• 5 Steps for a Sustainable Coffee

    February 21, 2018 • EAT, ECO HOME, GUIDES

    sustainable coffee

    A cup of sustainable coffee is a step closer to a healthier planet.

    Coffee is prevalent in many of our lives: the morning pick-me-up, the afternoon boost, catching up with friends over coffee, coffee meetings, relaxing with a cup in the evenings.

    That’s why it’s important our coffee is sustainable.

    There are many environmental challenges facing coffee today – habitat loss, deforestation, pollution, unsustainable farming, and as always, the dreaded disposable coffee cup.

    By taking simple and actionable steps, we can ensure our daily brew better for us and the Earth.

    5 Steps for a Sustainable Coffee

    1. Choose Sustainable Coffee Beans

    A scientific evaluation (1) studied the environmental merit of different coffee-making methods, and showed that the coffee itself “had a much stronger effect on the environmental friendliness” of a brew than whatever packaging it came in.

    This is because the way coffee is grown can have massive impacts on the environment.

    Deforestation occurs to make room for coffee plantations, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and destroying natural habitats. Sun-tolerant coffee plants don’t rely on shade from native plants, so these plants are cleared too (2).

    To choose coffee beans that don’t contribute to this, look at official certifications like Rainforest Alliance and Australian Certified Organic (ACO) (2). These certifications ensure farming is more eco friendly.

    Rainforest Alliance requires a certain amount of native plants each farm. ACO actively protect habitats, water, and the use of less chemicals.

    However, your favourite blend may follow environmental practices but can’t afford certification. You can contact the roasters to clarify (2).

    2. Use a Cane Sugar Alternative

    Many of us prefer to sweeten bitter coffee with sugar. But sugarcane farming poses an environmental threat in Australia.

    In Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef lagoon is being polluted with pesticide and sediment runoff, mainly from cane farming (3). Cane sugar also contributes to habitat loss, resource loss through increased water use, and fertilizer runoff into vulnerable ecosystems (4). Concerning habitat loss, “Approximately 5-6 million hectares of soil is lost every year due to intensive sugar cultivation and land degradation” worldwide (5).

    So, what about cane sugar alternatives?

    Agave syrup is not commonly farmed sustainably. The plant takes ages to grow and is killed when harvested, so it doesn’t renew quickly. It’s also commonly farmed on large plantations with chemical fertiliser, herbicides and pesticides (6).

    Date Sugar is made from dehydrated dates and is minimally processed. Although dates require a lot of water to grow, this is a sugar you can make yourself, meaning less chemicals (6).

    Honey is sustainable depending where it’s bought. It can be bought from commercial apiaries, where bees may be stressed or treated with antibiotics, or it can be bought from local producers that practice sustainable beekeeping methods (6). Buying local honey also supports local plant pollination.

    Maple Syrup can be sourced from trees that have been tapped for years, utilising a sustainable resource. As long as it’s certified organic, maple syrup also has a low environmental impact (6).

    As with all these alternatives, where they come from and their organic status will affect their carbon footprint, chemical and pollution level.

    3. Opt for Plant-Based Milks

    Even if you’re not vegan, opting for less animal products can help the planet battle climate change.

    Animal agriculture uses a lot of energy and resources – not just to feed and rear livestock, but in transporting and harvesting meat and animal products like milk. In 2009, a study titled “Livestock and Climate Change” found that livestock and their byproducts accounted for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions every year (7). In 2010, a UN report put agricultural global emissions at 14% (8).

    Although there’s differences in these figures, the scientific community are in consensus that animal agriculture does have a substantial impact on climate change. For coffee, this means not using as much cow’s milk, and opting for plant-based milks instead.

    For plant milks, it’s a matter of personal taste. Almond, coconut, soy and rice milk are all good options.

    You can also use nut milk, which has a lot of protein and you can make yourself. Our Nut Milk Bag is essential to crafting your own nut milk, or our Nut Mylk Base can be blended with water to make fresh, creamy milk in an instant.

    4. Use Eco Friendly Brewing Methods

    A fully-automatic machine has a greater environmental footprint than a capsule-based system, whereas filter, espresso machines, and instant coffee are the most eco friendly methods (1).

    Although capsule coffee still support the plastic industry, there is a way you can safety recycle the leftover pods. Our TerraCycle Coffee Bin can recycle tea and coffee capsules – simply purchase the bin, fill it with pods, and ship it back to TerraCycle for recycling.

    If you’re making coffee at home, the Kilner Cold Brew Set allows you to steep coffee grounds in water, ditching machines and filters. A plunger coffee jug will make hot coffee quicker than the brew kit, without any waste.

    5. Bring a Reusable Coffee Cup

    However, if you opt for coffee brewed by the local barista, bringing a reusable coffee cup is essential to being sustainable.

    And if you go to a Responsible Cafe (9) for your takeaway brew, you will get discount for using your own cup – more money in the bank for you and you’re supporting a cafe that’s helping the environment.

    Browse our reusable coffee cups here >


    While these steps may take some preparation, once you have them conquered, you can enjoy a sustainable coffee all day, every day.

    Now that’s a real pick-me-up.

    Further Reading
    (1) It all depends on the coffee: The eco-balance of coffee capsules – www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110510074440.htm
    (2) Sustainable coffee: How to find a cup that doesn’t cost the Earth – http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-05/how-to-find-coffee-that-doesn%E2%80%99t-cost-the-earth/8501494
    (3) Reef Protection Regulations –
    (4) Does Sugar Pass the Environmental and Social Test? – http://foodresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Does-Sugar-Pass-the-Environmental-and-Social-Test-23-june.pdf
    (5) Sugar and the Environment – http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/sugarandtheenvironment_fidq.pdf
    (6) How sustainable are Sugar Alternatives? – 
    (7) Livestock and Climate Change –
    (8) Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production – http://www.unep.fr/shared/publications/pdf/DTIx1262xPA-PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf
    (9) Responsible Cafes – https://www.responsiblecafes.org/