Corporate Coffee Responsibility Ratings

June 25, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien

Co-op America (my former employer of nearly seven years) runs a program called Responsible Shopper that provides corporate social responsibility news and ratings about companies and whole industries. Here are their comparative ratings of the biggest coffee companies.

Co-op America\'s Resposnible Shopper Coffee Scores

Notice in the small print that the color scheme ranges from green to yellow to orange to red in descending order of ‘responsibleness.’ Now notice that none of the biggest companies in the coffee industry earn a yellow score or better. Kraft and Starbucks fall in the orange sector while Sara Lee, Proctor and Gamble, and Nestle all deserve the red zone of corporate malfeasance.

Co-op America’s conclusion for how to be a ‘Responsible Shopper?’ Buy fair trade, organic, shade grown coffee.

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Coffee Companies Help Launch ‘B Corporation’ Standards for ‘Good Companies’

June 8, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien

B Corporation

B Corporation is a new certification system for socially and environmentally responsible companies. The ‘B’ stands for ‘benefits.’

I couldn’t find out much about the people behind this effort, apparently a non-profit group called B-Lab, but the standards seem legit from what I can tell so far. The founding companies are a cast of the usual suspects – many are names that are already highly associated with the ‘responsible’ business movement. On the one hand, that is a good thing – it means companies with real commitments are the ones being recognized by the certification. But on the other hand it raises the question of whether this is a well-intentioned effort that will never reach beyond the same core of businesses that are already doing the right thing.

But perhaps this is a good thing. An article in the Financial Times reports that Coen Gilbert, one of B-Corp’s founders, intends for the certification to serve as a way for the many small and medium sized ‘truly green’ companies to differentiate themselves from the older, bigger companies that are suddenly talking green for the first time.

Of the more than 100 ‘founding’ B-Corp companies, a few are in the coffee biz: Moka Joe; Mugshots Coffee House and Cafe; One Village Coffee; and Pura Vida Coffee. To become certified, each company completes a survey evaluating their practices. A minimum score of 80, out of a possible 200, is required to receive certification. In addition, the company bylaws or articles of incorporation must specifically require consideration be given to all the company stakeholders, including employees past and present, suppliers, customers, and the communities and society in which the business operates.

Moka JoeThe completed company audits are available for viewing online. That way interested stakeholders can see that, for example, One Village Coffee scored a measly 9.1 points on the environmental section of the assessment, which is just 24% of the points available in that category, and that they barely squeaked through the certification at all with just 86.1 points total. Whereas Pura Vida earned 32% of the environmental points and scored 103.4 on the evaluation overall. But Moka Joe performed considerably better than both, meriting 90% of the environmental points and reaching an impressive (comparatively) 129.4 on the test as a whole.

I realize the aim of this system probably isn’t to compare the certified businesses to each other, but rather to differentiate them all from the business-as-usual pack. However, the website that houses the reports is a little clumsy – there is no easy way to compare companies to each other but more importantly, there is no way to know how individual company scores relate to average industry performance. Another problem is that the information is presented only in summary form – we see how a company scored but we don’t know why they earned that score.

I do, however, like the scheme overall. The site refers to the current system as Version 1 and claims that Version 2 is already in development. I’m impressed so far and look forward to seeing how they improve this useful tool in the future.

To read more about B Corporation and to access company reports, go to http://www.bcorporation.net and click on the ‘B Community’ tab. Currently, the only way to search for reports is to either browse company names at random or to use a key word search. I typed in ‘coffee’ and found the four above-mentioned companies.


Catholic Relief Services Economic Justice Consulation Report Back

March 7, 2008

By Jody Treter

 

I’m writing from the Baltimore airport, headed home from two days of meetings convened by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to share ideas and get feedback from stakeholders about the next decade of CRS’s fair trade program. CRS Fair Trade logoThe added bonus of the trip was that I got to spend some time with my good buddy and fellow bean activist, Chris O’Brien, who also attended the first day of the meetings. CRS invited Chris to present on the difficult-to-tackle topic “Where is Responsible Consumption Headed?” and he wowed the meeting particpants with his comprehensive understanding of “green” purchasing (as many of you may know, Chris O head’s up the Responsible Purchasing Network). CRS prepped us for the visioning session with several other short presentations including the history of CRS and their FT program, a snapshot of the FT movement today and an argument for why it might be a good approach to open CRS’s FT program to more mainstream partners for greater market impact.

