What is Carbon Negative Coffee?

by Beatrice MarkenzonAug 27, 2021

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What is carbon-negative coffee?

Traceability and sustainability are two terms that we often use when talking about how coffee is grown and sourced. More than ever, people want to know more about where their coffee has come from, and environmentally-conscious consumer buying habits are only continuing to grow.

With this in mind, coffee companies are now trying to discuss their efforts to combat climate change. Around the world, producers, traders, and buyers alike are all looking for ways to minimize their carbon footprint.

But while becoming carbon-neutral has become an industry priority in recent years, there are some stakeholders across the industry who go further – becoming “carbon-negative”.

Breaking down the terminology

Let’s start with the concept of a carbon footprint. In basic terms, this is the net amount of carbon dioxide that a company is responsible for releasing into the atmosphere.

This isn’t just calculated from the amount of fuel a company uses, however. It also takes into account the “carbon cost” of everything from fossil fuel use and land clearance to transportation, waste disposal, and even food consumption.

When a company’s carbon footprint reaches zero (often referred to as “net zero”), the brand is considered to be carbon-neutral.

But reaching net-zero is not as easy as it might sound. For many businesses, energy or fuel use are integral parts of day-to-day operations. Simply eliminating emissions outright is often not feasible. While brands can often minimize their carbon footprint and operate more sustainably, becoming carbon-neutral is a much bigger task.

What about coffee farms?

On coffee farms, producers have another option. This is carbon sequestration: the process of naturally absorbing carbon dioxide that exists in the atmosphere.

This occurs through a number of natural processes, but perhaps the most well-known is photosynthesis. Plants use carbon dioxide and water to generate chemical energy for growth and release oxygen as a byproduct – effectively removing the CO2 from the atmosphere.

Photosynthesis does occur naturally in coffee plants. However, the amount of energy used during production (for planting, fertilizing, harvesting, processing, and so on) means that each plant’s photosynthesis is often insufficient to balance out the emissions generated by cultivating it.

This is why some farms have adopted sustainable agriculture methods such as agroforestry. Growing their coffee plants among other trees (such as fruit or shade trees) allows farmers to “balance out” the emissions that coffee cultivation generates.

Why is it important? 

Firstly, it remains a priority for businesses around the world to cut their carbon emissions to mitigate their contribution to climate change.

Coffee-producing countries are among those that are most affected by the impact of climate change. Increased drought risk, extreme weather patterns, and unpredictable rainfall all affect coffee producers directly – as do temperature increases.

The arabica plant grows best at temperatures between 18 and 21°C with little fluctuation. If the temperature on a coffee farm increases, producers are then forced to “climb higher” in search of cooler temperatures. 

Ultimately, climate change means that the amount of land around the world that is suitable for coffee production is shrinking.

It’s also important to note that environmentally responsible coffee production is becoming a requirement for market access. In the EU, for example, new legislation coming into effect in 2022 will affect the import of some products that do not meet certain environmental care standards.

Furthermore, sustainability continues to rise up the agenda for consumers. A 2020 report by Deloitte notes that some 43% of all consumers reported choosing brands with environmentally responsible practices or values. 

The Challenges of Producing Carbon-Negative Coffee at Scale

While it’s easy enough to talk about making sustainable changes to any coffee business, switching to carbon-neutral or carbon-negative coffee production is challenging.

Maud’s Coffee & Tea is the first coffee brand to produce our pods by solar power. Our commitment to sustainability keeps us motivated for our ultimate goal of being carbon neutral by 2024. Because no one else in the industry has set out those goals in that direction, we would be the first. 

To read more about our commitment to sustainability click here.

(Article excerpted from perfectdailygrind.com)