The coffee industry's sustainability drive

Zhu Jing
Coffee as a social beverage has been on the rise worldwide. However, when you sip your daily coffee, do you think about how the industry will survive and sustain in the future?
Zhu Jing
The coffee industry's sustainability drive
Courtesy of Nespresso

Coffee farms are seen in Zimbabwe — one of the origin countries of the Nespresso Reviving Origins Program.

Coffee as a social beverage has been on the rise worldwide. However, when you sip your daily coffee, do you think about how the industry will survive and sustain in the future?

More and more people and organizations, from origins of production to the consumer end, have looked into the sustainability of both areas in the supply chain and the environment. For example, you may have noticed some coffee brands, like Nespresso and Saturnbirds, have their own programs of recycling used capsules or coffee pods.

“Nespresso offline boutique recycling program was launched in 2015,” said Alfonso Troisi, business executive officer of Nespresso China. “Consumers can pick up a recycling bag from the nearest Nespresso boutiques, and when it is filled with the capsules, they can put the bags in a special recycling bin of the boutique.”

In 2019, the brand introduced Nespresso Recycling@Home project, which allows customers to book a courtier service online to pick up used coffee capsules directly from home. But such recycling projects are not limited to the consumer end.

“Nespresso has now established partnerships with 100 five-star hotels (in China) and will continue to expand the scale in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou,” Troisi said.

For example, recycled aluminium in China has been used to create chopsticks, which pays tribute to Asian dining culture. The top body, of a set of the limited-edition chopsticks, is “made with aluminium from 30 Nespresso capsules recycled in Asia,” Troisi said.

Known for its specialty instant coffee, which can be dissolved in iced water or milk in just three seconds, Saturnbird launched its second edition of Project Return nationwide in May last year. Covering 24 cities across China, the project encouraged customers to return empty coffee pods to collaborated cafes.

It’s said that recycled pods, which use 100 percent recyclable materials, will be made into other devices. For creative customers, they can also turn used pods into an object in daily life, such as miniature flower pods.

At the other end, independent coffee shops and big chains have launched sustainable schemes, asking customers to bring their own reusable cups for promotional offers.

Manner Coffee, a Shanghai-born coffee brand, has a 5-yuan-off offer on all beverages if customers bring their own eco-friendly cups since its establishment in 2015. The initiative has been adopted by other brands and international chains.

The coffee industry's sustainability drive
Courtesy of Nespresso

Freshly picked coffee cherries

Great changes

For coffee chains like Pause Coffee, based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, Huskee Cups are used for takeaway as another measure for sustainability.

The Huskee Cup is a reusable cup for both cafes and individuals. It is made from coffee husk.

In China, Huskee works with coffee farms in Yunnan Province to reuse “raw waste in the form of coffee husk,” according to its blog online. Before, coffee husk was normally served as a fertilizer buffer or a fuel source.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic has brought great changes to the coffee industry in the past six months.

Coffee shops across the globe have to shut down, leaving people relying on home brewing, either instant coffee or coffee subscription.

While many consumers are grounded due to social distancing, farmers at origins are limited to their farming activities as a bid to protect themselves and communities. But the sustainable projects at origins are still continuing to help coffee farmers survive, as well as their coffee plants.

Founded in 1905, Yara is regarded as a crop nutrition company in a bid to develop a more sustainable food value chain. So far, Yara has a strong footprint in coffee production markets, which covers about 90 percent of origin countries and regions across the Americas, Africa and Asia.

“Yara in China has more than 100 years’ history when the first bag of fertilizer came in,” said Bobo Xie, director of branding, marketing & communications, Yara China.

Nowadays, many coffee farms in Yunnan Province have collaborated with Yara. They also work together with Nestle to teach farmers how to apply “Right Nutrients in Right Amount, Right Placement and Right Time.” This 4R upheld by Yara has resulted in coffee farms achieving optional yield and production, which greatly helps farmers to get better paid.

With a greater attention to environmental protection and social impact, Yara’s nitrates-based products also reduce the vitality of nitrogen leakage, which improves nitrogen yield efficiency. The improvement of profits achieved per hectare has a unique impact on the younger generation, too.

“Farmers can better motivate young farmers, who are attracted to improve quality and thereby improve the sustainability aspects of the family farms,” Xie said.

The coffee industry's sustainability drive
Courtesy of Nespresso

A coffee farmer from Colombia

In order to responsibly feed the world and protect the planet, Yara also strives to reduce soil acidification through its practices as well as protect the sustainable environment.

And Yara is not alone.

Nespresso launched a series of sustainability projects at origins worldwide. In 2003, Nespresso AAA Sustainable QualityTM Program kicked off, along with the NGO The Rainforest Alliance, in an effort to improve the yield and quality of harvests on coffee farms.

As an integral part of the program, Nespresso Reviving Origins Program was introduced in 2019 to revive those coffee origins or regions under threat, such as circumstances or situations like armed conflicts and economic or environmental disasters.

“We have invested in many coffee regions across Colombia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Puerto Rico,” Troisi said.

Nespresso launched single origin capsules in the first two countries last year and the Uganda capsules this year.

Meanwhile, by working with award-winning photographer Rena Effendi and magazine National Geographic, Nespresso hopes to raise more public and industrial attention to the sustainability of the coffee industry, for the whole value chain.

“Nespresso works with more than 110,000 farmers in 14 countries through the AAA Sustainable QualityTM Program,” Troisi said.

The number continues to grow.

Due to the special period of the coronavirus pandemic, the brand has been working to raise awareness of essential safety and hygiene measures of farmers and agronomists via radio shows at origins.

Temporary facilities for hand-washing and hand sanitizer are provided in all AAA buying and processing stations for locals in Uganda. Other measures have also been taken in Colombia and Zimbabwe to support and guide farmers for the best-possible practices on the farm.

The stories of sustainability in the coffee industry continue.

To individual consumers like us, bringing a reusable coffee cup is a simple measure to help coffee brands recycle and maintain sustainability. 

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