- The farm is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the life cycle of coffee, mainly because of fertiliser use. However, estimates of the environmental impact are highly variable.
- Choosing organic production has some environmental benefits but doesn’t necessarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, low-intensity farming, especially agroforestry, is less harmful to the environment than industrialised farming.
- The wastewater from fermentation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Switching to mechanical washing or dry processing will reduce the carbon footprint of the coffee.
- Land use changes are central to the environmental impact of coffee. Forests are being cleared at an alarming rate, to enhance coffee cultivation. When coffee is grown as part of an agroforestry system, however, it may contribute to preserving or restoring forests.
- Roasting, packaging, and transporting coffee make relatively small contributions to the carbon footprint.
- The largest source of emissions in the life cycle of coffee is the consumption stage. Emissions are high at this stage because of the energy needed to heat water for brewing and because of the emissions relating to milk production. This stage is the most effective target for most coffee businesses that want to reduce their environmental impact.
- Packaging and disposal make up a small part of the overall emissions from coffee. The recent push to eliminate plastics and switch to compostable materials can have a limited effect, at best, and in many cases it will be counterproductive. Most research shows that compostable materials result in higher greenhouse gas emissions than conventional plastics.
Agroforestry A system of cultivation in which a crop is grown amidst forest trees. The trees provide shade, and some trees also improve the soil nutrient status, by fixing nitrogen for example. The trees may also produce marketable produce or timber, and create an important habitat for birds and other wildlife.
Biodigester A sealed tank, used for digesting organic waste anaerobically, that produces compost and captures methane to use as fuel.
Bioplastic Plastic materials produced from plant material or other biomass instead of fossil sources.
Ecotoxicity The potential for pollutants to adversely affect ecosystems.
Monoculture A system of cultivation in which only one crop is grown. Monocultures can be highly efficient and produce high yields, but they are susceptible to disease and pests, and they are often environmentally damaging.