges the biggest question is – how can we, as consumers, make good choices?
Interestingly, it can be down to the way you brew your morning cup-of-joe. Researchers have found that filter coffee has the worst environmental impact, as it uses around seven grams of beans per cup, compared to 5.7 grams for capsule coffee.
Coffee capsules and pods can offer a sustainable way to drink coffee. Some of our favourites include Grind London’s House Blend, which has notes of chocolate and hazelnut and is ethically sourced from sustainable farms.
We’ve also been enjoying CRU Kafe’s Organic Colombian Coffee Pods, a Columbian roast with notes of apple, blackcurrant and hazelnut.
Overall, coffee drinkers can make the most difference by buying from more sustainable coffee brands, Stevens says. And if she could emphasise one thing for UK Coffee Week, it would be that all coffee drinkers understand why it’s better for the consumer and the planet, when people spend a little bit more on good quality coffee.
“For good quality, sustainably sourced coffee, the price will naturally be higher,” Stevens says. “If we really want to ensure the producer and the environment are taken care of, that costs money.
“When the price is low, producers can’t make a living out of the coffee. They’ll plant something else instead, or if they decide to stay in coffee, they can’t invest in improving their farms, for example, ensuring any hired labour has good working conditions.
“We need to pay the right price – not just the consumer, we do, too. This ensures longevity in the coffee industry. If you want to enjoy great tasting, sustainably sourced coffee, we need to pay the right price.”