May 2, 2018

Ethical and sustainable coffee – tackling the ‘to go’ culture

In the haze of the recent April heatwave hundreds of outlets across the UK took part in Coffee Week; a celebration of all things Arabica and Robusta. Signs popped up in all the local lunch haunts giving details of how donations from each cup were being used to support fragile coffee growing communities.

The successful initiative, now in its third year has demonstrated that coffee, like other UK F&B sectors, is beginning to embrace supply-chain transparency in order to offer consumers ‘guilt free’ food and beverages.

We tend to broadly think about other coffee drinkers in two ways; those that love coffee and those that need it. The lovers, prioritising taste and quality and the latter valuing the kick and convenience. This is a very vague impression of course as price will always affect the way we feel about a product, but what value do we really attribute to 8oz of bean juice?

Take messaging around investments and charity for instance, how many times have you seen promotions equated to cups of coffee?
~ “Donate £10 to X, that’s only 3 trendy artisan coffees.”

The presumption in these statements is that coffee is an insignificance; contrasted with charitable causes, your commuting caffeine hit can seem superfluous, but this is far from accurate.

  • Coffee is the second most consumed drink in the world, after H2O
  • Coffee is the second largest exported world product after oil
  • Almost all coffee is imported from developing countries
  • In Ethiopia, 15 million people depend on coffee for their livelihood
  • 2.5 Billion takeaway coffees are drunk in the UK each year

Coffee is serious stuff, impacting whole nations’ economies. In the past two decades the introduction of schemes like ‘fairtrade’ have slowly elevated the standards of living for the coffee growers but lately the industry is facing up to a different kind of crisis, one that unites those that love coffee those that need coffee – the unrecycled cup.

Whether your cup contains the finest Luwak processed filter or freeze-dried instant dispensed from a petrol station, the environmental impact is just as destructive. Millions of plastic-lined cups heading to landfill here and overseas. Many littering the shores of the very nations the beans are grown in.

Government has gestured at stepping in, but with no clear solution, the initiative has been left to retailers and waste companies. Discounts offered for bringing reusable coffee cups are well-intended but the lack of widespread adoption means we must look for other solutions to eradicate such mountains of waste.

One of our clients Costa coffee, made the biggest commitment of all the UK coffee chains, this month pledging to recycle one cup for every cup sold by 2020. An unlikely deal that makes collecting and processing cups financially viable has been reached, proving that where there is a will, there is a way.

Consumers will ultimately decide how much their takeaway latte is worth, but it is good to see that retailers are waking up and smelling the coffee; sustainability doesn’t finish at the checkout and organisations that show they are taking peoples’ concerns seriously will be the ones winning future generations’ business.


Joe Garbow

Unity Blogs Editor