Coffee’s carbon footprint

Coffee's carbon footprint

It’s a daily habit which I hadn’t really thought about. Coffee is the fuel for the modern office world, and consequently one of the most important crops on Earth. Small activities can often mean a large cost for the planet, though. Should we reconsider coffee?

Coffee, despite Nescafe’s best efforts, is not all the same. A cappuccino is milkier than a latte, and an Americano is probably black. Plus, different regions grow coffee beans much more efficiently than others – a lot less intervention is needed in Ethiopia than India, for example. Any estimate is prone to some variation. That said, the conclusions are usually the same. German cafe chain Tchibo analysed their farm-to-cup footprint, and the EPA has some helpful data on brewing energy efficiency. Combined with the UK’s average carbon emissions from electricity, we can come up with a pretty good breakdown for a cappuccino. 

At 30kg of CO2 emissions, 150 cappuccinos is about as polluting as driving 100 miles in an average family car. Black coffee is the best choice – even better, organic, black filter!

Milk has a bigger coffee carbon footprint than everything else combined. Cows are infamous producers of greenhouse gas – mostly through burps, full of methane (geniunely). Even if pasture-feeding and UK cattle, this is still the case. 

Coffee growing is far bigger than shipping, roasting and manufacturing. 90% of this is from farmers using fertilisers. Choosing organic means no fertilisers, but it doesn’t necessarily make this zero, though. Organic coffee farmers tend to fertilise with manure, which means more cow burps. 

Buy a percolator, not espresso maker. Filter coffee only needs 10% of the energy per cup, compared to espresso. Good filter coffee machines are usually 10% of the price, too.

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