Among faith-based development organizations, CRS is a leader. It’s newly finished LEED-certified building is the first sign that, indeed, CRS is walking their talk. In the world of Fair Trade, CRS began it’s work with the Work of Human Hands craft project in 1995. In 2003, CRS launched it’s Fair Trade Program which became the umbrella for several other initiatives including the Work of Human Hands, plus the FT Coffee and Chocolate Programs. The Coffee Progam, an ambitious and forward-thinking partnership between marginlized farmers in Nicaragua and 100% fair trade coffee companies in the United States, is a new twist on interfaith coffee projects. While the Presbyterians, Lutherans and others have programs that partner exclusively with Equal Exchange, CRS boldly created the first “localized” program encouraging dioceses and parishes to support their nearest CRS Coffee Roasting Partner, of which there are twelve in the States. This model serves to “share the wealth” amongst several roasters plus it better leverages the FT movement.

Now four years into their FT program, CRS leaders are carrying out the due diligence necessary to create a well-informed blueprint for the next ten years. This is no easy task. The goal is clear – how does the CRS FT program serve the overarching CRS mission to alleviate suffering and create dignified livelihoods for the poorest of the poor? Our contribution, as stakeholders of the CRS Fair Trade, is to assist in the creation of long-term strategies to this end.

CRS offered three ideas to help generate conversation around strategies for the future:

  1. Revisit the strict adherence to the Gold Standard for Partners (ie – can CRS’s impact be greater if it broadens it’s partnership criteria?). The small working group I joined focused on this issue and offered up a hybrid solution. First, it’s important to maintain (and even actively improve) the Gold Standard of Fair Trade (often referred to as the 100%ers or Alternative Trade Organizations b/c their business models are fully committed to the principles of fair trade). The partners who meet “Gold Standard” criteria should be distinguished from others as the preferential partners. But, when these partners can’t meet the need of a potential customer (ie – a large institution wants to purchase individual pods for coffee makers), CRS directs the customers to “silver” level partners and, finally, “bronze” level partners. The discussions were much richer but this is the core of our group’s proposal.
  2. Shifting from a “product” focus to “points of engagements”. My opinion is that the CRS FT message will have the greated impace if both a “product” focus plus a “points of engagement” strategy are employed. For example, CRS may choose to sponsor an up-and-coming Skateboarder to engage Youth on their own turf – a point of engagement – but, when a church calls to ask about where to purchase office supplies or coffee or chocolate, CRS should remain an authority (termed “trust provider”) by offering a list of products from their program partners.
  3. From advertising to advocacy: Economic Justice beyond consumption. This piece wasn’t taken on by a working group because meeting attendees felt like this issue would be covered under the other two topics. Economic Justice is the over-riding theme of the CRS FT program and should continue to be so. In the end, Fair Trade is just one tool in the greater struggle for dignity and sustainability within economic justice. So, perhaps, the CRS FT program should consider changing their name to the CRS “Economic Justice Program” and create a more comprehensive approach that includes 1. the promotion of authentic “gold standard” fair trade partners; 2. engaging companies that are slowly coming into the fold of fair trade and economic justice; 3. identifying and pursuing points of engagements for CRS constituents.

Kudos to CRS FT for lining up an impressive roster of movers and shakers for the visioning session! I’ve been impressed time and time again with CRS’s commitment to the involvement of their stakeholders and the time they take to nurture relationships. Representing the Fair Trade movement was Carmen Iezzi, ED of the Fair Trade Federation; Serena Sato of SERVV; Kimberly Easson of TransFair USA; Joe Falcone of Counter Sourcing Fair Trade Apparel; Allen Thayer of Handcrafting Justice/Fair Trade Uniforms. Rick Peyser joined from Green Mountain Roasters and many CRS staff/volunteers from several different departments attended including Abby Causey, a CRS FT ambassador from Virginia Beach; Lara Puglielli, who was instrumental in the birth of the CRS fair trade coffee program in Nicaragua; Chuck Paquette, Foundation and Corporate Relations at CRS; Barbara Myers, Senior Director of US Operations; Sarah Ford, Senior Technical Advisor for Partnerships; Shaun Ferris, Technical Advisor on Agro-Enterprise; Brian Backe, Director of Domestic Programs Support Unit; Juan Molina, CRS-US Southwest; Thomas Awiapo, CRS-Ghana; and last but not least were the tireless CRS Fair Trade Champions, Jackie DeCarlo and Katy Cantrell.

