So much talk everywhere we look about “going green” these days, and for good reason. This year U.S. electricity prices are estimated to average 10.48 cents per kilowatt-hour, a 1.1 percent increase from 2011. And natural gas is estimated to average $9.21 per thousand cubic feet in 2012, a 2.2 percent increase over 2011. So, that’s incentive to reduce energy consumption in coffee shops even when you consider the bottom line alone. Thankfully, Energy Star estimates that by simply focusing on energy use our category of business can expect a 10-15 percent savings in utility costs. It is tough to dispute that energy conservation efforts make good business sense when approached from that tack.
But let’s look at it from another angle for a moment. We are close to our supply chain in the coffee world – closer, perhaps, than in many other industries. We know the places our coffee beans come from and, in many cases, the people whose lives depend on them. We work collectively as an industry toward a sense of connectedness and understanding of the impact of our decisions. I still remember Paul Hawkin applauding our leadership in responsibility in at the SCAA Expo in San Francisco already in 2001. We know, too – if we’re paying attention – that the partners we depend upon in coffee-producing origins face increasingly challenging climate volatility making each crop year an unpredictable adventure wrought with newly arrived plagues, too much or too little water, wind-damaged plantings, etc. Pricing is impacted by these swings in climatological patterns to be sure.
Whether or not you subscribe to the notion that the changing climate today is a result of human activity is not important here. What is important is that we look at our own business behaviors and find the ways that we can make an impact toward overall reduction of the energy we consume – the carbon footprint that we leave. Dare I say the contributions we make to greenhouse gasses? To make sure that we are all on the same page (and feeling a sense of responsibility) that can hopefully inspire us to act, I offer the following tidbit: in multiple life cycle analyses of coffee it has been stated that cafes consume more energy than any other part of the life cycle of coffee. More than growing, processing, transport, or even roasting. That is because it takes heaps of energy to make water hot, air condition shops, and refrigerate all the goods we want to keep from going bad in order to sell them. But mostly it is heating water; whether that is done in a coffee shop or in your home.
So what do we do? The Barista Guild of America (BGA) approached the SCAA’s Sustainability Council during annual leadership meetings in 2011 with a very specific challenge: How can we guide cafe operators to make sustainable and more responsible choices in the ways they run their businesses? When the leadership of BGA left the room, we on the council struggled for a bit trying to figure out how on earth we could possibly deliver on such a seemingly overwhelming request in a reasonable amount of time. But then we recalled the great work of Kirstin Henninger at the Green Cafe Network. Henninger partners with The Food Service Technology Center to help guide the practices she recommends from a scientific angle. The Sustainability Council partnered with Henninger and embarked on the yearlong process of creating the Green Guide, which is a component of the Green Your Cafe campaign, launched by SCAA this year.
The Green Guide is a multi-module digital tool meant to empower café operators to ease into reducing the negative impact imparted by café operations. In order to endorse this tool, as the SCAA, we worked diligently to ensure that none of the practices encouraged could have a negative impact on quality. The guide is completely accessible (both in price, at about $25, and in actionable items); it is designed to empower operators to do as much, or as little, as they want at the onset. Clear step-by-step guidance minimizes confusion and, importantly, a sense of being intimidated by how much we can do. The first module focuses on energy. The next module will focus on water management and future modules will discuss waste reduction and recycling, purchasing strategies, offsets, and reduction of toxins and pollution production.
And more comes with the Green Guide. With the purchase of the guide, SCAA members will receive a one year subscription to START. “START is a powerful online database that allows retailers to input data related to their business and discover the impact of their efforts,” notes Sarah Beaubien from Farmer Brothers who serves on the Sustainability Council. She adds: “Providing accessibility to this reporting tool is an important show of support of the SCAA’s strategic vision to help incorporate sustainability into everyday behaviors among its members.” From a pragmatist’s perspective, there can be no progress if it is not recorded and reported – encouraging people to utilize the energy module of START is a step in the right direction of reporting on our behaviors as an industry. Once we start gathering data, our hope is that it will inspire more actions.
And while we do need to focus on our energy consumption, we need to look at the products that are a part of our businesses. Take single-use cups and plastic ware as an example. With many estimates buzzing around our industry telling us that as much as 90 percent of the business we do is for take away, we are generating an enormous amount of trash. And shouldn’t it be “more responsible” trash if it can be? Technology for compostable single-use drinkware has advanced significantly in recent years yielding impressive hot-beverage-holding performance and lightening the load on our quickly disappearing landfill space.
While still an imperfect solution today*, removing that layer of non-biodegradable plastic that has historically lined hot cups is another great step in the right direction. Now we just need to keep on track to buy more and more of these products so that we can reduce the pricing premiums that still exist in many cases today. Or, we could also simply decide that expenditures that bolster our responsibility are a planned upon part of our business models and not look back. The future is now, you know, there is no sense waiting until we are told to do what we know we should do today. A suggestion: use the savings resulting from smarter energy use to help to pay for the purchase of more responsible products for your business.
And some more good news to leave you with: the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released a new Green Guide of their own
www.ftc.gov/os/2012/10/greenguides.pdf insisting that “green” claims on products be founded on real, verifiable, and measurable data to avoid the “greenwashing” rampant as businesses recognize how more responsible behavior increasingly resonates with their customers. Good stuff for those who really want to make sure that their purchasing decisions are having a more positive impact overall.
* Many compostables require commercial composting operations to break down completely which can be tough to find in some communities. Plus it is hard to get compostable cup manufacturers to guarantee that the corn-based polymers that make their products compostable are not a result of GMO products.
Chad Trewick, senior director of coffee and tea, began his career with Caribou Coffee in 1993 as a barista. His charge today is to uphold quality standards while encouraging farmers to engage in Rainforest Alliance certification to comply with Caribou’s commitment to 100%. He strives to strengthen the supply chain through prioritizing mutually beneficial relationships at origin. Chad travels in search of the world’s finest coffees, to support key supply relationships, and to identify where positive impacts can be made. Chad serves on the SCAA’s Board of Directors and is liaison to the Sustainability Council. He works to mainstream responsible practices and is passionate about coffee and sustainability—preserving the planet’s people and places for future generations.