Over the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of articles on the measures 19grams has taken to improve our carbon footprint and do our part in mitigating the effects of climate change. Coffee is a complex and massive industry with a substantial carbon footprint, and coffee itself as a crop is particularly sensitive to the effects of global heating – that’s one of the primary reasons that coffee is particularly expensive at the moment. We therefore think we have a real responsibility to minimise our impact on the environment where we can, and be transparent about where there is still work to be done.
First and foremost, it should be noted that we have never been externally audited, as this is difficult to do in the coffee industry, so our precise carbon footprint is difficult to measure. Nonetheless, it is important and worthwhile to enumerate the measures we have taken, within our business and with our partners.
Our business consists of several branches, which we will be addressing over the coming weeks. First, there is the coffee production itself, the primary part of the company, which encompasses everything from the farms on which our coffees are grown, through the transport of this green, unroasted coffee to our roastery in Berlin, to the actual roasting process itself. In this article we go through this entire chain and outline its impact on the environment.
Everything starts at the farm, where the coffee is not only grown, but also processed. As a specialty coffee roastery, we source green coffee following the coffee harvest cycle from origins all over the world. As with basically all agricultural produce, coffee farms themselves are at least carbon neutral, if not carbon positive. This is usually not audited, as there is no mandatory auditing system in place in most of these coffee growing countries.
One clear factor that heavily affects the CO2 footprint of coffee is the processing method used. The three main methods are washed, natural and honey processes. Washed processing is the most carbon intensive and expensive, as large quantities of water are used to “wash” away the fruit flesh from the coffee cherries. This method is prized for the clean flavour profile it achieves, but the water use means it comes at an environmental cost, especially in growing regions where clean water sources are scarce. Natural processing, on the other hand, is considered more environmentally friendly. The coffee cherries are laid on raised sunbeds where they are left to be dried naturally by the sun. This is therefore a less resource-intensive processing method, though it does impact the flavour as the drying is effectively a fermentation stage.
Many of our farming partners share our commitments to sustainability, and one worth mentioning is the Hacienda Sonora in the West Valley of Costa Rica, which is now officially registered as a carbon positive farm. It’s surrounded by largely untouched forest, the preservation of which is important to the family that owns and operates the farm. They allow the forest to organically grow amongst the coffee trees, which is actually a major benefit for the quality of the coffee they produce, while also helping preserve the biodiversity of the region. The entire farm is powered by a Pelton turbine which is driven by a local river, supplying it with 100% green hydroelectric electricity.
Once the coffee has been grown and processed on the farm, it needs to be shipped to our roastery in Berlin. This is an emissions intensive part of the process, and at this stage the focus is on emissions reduction, as carbon neutral shipping technologies are not yet viable.
For this, we work with intermediate coffee importers, such as InterAmerican Coffee, Olam, Neumann, and List & Beissler. These companies specialise in transporting green coffee all over the world. As coffee is very volatile and sensitive to its surroundings, it is important that it is not shipped in containers where it might be exposed to other goods. The importers gather orders from various specialty coffee roasters and bundle them together into one big shipment to Berlin. This streamlines the process, not only in logistics by reducing the number of containers used, but also at customs.
Most of these (usually very big) companies have set up their own CO2 reduction programmes, that take into account the whole of the coffee industry and supply chain. See for example the report from InterAmerican Coffee.
Once the coffee arrives at our door in Berlin, we then roast it at our state-of-the-art facility near Alexanderplatz. We roast on a roaster made by Probat, who have an extensive sustainability focus throughout their company. We also invested in a heavy duty filtration system that includes a proper after burner. This reduces the CO2 emission from the roasting process itself, as well as preventing almost all smell and smoke, leaving a better environment for our neighbours.
But the actual production of coffee is only part of our business. Watch this space in the coming weeks to find out more about sustainability across the 19grams family.