Thanks much for the provocative discussions and good humor! That’s all for now . . . need to catch my plane.


Sniff. Slurp. Spit. Repeat. Coffee Cupping at Counter Culture DC

March 1, 2008

Until recently, my formal beverage tasting experience has been singularly focused on beer. I’ve judged beer in competitions from South Africa to Virgina and held countless semi-formal tastings with friends and family. But, although I roast my own coffee beans at home, I’m a newbie when it comes to professional coffee cupping.

Cupping

My first official cupping was just last month when I visited the Asorcafe coffee lab (above) in the small town of Pedregi, in the Cauca region of Colombia. The lab technicians were experts, as were my companions from Peace Coffee and Higher Grounds, so I had good coaching that helped prevent me from dribbling coffee down my chin. I did, however, begin the cupping while wearing a cowboy hat which Jody from Higher Grounds suggested I remove so as to avoid knocking over glasses as I bowed my nose to the grounds.

This morning I attended a free cupping at Counter Culture’s lab in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. (For background on Counter Culture’s “direct trade” business model, read my online conversation with Kim and Peter from Counter Culture and my other recent post about the chat I had with folks from Intelligentsia, the company that trademarked the term Direct Trade.)

Here’s a primer on the tasting procedure and a report on the three coffees we cupped this morning.

The Cupping Ritual
Our host, Ryan Jensen, Customer Relations, prepared by lining up a set of about ten 8 oz. glasses for each of the three coffees. He scooped about a tablespoon of grounds (13 grams to be exact) into each glass. It’s important to cup several glasses of each coffee in order to avoid mischaracterizing a whole batch based on just one cup. A single glass can exhibit a defect from one bad bean but the rest of the batch might be flawless. Once the glasses were filled with grounds, we were armed with pens, clipboards and cupping forms. Silence and furrowed brows indicated that the ritual was about to begin.

1. Moving from glass to glass, we sniffed and noted the fragrance of the grounds.

2. Then Ryan poured 8 oz. of hot water into each glass. Going glass to glass again, we smelled the aroma of the steeping coffee.

3. We were given small paper cups and large spoons with deep basins. We used our spoons to once again move down the line of glasses and “break” the layer of grounds floating on top of the coffee, noting the fresh burst of aromas released by this technique. The grounds were then removed from the glasses.

4. For the final gauntlet of grounds, we dipped our spoons into the glasses and raised the samples to our bowed heads. Using our lips, we slurped across our tongues, aerating and roiling the coffee throughout the mouth, saturating every taste receptor from front to back, top to bottom, and side to side. After each swish, a few of the cuppers opted to avoid ingesting too much coffee by spitting the samples into their cups. Most, including me, chose to go whole hog and swallow every ounce.

In this last step we actually tasted the coffee, noting brightness, flavor, body, and aftertaste. In beer tasting terminology, brightness is similar to crispness. A bright coffee is snappy and clean like a pilsener, whereas a less bright coffee is mellow and smooth like an ale. (I’m generalizing here, don’t take this beer comparison too far because the exceptions will just make it confusing.)

Flavor wheelFlavor is what you taste. Anything goes – the point is just to recognize all the flavors you can identify. Flavor can be intense or subtle, direct or nuanced, complex or one-dimensional. I relied on one of the handy tasting wheels Ryan had distributed in order to help connect what my taste buds were experiencing with what my food-memory has stored in the recesses of my mind. Body can be full or thin. Going back to beer, Bud Light is thin-bodied and watery, while imperial stouts, barleywines, and double IPAs are rich and robust. Aftertaste is how any flavor lingers on the palate or cuts short and clean.

Here is a summary of my tasting notes.

Coffee #1: Peruvian from Valle del Santuario, Ignacio
Representative of its region, this certified organic, shade grown coffee is an everyday cup, the equivalent of what beer drinkers call a session beer such as an English bitter or American amber. Milk chocolate and brownies dominated the fragrance. Sweet, roasted peanuts appeared in the aroma. The break released leather and malt. As a routine morning cup, the brightness was light and mellow, with an earthy flavor, mild body and little to no aftertaste.

In one word: quaffable.

