Ask Ignacio: Coffee

November 2013

Just how sustainable are the coffee machines on campus?

I’m going to take this chance to address the coffee as well as the machine.

The Coffee

Where did your coffee come from? We generally prefer local food and beverages, but local coffee beans are just a little impossible to come by. So we accept that the coffee beans must come from somewhere else.

How do we gauge the sustainability of these beans? There is a little certification known as Fair Trade. The purpose of the certification is to ensure the consumer that the item in question was produced with higher social and environmental standards. Fair Trade focuses on insuring that farmers in a far away land are justly compensated for their efforts to improve the day-to-day lives in these communities.

For the sake of transparency, there are critics of the Fair Trade certification, but it is difficult to discern fact from fiction in studies funded by those who have a great deal to gain by discrediting it. As always, the decision is yours.

Fortunately, the rest of this equation is much clearer. The beans are then packaged, roasted, and delivered. The order may change, but these parts actually account for a very small part of the environmental impact here.

Finally, disposal! You have had your coffee, now what? Coffee grounds are compostable and hence very easy to dispose of. Many “grow it yourself” kits use coffee grounds. Grow mushrooms, herbs, anything really. So if you can, compost; if you can’t it will eventually decompose, so it isn’t the end of the world.

Coffee Machines

There are quite a few options here.

Short of brewing your coffee with children’s tears, the worst possible option is the single serve coffee maker. Every cup of Joe is another little plastic tub in the trash. This plastic really adds up in a large office. If this is what your office uses, you have your work cut out for you.

A better option is to buy a non-single serve Energy Star coffee maker. Energy Star coffee makers use significantly less energy than their traditional counterparts.

For larger offices, I would recommend a source of hot (hot enough for coffee) water everyone can use. This can be used for coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Coffee carafes can then be filled with this hot water. Facilities Services has a Curtis Golden Cup Series machine like this one. The coffee is kept in bulk containers. Less waste, yay!

And always, use a mug! All those little paper cups or worse yet, Styrofoam, end up in landfill. You might as well salt the earth with every step you take.

This is just a snapshot of the coffee realm. Hope that answers your question.