Article for We Don't Have Time social media platform Sep 2022
Message from the CEO of NOT1BEAN: This is how we want to change the coffee industry.
Why you shouldn't feel bad about being duped, even the biggest companies are being taken for a climate crisis ride.
One of the most frustrating things about the climate crisis is the fact that earlier action could have prevented it. As inaction continues, the emissions cuts needed to limit global warming to relatively safe levels move further out of reach.
You're reading this thinking, "what else is new?"
Groups and individuals alike have been blamed for the continuing lack of action, from fossil fuel companies and rich countries, politicians and wealthy people, to consumers just trying to get by... just shopping.
Is it any wonder that many simply give up, when even the largest corporations on the planet seem unable or unwilling to address the crisis?, after all many products are branded green nowadays, the label doing most of the heavy lifting.
Take one of the most, if not the most, sought after commodity in the world today, something that figures on most shopping lists, is stocked to the rafters in every supermarket globally, and is sold to environmentally concerned students millions of times every single day.
I'm talking about coffee, which at first glance seems to be the focus of every fairtrade, rainforest, bird friendly, net zero pledge and commitment, known to man.
Walk into your local supermarket, whether in Stockholm, Swindon or San Francisco, and ask for a cup of social enterprise approved, B-Corp best - you'll have 1000s to choose from.
Ask your local university chancellor if what you're drinking is climate friendly, and I can guarantee you'll be told that as soon as you add hot water, the climate emergency will be over.
Ask how this is so, and you'll be referred to guarantees given by the very people who profit from making claims just like these, the suppliers themselves, companies who can't afford to have their buyers, or you, think otherwise.
At this point, you're probably wondering why you should be reading this very article, written by yet another coffee supplier?
You should, because for the past 12 years I've lived in the middle of the Colombian coffee region, watching poverty and climate damage increase hand in hand, and since 2017, when I started NOT1BEAN, speaking about this happening, and explaining how CEO's and consumers alike are being duped, things have gone downhill, whilst 'climate friendly' coffees are stacked row upon row. According to the labels, it's actually quite difficult to find a coffee supplier who isn't single handedly saving the planet.
Here's the true sorry state of affairs in 3 bullet points, it'll take a minute more to read and understand:
1 Coffee is up to 20% heavier by weight, before it's roasted.
"Big deal...so what?"
Well, in a supply chain of this size, that means millions of extra tonnes if it's all shipped before roasting, and at least 94% is, meaning extra cargo ships are needed to carry what is essentially waste material.
Virtually every supermarket coffee..."whether in Stockholm, Swindon or San Francisco...you'll have 1000s to choose from..." was shipped before roasting, as were university and hospital coffees..and so on and so forth.
2 Being unroasted, coffees go back and forth across the same oceans, retracing their already traversed shipping lanes, until intermediary profits have been maximized.
Germany, as just one example, reships over 364,000 tonnes every year, and millions of tonnes sit in warehouses across the world, advertised as ready for reshipping. Obviousy the intermediaries doing the re-exporting add their cut, meaning retailers, and subsequently consumers, pay more. Not ideal in a cost of living crisis.
3 Coffee roasters roast far and wide, anywhere they want to, meaning coffee roasted in say Italy or Sweden is trucked thousands of extra miles (green labels intact) before reaching supermarkets in different countries, or even on other continents.
UK universities are particularly proud of serving these coffees to students, advertising the green credentials of the suppliers putting millions of unnecessary trucks on roads.
Think about that for a second, it's transported on exra ships, re-sails the same ocean routes, going back and forth, and then needs millions of extra trucks to get it to the consumer, then it's often labelled climate friendy - some of these companies even win sustainability awards!
Even this, incredible as it all is, pales into insignificance when we try to comprehend the billions of dollars lost to developing countries, where of course climate change is proving devastating - after all they're only paid for the raw product, the green unroasted beans that cost far far less than the coffee we pick up off a shelf. Billions of dollars that could be used to fight climate change where it's most needed, instead it all ends up in far richer consumer countries, in the pockets of intermediaries - of course a tiny fraction is sent back or put into into carbon credits.
And that's why poverty in coffee producing countries is rife, why children are needed to pick the stuff, and why climate change mitigation is a pipe dream across the whole sector - despite the pittance sent back to greenwash the whole supply chain - and why you shouldn't feel bad at being duped - you're in good company.
The label would need to be a lot bigger to explain all of this, instead it just says "climate friendly" to help us all make those informed choices.
Not us by the way, NOT1BEAN of our coffee is roasted anywhere other than in the developing country in which it was grown, the roasting income stays there, as does the roasted coffee revenue, and we ship once - directly.
It is of course possible for us to drink climate friendly, net zero coffee, but it's not the current way, that much at least is true, and we've a long way to go, the current methodology leaves a very bad taste.
NOT1BEAN is a registered trademark.