Kenya GatuririCoffee #2: Kenyan from the Gaturiri and Nyeri regions (auction lot #4486)
After the cupping, the participants unanimously requested this one to be brewed as our cup to savor during the post-cupping discussion. Because of the Kenyan national coffee system, direct, fair trade coffee buying relationships are nearly impossible. So, although this coffee’s region of origin is known, its exact farmers are anonymous. Furthermore, it is neither organic nor shade grown. Damp earth and dark berries and fruits in the nose made way for roasted nuts at the break, followed by a bright, tangy grapefruit, tangerine, spicey cinnamon flavor. While it was perhaps the most rewarding cup of the three, the medium body was just shy of the strength needed to counter balance the punch of citric acid that lingered in the finish.

In one word: conversational.

Coffee #3: Sumatran from Gayo, Aceh
Certified organic and shade grown, earth and smoke came to the fore throughout this complex cup from the damp forest lands of Sumatra. The nose was rough, like roasted chestnuts, pungent and acrid, with a full-bodied musty, tobacco-like flavor and lingering hide-like aftertaste.

In one word: comforting.

Proof that Beer and Coffee Are the Best Companions
After the tasting, I thought it was only fair to let Ryan know that the reason I attended was that I am an author and I’m conducting research for my next book. He replied that he had just started reading Fermenting Revolution two days ago. I’m hoping to make the Counter Culture lab a place for repeat visits in the coming months of research. I’ll have to treat Ryan to a beer sometime as thanks for his free educational cuppings.


Peace Coffee: For Beans & Bikes

February 28, 2008

For more than a dozen years now, Peace Coffee has been roasting up fair trade, organic beans from farmer coops around the world. Last year I had the opportunity to visit their roastery in Minneapolis and spend a day touring the city’s finest cafes where just and sustainable cups are served up from Peace Coffee.

Peace is somewhat unique in that they are owned and operated a non-profit organization called the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. They are unusual in some other ways too. For instance, they’re kinda wacky about bikes. Check out this brand new video from them that I just got from Melanee Megan, Peace marketing director (gotta love that title, a Peace marketer).


Looking for Justice and Sustainability at Coffee Fest DC

February 16, 2008

Posted by Chris O’Brien

I’ve been looking forward to this for about a month. Finally the Coffee Fest as arrived – and I’m sick as a dog.

I had planned on taking a couple of the $95 seminars on cupping and blending but frankly I couldn’t smell the difference between a cup of Rwandan Zirikana and a piece of burnt toast right now. I’ve had the worst cold of my life for five weeks now. It hit me the day I landed in Colombia for coffee coop visits and I haven’t been able to shake it yet. In fact it’s gotten so bad I even – gasp – went to see a doctor. Four days on prescription meds and I’m still clogged up, congested, bronchially infected and generally down and out and dejected.

So I skipped the costly (but probably worthwhile) training classes and barely managed to haul my belling-aching ass to the show at all today. I traversed the whole show floor in less than two hours. It was a little smaller than I expected, which was a relief since I was so sick, but made the $30 door charge seem slightly steep. I tried to get in on a press pass but got no response at all from my emailed request. So right off the bat I was going in already docking them points for poor media relations.

My goals ranged from seeking sustainable packaging and serviceware, talking with roasters, importers and certifiers about sustainable trade issues, and looking for roasting equipment for my own possible coffee roastery business (shh, that’s kind of a secret). I left mildly better informed on each of these points.

Here’s what I learned.

PACKAGING & SERVICEWARE
Marketing claims about ‘green’ packaging and service items were all over the place. In fact, the majority of the booths offering these products made some kind of eco-assertion.

EcoSleeve

EcoSleeve. Made from polystyrene, this cup sleeve is marketed as “100% recyclable.” The bad news is that polystyrene, a.k.a. styrofoam, a.k.a. #6 plastic, is NOT recyclable where I live. As one might expect of one of the most liberal counties in America, Montgomery County, Maryland has a robust curbside recycling program, and even sponsors a free waste veggie oil exchange program in order to encourage conversion of this byproduct into useful biodiesel. If styrofoam is not recyclable here I wonder where it is recyclable.

EcoSleeve also claims to be “#100% biodegradable.” I’ve never heard this claim about styrofoam before, but the product brochure references a certification by EcoLogo, a credible eco-certification program that I’m very familiar with from first hand experience with the people who run the company. In fact, I’m giving a series of seminars in California next week with one of their VPs. I’ll have to make a note to ask him about this product because he is fond of noting in his presentations that biodegradability claims are generally bogus since nothing degrades in a sealed landfill. The EcoSleeve website further claims that one sleeve produces 66% less waste than a paper sleeve. That seems vague since it leaves me wondering whether the product itself just has less mass or if they are accounting for all the waste in the respective manufacturing processes, or what.

