Carbon Footprint in the Coffee Supply Chain

Coffee is among the top traded commodities after oil. This is going to cause pressure on tropical forests and habitats. Therefore, in order to make it sustainable, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions needs to be measured at each stage. The biggest contribution of blockchain is the ability to measure carbon footprints along with IoT sensors and generate data that can be analyzed and aggregated.
food traceability, food supply chain, coffee carbon footprint, carbon foootprint, coffee supply chain
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Our Favorite caffeine is hitting the planet! 

Globally around 9.5 billion kg of coffee is produced annually, with a trade value of US$30.9 billion. The coffee demand is expected to triple production by 2050 increasing pressure on forests and other habitats.

Coffee is produced in more than 50 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is a source of income for about 25 million farmers worldwide. The initial production of coffee beans through farming, processing, and collecting is labor-intensive while the roasting and branding are capital intensive. 

The coffee value chain is made up of these phases, Cultivation, Processing, Roasting, and Consumption. Each of these stages has environmental, social, economic, and governance issues that influence the sustainability of the extracted green beans.  

Climatic Impact on Coffee 

Do you know that climate has a great impact on coffee like other agricultural goods? 

Contributing to the share of its carbon emissions, it has affected the landscape of coffee production. More than 60 % of coffee species are at risk of extinction as a result of climate change. Switching the export of coffee from cargo ship to freight flight increases the carbon footprint of coffee by 70 %. Coffee farming and processing make up 68% of coffee’s climate impact. 

Global Disaster

At every stage in the coffee supply chain starting from harvesting, processing, transporting, and roasting, there is a release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Every cup of coffee we drink carries a carbon footprint. The carbon emissions at each stage in the coffee supply chain add to the total carbon footprint and it gets higher if we add milk and sugar. 

The Bean to Cup Carbon Story 

Let us see how each stage of the supply chain adds to the carbon footprint of your cup of coffee. One cup of coffee brewed with an automatic coffee maker has a carbon footprint of 0.209 kg of CO2e. 

In the production stage, the inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel contribute to the high levels of carbon emission.

The manufacturing processes of harvesting, dry milling, sorting also result in significant emissions. The amount of water, energy, and land required to contribute to the carbon emission.

The packaging and transportation stages contribute to about 4% of emissions. The roasting stage also requires the combustion of fuel which results in carbon emissions. One pound of roasted coffee produces an average of 11 pounds of carbon. 

The greatest emission of carbon takes place in the consumption stage. The filter coffees require packaging, grinding, brewing, and disposal while the canned coffees require brewing, transport, canning, storage, and disposal. The heating, cooling, use of machines, lighting, and paper products, all leave a carbon footprint. Consumption of coffee accounts for nearly a third of carbon emissions. 

Do you know an automatic coffee machine generates 60.27g CO2e per cup of coffee whereas the traditional drip filter generates 10.04g?

Why do we need to reduce the carbon footprint of coffee? 

Coffee is among the top traded commodities after oil. This is going to cause pressure on tropical forests and habitats. Coffee beans are grown in more than 60 countries and 25 million families make a living in this sector. Therefore, in order to make it sustainable, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions needs to be measured at each stage. Life cycle assessment is being carried out in many countries to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of coffee. 

The selection of the right coffee brands also makes a difference. 85% of the national park in Indonesia was illegally deforested for coffee plantations, resulting in the release of GHGs. Coffee processing plants in Central America have resulted in water pollution and hence carbon emission. All these issues need to be addressed and switching to brands that source beans in ethical and sustainable methods are crucial to reducing the overall carbon footprint. 

TraceX is helping Technoserve brew a sustainable coffee | Know how

Greener ways of growing Coffee 

Changing the way how coffee is grown, harvested, and consumed can reduce carbon emissions by 77%! 

  • Considering an example, growing one kg of Arabica coffee and exporting it results in a carbon emission of 15.33kg on average. Managing water and energy and using fewer fertilizers during milling and exporting through cargo ships reduces emissions to 3.51kg of CO2e per kg of coffee 
  • One espresso of coffee has a carbon footprint of 0.28kg, but if the beans are grown sustainably, the emission reduces to 0.06kg. 
  • Using non-dairy milk alternatives helps to make white coffee green. 
  • Roasting coffee beans in their place of origin reduces emissions due to transport. 
  • Power generation through renewable resources during processing stages helps to reduce carbon emissions. 
  • Growing coffee in harmony with trees offsets carbon emissions 
  • Using paper cup alternatives for consumption also reduces carbon emissions.

The Sustainable Way Ahead 

Global biodiversity threats, economic health, food safety, and public health are the drivers of sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture practices promote environmental conservation, economic viability for farmers, and social responsibility across the value chain. 

The Commodity Fairness index showed that almost 90% of producers are capturing a little less than 5 % of the value created by their coffee. 

