Coffee gets many of us going in the morning but a new report spells out how badly our favorite java drinks hurt the environment.
Researchers from University College London looked at four standard Starbucks orders and compared their carbon footprint.
Made with plenty of milk, lattes are the most guilt-inducing, followed by cappuccinos, flat whites and then dairy-free espressos.
Using non-dairy milk alternatives would make your favorite caffeine fix much more eco-friendly, researchers said.
So would patronizing coffeehouses that buy from companies using sustainable agricultural methods.
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You might love your morning latte, but it has the worst environmental impact of the most popular coffee orders, according to a new report in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society
More than 20 billion pounds of coffee is produced globally each year, with revenue topping $55 billion in 2019.
As a crop, coffee demands a lot of space and resources—an estimated 25 percent of deforestation in Peru alone is linked to coffee production.
According to Mark Maslin, an earth sciences professor at University College London, at the current rate coffee production will triple in the next 30 years, putting even more pressure on already overtaxed tropical habitats.
Using conventional methods, growing and exporting a single kilogram of Arabica coffee produces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent, on average, to 15.33 kg of carbon dioxide.
The more dairy in a coffee drink, say researchers, the bigger its carbon footprint. Using non-dairy milk alternatives and buying from coffeehouses that use sustainably sourced beans can go a long way to shrinking your venti’s environmental impact
‘But by using less fertilizer, managing water and energy use more efficiently during milling and exporting the beans by cargo ship rather than airplane, that figure falls to 3.51 kg of CO2 equivalent per kg of coffee,’ Maslin writes in The Conversation.
In a report published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, Maslin and doctoral student Carmen Nab calculated the carbon footprints of four popular coffee drinks made at Starbucks with conventional Arabica coffee from Brazil and Vietnam, two of the world’s top coffee regions.
A latte has a carbon footprint of about 0.55 kg, they determined, followed by the cappuccino with 0.41 kg and flat whites with 0.34 kg.
A shot of espresso with no milk has an average carbon footprint of about 0.28 kg.
‘The larger proportion of milk than coffee used in these beverages resulted in a significant increase in carbon footprint,’ they reported. ‘For conventional coffee production, the carbon footprint increased by 25 percent (flat white), 50 percent (cappuccino), and 100 percent (cafe latte) in comparison to espresso.
According to Mark Maslin, earth sciences professor at University College London, coffee production is expected to triple by 2050
Those values drop across the board by about .20 kilograms if the beans were produced sustainably.
Changes in cultivation and transportation chains — as well as in how we consume it — could lower coffee’s carbon footprint by up to 77 percent, Maslin and Nab say.
They recommend several strategies for coffee farmers to shrink their environmental impact, from using organic waste instead of chemical fertilizers to relying on renewable energy instead of electricity to power equipment.
‘Roasting coffee beans in their country of origin makes them lighter during transport, too,’ they write, ‘so vessels can burn less fuel transporting the same amount of coffee.’
But a recent report suggests existing environmental efforts by top roasters and traders are having little effect.
‘While some companies have comprehensive [sustainability] policies in place, many large traders and roasters remain unclear about their commitments [and about] any progress on commitments,’ according to The Coffee Barometer, produced by Ethos Agriculture. ‘No one is doing enough.’
While the top 10 coffee companies are responsible for roasting 35 percent of the world’s coffee, almost all of the 12.5 million coffee farms around the world are small enterprises using entire families and seasonal workers to cultivate beans.
Different stages of coffee processing and how they impact carbon emissions.
Brazil and Vietnam are the largest coffee-producing countries are Earth. The top consumers, however, are the US and Germany
Those farms are ‘under constant pressure to cut costs, especially those related to labor and the environment,’ the report claimed.
Changes in temperature and rainfall caused by climate change have also threatened global coffee production, and may be making plants more vulnerable to ‘coffee-specific pests and diseases,’ like Hemileia vastatrix , a fungus that causes ‘coffee leaf rust’ and can be devastating to plantations.
A 2019 study from the UK’s Kew Royal Botanic Gardens found that more than 60 percent of coffee species were threatened with extinction due to climate change.
Following years of failed voluntary efforts by the industry to clean up supply chains, the European Union is expected to propose legislation this year to prevent the import of coffee linked to deforestation and human rights abuses, Reuters reported.
‘In coffee producing countries, roasters and traders could play a critical role in many of the most pressing environmental and social challenges identified in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,’ the report indicated.
‘Unfortunately, their individual policies, plans, and funding are often disconnected from the local realities, from each other, and largely focus on single issues.’
Sustainability activities tend to focus on the expansion of coffee production at farm level, said Ethos Agriculture’s Sjoerd Panhuysen, so even if specific gains are made ‘they are never sufficient to transform the sector at large.’
Stefaan Calmeyn, coffee program manager for Oxfam Belgium, says it’s not enough for corporations like Starbucks to have good policies on paper.
‘If you want us to believe you’re doing good, you have to show it,’ Calmeyn said.