Despite the EcoLogo certification, the combination of three dubious claims (recyclability, biodegradability, waste-reduction) earns this product a double thumbs down from me.

GreenGood. This company produces PLA cups and containers; plates, clamshells, and other containers, made from recycled paper pulp and sugarcane waste; and 42% post-consumer waste recycled plastic cup lids. PLA stands for polylactic acid, which basically means plant-based plastic as opposed to plastic derived from petroleum. This is generally a good alternative to regular plastic, especially if you have a composting program for the used cups. However, my sense is that prices are steeper than conventional plastic plus PLA has the disadvantage of breaking down when exposed to sunlight or high temperatures. The good news is these guys also sell something called CPLA, or crystallized PLA. The science is lost on me but the salesman explained that it’s a microwaveable version of PLA, but it too has a performance tradeoff in that the crystallization process turns transparent PLA into a tan opaque color, thus obscuring the beverage.

Ag waste and recycled paper are definitely better options than virgin paper pulp. And the recycled plastic lids seem like a pretty good no brainer. I wasn’t able to do a cost comparison on any of the above because there were no price lists. But if you’re looking for solid environmental benefits, GreenGood seems to deliver.

CupCoatCupCoat. Why is everything twowords combined into one these days? CupCoat is reusable “fabric” cup sleeve claiming to be environmentally preferable because it replaces multiple disposable sleeves. The promotional literature claims that one CupCoat saves “approximately 2-5 lbs of garbage per person.” Hunh? How ever did they arrive at that number. The “coats” are made of such eco-friendly materials as “faux-fur” (okay, that tells me what it’s not, but it doesn’t tell me what it is), “rubberized synthetics” and “waterproofed t-shirt material.” Not sure what the second one is there either but the last one is apparently an obfuscating way of saying “cotton,” which happens to be the most chemical input-intensive crop on the planet. Sorry CupCoat, you are way bogus. Oh, except you almost won me over with the “T-zur” line. I’m a sucker for animal prints.

ecotainer Hot Cups. These are apparently an International Paper product marketed under the brand JavaStock. The ecotainer ™ is simple a virgin fiber paper cup with a PLA lining instead of a regular petro-plastic lining, earning it a BPI Certification. That’s a new one to me but on first glance the certification looks legit. Unfortunately, there’s a hefty price premium for this eco-benefit. For example, 1000 8 oz. ecotainer cups cost $82 compared to $59.40 for the regular kind. Seems steep and for that price I’d think you could get some recycled content fiber in there too. This gets a marginal thumbs up on the environmental improvement but a big wet raspberry for the jacked up price.

COFFEE CERTIFICATIONS
Rainforest Alliance
. I talked with the folks from Rainforest Alliance about how their sustainability standard stacks up against the many other coffee certification schemes. The staff rep at the booth asserted that its “up there with Fair Trade and organic” and emphasized its focus on “conservation” whereas Fair Trade addresses “trade.” I asked who pays and how the label is applied to products. Confusingly, he said anyone along the chain of supply can pay, but when I pressed him for a firm answer it became clear that ultimately farmers must pay the costs unless some generous partner offers to pay it for them. He also explained that there is a “traceability” system that serves to verify a company’s right to use the logo, but when I asked how a coffee drinker could access that traceability system he allowed that they couldn’t and the best they can do is ask a roaster for their certificate. We weren’t able to get into much more detail but this conversation highlighted to me how the trade and environmental communities continue to see themselves as separate instead of focusing on their obvious commonalities. Ultimately, long-term sustainability must include people and the planet.

Fair Trade Proof. I was happy to then run into Tripp and other good folks associated with Cafe Campesino. Finally a friendly face in what was mostly a sea of food-colored-syrup-flavored “coffee” drinks. I indulged in a cup of medium roast Colombian since he offered and because I was kinda grooving on the fact that I had just visited Fondo Paez, the coop that grows these very beans. I asked Tripp about whether CC had considered Rainforest Alliance certification and his direct answer was that there was no way they could ask their producer partners to pay for another certification. He also thought that organic certification more or less covered what was important in terms of shade canopy and that this extra certification would be like “splitting hairs.”

