Carbon Neutral Coffee

I recently attended the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual shindig. This whopper of an event gathers thousands of attendees and hundreds of companies for five days worth of conferencing and tradeshowing.

I attended one session that featured stories from coffee companies who have partnered with a non-profit called Trees for the Future in order to offset their greenhouse gas emissions through tree planting initiatives in the places where coffee is grown.

Trees for the Future (TftF) is first and foremost a development oriented enterprise dedicated to tree planting projects that aid impoverished people. Lately, the NGO has been linking with businesses interested in supporting the efforts financially by claiming some of the carbon benefits from the plantings. Founder and director Dave Deppner explained during an SCAA presentation that coffee businesses need to improve their energy efficiency but they need to simultaneously be scrubbing as much carbon out of the atmosphere as possible so as to slow global warming. That’s where the tree planting projects come in handy.

Coffee companies partnering with TftF include: Alakef Coffee, Cafe Imports, Mojo Coffee, Signature Coffee, and Thanksgiving Coffee. TftF conducts an energy audit of each partner and plants trees in tropical and subtropical regions to absorb the volume of gases equivalent to those generated by the business partner. The process, TftF admits, is inexact but Deppner claims that they intentionally overcompensate by building a conservative fudge-factor into their calculations in order to ensure that enough trees are planted to make up for any margin of error.

In person, Deppner comes across with an attitude of “let’s just do it and not get bogged down in details that might slow down our urgent work.” It’s an understandable approach but not one that is likely to last long in the emerging age of carbon trading, in which guaranteed, measurable carbon benefits will be mandatory for any claims about emissions offsetting. Never-the-less, TftF’s efforts are laudable and Deppner’s personal charm exudes an infectious good-heartedness that builds immediate trust – despite the lack of independently verified carbon benefits.

Here’s an eight minute video about TftF’s programs and approach that provides a sense of their motivations.

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