A critical view on climate impact in the coffee industry
Barista Hustle has commenced work on a free course called The Decision Tree that helps baristas and cafe owners make informed decisions about how to operate in a world beset by climate change. This interview is an excerpt from the course. We acknowledge that our industry has a history of colonialism, exploitation, and green washing. The intention of this course is to put readers in the driver’s seat. With the help of wonderful people like Professor Stephen Abbott (who has produced an app for this course that gives everyone access to the technology you need to run your own life cycle analysis) this course will inspire you to reduce your emissions. From the first lesson, you will discover how baristas can make a gigatonne-difference to cutting carbon. This course will be published in episodes here on our blog and will go out to our BH Unlimited subscribers with their unlimited updates.
Implementing an LCA with the App
Now let’s look at how the app can inform your own life-cycle analysis. As we learned in Lesson 1.01, the first phase of an LCA is Goal Definition and Scope. The scope of the app is limited to the carbon footprint of coffee brewing, so the inputs and outputs are all quantified in terms of kg of carbon dioxide per kg of coffee (or kg per cup of brewed coffee). The goal of the app is to allow you to choose the most cost-effective interventions to reduce the carbon footprint of brewed coffee in your café.
This restricted approach to LCA is sometimes referred to as ‘footprinting’ (Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2012), and it greatly simplifies the analysis, since there is no need to compare the impact of dissimilar outputs. (For example, is it more important to reduce water use or to minimise the carbon footprint?)
The next step is to look at the Inventory. The app greatly simplifies this task, as it comes preloaded with data on the CO2 contribution of all the major inputs of a cup of coffee. These data, taken from the scientific literature, represent the most typical values in coffee production. The Impact Assessment is also included from the same data, as the app adds together the inputs and provides a result in CO2 equivalents, allowing us to compare the impact on global heating of the different stages in coffee production.
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This simplified approach to performing the Inventory and the Impact Assessment is sometimes referred to as a Screening LCA, or LCA-Lite. It has been applied to other industries, such as product design (K. Grzesik and K. Guca, 2011) and construction (T .B. Tabrizi and A. Brambilla, 2019), to perform an analysis when detailed data are not available or to identify the major contributors to the environmental cost of a process without the cost and effort of a full LCA.
This approach overcomes one of the major limitations of an LCA, which is that it can be very expensive to conduct in full. ‘Gathering the data can be problematic, and the availability of data can greatly impact the accuracy of the final results’, explains the US Environmental Protection Agency in their guidance on performing an LCA. By using existing published data and a simple model, the analysis is made much more accessible, allowing small businesses to evaluate the impact of changing their practices without the cost of a full life-cycle analysis.
Because the data are simplified, this type of analysis is most useful for making qualitative comparisons and for identifying the main targets that could reduce the carbon footprint. The preset inputs in the app already provide a good example of this — they make it evident that the biggest contribution to the carbon footprint of a cup of coffee is from brewing, specifically from the energy required to heat the brew water. This already tells us that interventions focused on reducing the amount of hot water used or on making the heating more efficient have the biggest potential to reduce the overall carbon footprint.
In the following lessons, we will discuss the available data on inputs for each stage of coffee production that you can use to inform your own analysis. You will be able to identify cost-effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your business, thereby reducing environmental impact and saving money.