What is sustainability? Does the word mean the same thing to each one of us? Can one’s sustainability definition satisfy someone else’s? It turns out the answer to these questions are not as simple as one would think in today’s changing socioeconomic, ecological and political world!
Sustainability can take forms as varied as environmental sustainability, and focus on one single aspect such as:
• increased waste reaching landfills,
• helping the coffee supply chain be more sustainable by helping coffee farmers improve their daily lives and futures,
• minimizing the impact of the higher energy requirements have on our ecosystems and climate changes.
Let’s start with the environmental effects of our industry, namely, waste generation at the retail level. It is said that Starbucks alone contributes approximately 4 billion disposable cups to US landfills. A staggering number of cups by any measure…until you consider that Starbucks accounts for roughly 40% of the retail coffee market chains in the US! Simple math would then tell us that the number of cups ending in US landfills could be an astonishing 10,000,000,000 cups each year! To take it a step further, these 10 billion cups would be accompanied by 10 billion plastic lids, as well as unfathomable numbers of stirrers, napkins, sweetener packet waste…and over 300,000,000 lbs. of coffee grounds!
So, what can we do to try and reduce these numbers, and have a lesser environmental impact? Consumers and businesses must work together to implement initiatives that are easily adoptable by all. Reusable cups, more efficient recycling efforts, and composting or similar uses for coffee grounds, are some of the efforts that have been successfully implemented at local levels. Some municipalities have even mentioned the idea of a disposable cup tax similar to the plastic bag fee already in place in many places.
At the end of the day, it is unlikely that any of these initiatives has the type of impact that would result in a completely sustainable coffee industry. It will boil down to human behavior and our willingness to change at the business level, the consumer level, and more importantly, a higher emphasis on educating us all on the pressing need to correct our wasteful ways.