The coffee industry is marred with environmental issues like water pollution and deforestation and human rights abuses. There are certification schemes that exist to ensure that coffee is grown ethically from the bean to the cup. Third-party certification schemes are the important regulatory systems applied to the coffee industry. The certification educates the consumer about the product attributes to gain a premium for the product. The coffee sector has a number of sustainable certifications like the Fairtrade Certification, Organic Certification, UTZ certification, and the Rainforest Alliance Certification. Rainforest Alliance Certified is a label that sets standards for eco-friendly, shade-grown coffee. 

Starbucks created the ‘Shared Planet’ initiative in which they set goals on environmental initiatives, ethical sourcing, and community involvement.

Innovation in combining CSR and business strategy goals should drive environmental sustainability, securing the future of the planet.

Carbon Footprint Calculations in the Coffee supply chain 

If coffee has to become sustainable, we need to know where the GHGs are emitted through the production cycle which is done by the Lifecycle Carbon Footprint Analysis. 

LCA method maps out all the activities of production, processing, distribution, and consumption of the product followed by the quantification of the impacts at each stage. This method follows the ISO 14000 standards and LCA analysis has 4 stages 

  1. Goal and Scope- What the study intends to assess 
  1. Inventory- Quantifying the inflows (resources consumed) and outflows(emissions) 
  1. Impact assessment- Mapping the inflows and outflows to measure environmental damage 
  1. Interpretation- Evaluation of results. 

55 % of the coffee carbon footprint was generated during the cultivation and on-farm processing stage, 30% during consumption, and the remaining 15 % from transportation, processing, and waste disposal. 

The Carbon Footprint (CFP) describes the quantity of GHG emitted by the product or process, expressed in tons of CO2e. Product Carbon Foot printing (PCF) is used to calculate GHG emissions from food supply chains. The CFP of product measures emissions throughout its lifecycle from cradle to grave. While CFP focuses only on GHG emissions, LCA encompasses all other aspects like water pollution, eutrophication, toxicity, and energy consumption. 

The Sustainability Initiative Agriculture platform (SAI) developed Carbon Footprint -Product Category rules (CFP-PCR) to provide a robust method for the calculation of GHG emissions in the coffee value chain.

It provided credibility to the calculations, based on which informed decisions could be taken to reduce the emissions at each stage. 

Reducing the Carbon footprint 

1Emissions vary across each stage in the coffee supply chain and it is the responsibility of each of the stakeholders in the chain to establish strategies and take actions accordingly. 

  • The optimal use of inputs at the farm level especially fertilizers 
  • Proper management of wastewater in the milling process and using it to generate biogas which could be used in the coffee drying process 
  • Minimal use of water and electricity in the milling process 
  • Collaborative approach from roasters and retailers to manage GHG emissions 
  • Usage of large shipments compared to freight flights 

Besides these, there are other ways in which the carbon footprint can be reduced 

  • Using recycled material and reducing packaging to save on water, energy, and material consumption. 
  • Efficient water heating measures in automatic coffee makers. 
  • Use of renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels 
  • Roasting the coffee beans before exporting them, reduces the exportation phase carbon footprint. 
  • Agroforestry that increases carbon sequestration with the implementation of Sustainability certificates. 

Blockchain Traceability Solutions for Carbon tracing 

Traceability requires that sustainability data is transferred throughout the supply chain. Blockchain traceability in the coffee value chain ensures trackable and traceable coffee trade. Integrating farmers directly with markets, proving the organically and fairly traded coffee, QR codes recreating the bean to cup story, and validating the sustainability claims with digital immutable records, blockchain brings trust, transparency, and accountability to the coffee value chain. 

The biggest contribution of blockchain is the ability to measure carbon footprints along with IoT sensors and generate data that can be analyzed and aggregated. The carbon emissions can be transformed into carbon credits, that organizations can exchange to offset their carbon footprint. This transparent and traceable information can be used to neutralize carbon emissions. 

Benefits of Blockchain for Carbon tracking 

  • Transparent and Traceable data 
  • Cost reduction 
  • Facilitates trading and offsetting carbon credits 
  • Generation of reports to derive insights for future policies. 
  • Renewable energy exchange platforms can be developed 
  • Accurate, reliable, and standardized data 
  • Real-time authentication and verification with seamless records 

A decentralized tool that in collective action helps to curb climatic change! 

TraceX Technologies is working with a number of organizations in the coffee sector to help them brew a sustainable coffee value chain.  

Get in touch with our experts to solve your Sustainable Supply Chain challenges

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carbon farming, carbon sequestration, carbon traceability, carbon supply chain, food traceability, food supply chain

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food traceability, food supply chain

Manu Bhardwaj – VP of Growth and Strategy of TraceX Technologies. An engineer turned entrepreneur and a Traceability expert.

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