Cafe Campesino

I’m not convinced on this latter point (and I’d advise Tripp not to say such a thing to the bloggers over at Coffee and Conservation!) but I do see the inherent contradiction in holding growers responsible for the costs of certification in general, be it Rainforest Alliance or otherwise. It forces the good guys to pay for being good while letting the polluters/exploiters off scot-free. But the advantage is that it provides transparency to business claims about justice and sustainability. Cafe Campesino, and it’s importer Cooperative Coffees, will soon be launching an online transparency program called Fair Trade Proof that allows regular old everyday coffee drinkers to access company trade documents which show producer origin and payments. This is a significant stride forward in terms of truly transparent business and I look forward to announcing the launch when its ready. But I think you can already take a sneak peak now, just click the link above.

Direct Trade. Speaking of transparency, my next stop was Intelligentsia Coffee right across the aisle. They treated me to a Rwandan Zirikana and I spoke with a company rep who explained a little bit about their “Direct Trade” business model. Importantly, he first mentioned that it incorporates quality. Many certification programs for other unrelated products are going this same direction. For example, Green Seal launched a new certification last year for recycled content paint which incorporated performance standards from the Master Painters Institute. This is a significant trend because it helps dispel any notion that going “green” or “fair” means a compromise in quality. The myth that green equals poor quality has slowed the uptake of sustainable products for decades.

But Direct Trade, as far as anyone has been able to explain to me so far, including this rep from Intelligentsia, is not a certification and as far as I can tell it isn’t even a standard. It is really just a company (and a couple other companies they like) making unsubstantiated claims about fairness and sustainability. Their brochure lists six “criteria” of Direct Trade including that the price must be at least 25% above the fair trade price. It’s not clear whether this includes the fair trade premium or just the fair trade floor price and its also not clear whether this includes the additional organic premium required by the fair trade standard for the 80% or so of fair trade coffees that are also organic. When you add those both in and then consider that Intelligentsia’s coffee’s retail on their website for $14 or $15 dollars a pound all the way up to $28 and even $60 per pound, one wonders whether 25% is really very meaningful. Keep in mind also that by skipping certification, this company also gets to avoid paying its own share of the fair trade fees. I asked the rep point blank, without any certification, why should I believe that any of this is true? His response was “come to Nicaragua with me.” Hardly a viable option for 99.9% of this company’s customers. Ironically, one of his first assertions in our conversation was that their model is “totally transparent.” I got this same claim about Direct Trade from folks at Counter Culture in an online discussion we had over at the fantastic Coffee & Conservation blog.

One thing is clear: everyone is making claims about justice and sustainability in the coffee trade but there is little agreement about what that means. Hmm, someone ought to write a book. Oh wait, that’s what we’re doing!


Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Emissions

December 30, 2007

Posted by Chris O’Brien

Many people concerned about coffee and sustainability are aware of important issues related to organic agriculture, preservation of the forest canopy and bird habitat, and equitable trading partnerships between farmers and importers/roasters/retailers.

But what about air pollution?

Green coffee beans contain a wide variety of chemical compounds including proteins, fats, sugars, dextrine, cellulose, caffeine, and organic acids. Some of these volatize, oxidize, or decompose (i.e. become pollution) as part of the roasting process. Consequently, toxic compounds such as aldehydes (as in formaldehyde), organic acids (such as acetic acid) and acrolein are emitted as a result of the coffee roasting process.

The EPA regulates these emissions according to classes of pollution: particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, organic acids, and natural gas combustion products.

Here’s the EPA’s flow chart of the emissions created by coffee processing.

Roaster emissions

Okay, so roasting causes emissions, but it looks like a lot of this is particulate matter (PM). PM is basically airborne dust and dirt. Raking leaves creates particulate matter – soil and dust catching air from rustling up the leaves. That doesn’t exactly sound like a problem worthy of much concern. But the smoke from diesel fuel is also PM – that seems a little worse. Smog is also partly comprised of PM. According to the EPA, PM can cause coughing and contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems. But here’s the real kicker: exposure to PM is linked with premature death.

On top of that, coffee roasting also emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which is a complicated way of saying all sorts of air pollution. And finally, roasting emits greenhouse gases such as carbon, methane and nitrous oxide.

Here is an EPA chart of coffee roasting emissions in pounds of emissions per ton of coffee roasted. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression “wake up and smell the coffee.” If you’re reading this and you know of any roasters doing something to address emissions, please submit a comment or email me directly using the Contact form on this blog.

Roaster emissions