Lower Impact Cafés: Simple Steps to Save Now & Contribute to Broader Mitigation Goals


By Tracy Ging, Deputy Executive Director, SCAA 



Feeling the Effects  

There is an axiom, you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Without hard data, there is a tendency to gravitate to what is in front of us, the more visible. Related to climate change, what has been abundantly visible the last few years is the effect of increasing weather volatility on the supply chain and our partners in producing countries. Beginning with a sharp decline in Colombian production back in crop year 2008-09 to the recent torrential rains that devastated parts of El Salvador, we are witnessing first-hand what climatologists have predicted: developing nations will be the hardest hit by changing weather patterns.

We’ve seen the headlines and photos, talked with people we know, heard tragic stories from partners. This issue is literally in front our faces, so it is natural that solutions are geared toward the problem at hand. Several new climate change programs have been introduced, aimed at farmers and mitigation strategies. We, of course, applaud those efforts, but it is important to note these solutions are aimed at the effects not the causes.

In a previous Chronicle article (Issue No. 1, 2011), Shauna Alexander Mohr elaborated on the effects of climate change, highlighting in particular, “…the importing countries are the greatest contributors of greenhouse gases causing the climate-change induced problems in the tropics.” Mitigation efforts need to happen significantly at the source—in northern, developed countries. It is incumbent on business to fully understand its energy use and waste, develop benchmarks and make bold goals for reduction.

Looking at ways to have an impact and lower the overall carbon footprint in the coffee industry, there is sufficient evidence to support a concerted effort at retail.

There have been a few studies1 looking at the carbon footprint of coffee through its entire lifecycle, from the beginning at farm level through transit to roasting and lastly, to coffee’s final point of enjoyment. Each study concluded the main area of impact is toward the end of the value chain, either at the café or at home with the consumer. Other research supports these findings. For example, smaller restaurants like coffee shopsare estimated to use, on average, 2.5 times more energy per square foot [KH1] than any other commercial buildings.2  Having an impact can be as simple as changing a light bulb. If 20,000 cafes in the United States replaced only one incandescent light bulb with a CFL or LED, we could avoid over 7.9 million pounds of CO2 emissions each year while saving the industry a total of $677,8003.

Committing to Solutions

If saving the planet isn’t sufficient motivation, allow me to offer additional incentive. Electricity rates are rising every year and conserving energy is a great way to offset those increases. In 2012, U.S. electricity prices are expected to average 10.48 cents per kilowatt-hour, a 1.1 percent increase from 2011. Natural gas is expected to average $9.21 per thousand cubic feet in 2012, a 2.2 percent increase over 2011.4 Energy Star estimates that restaurants (including cafes) can save 5 to 15 percent on monthly utility expenses with just a few changes.

With this background, the SCAA is about to launch a new program to guide and support café operators who want to run a greener operation and find new ways to reduce costs. In partnership with Green Café Network and Food Service Technology Center, SCAA is publishing a green guide series, to be available as digital booklets, that will cover aspects of energy conservation, waste reduction and toxics reduction. The first edition on energy use is in development now and will include practical tips on lighting, appliances and refrigeration, maintenance and repair, coffee equipment, and temperature control. Supported by the Sustainability Council of SCAA, a group of café operators will be involved in a pilot to test and refine the tips, helping to tailor the guide specific to coffeehouses. Once the pilot is completed, we’ll announce more about the publication schedule. Those who are interested will have an opportunity to preview the program at The Event during the session, Green Your Café, held on Friday, April 20, 2012 from 9:00-10:15 am or a subsequent webinar (dates to be announced). Kirstin Henniger, Director of Green Café Network will detail specific and relatively simple steps an operator can take and Meredith Taylor, Manager of Peregrine Espresso, will share her personal experience working with the suggestions—demonstrating that environmental conservation and business growth aren’t necessarily at odds and that saving the planet doesn’t always equate to strain or difficulty.

Shortly after The Event, the SCAA will also announce its plans for a broader program around the green guide series that includes a mechanism for measurement offered through the SCAA’s START (sustainability tracking and reporting tool) and a recognition vehicle for participating cafes. The goal is to link simple, practical steps with a broader industry effort.

Because wouldn’t it be great if cafes could save 5–15 percent on monthly utility costs and we as an industry could boast a large-scale and coordinated reduction, displaying our leadership and commitment to the environment? I also view an opportunity to be equal partners, not just aim solutions at the effect but to address the underlying causes. I welcome a conversation with a farmer where I speak less of what s/he must do to adapt and more about the meaningful steps taken to prevent. That is not an idealistic vision. It is real, possible, and could just come down to one day where we all agree to change a light bulb.


1 Salt Spring Coffee detailed their approach to measurement on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0Qi73Xm8jc ) and Counter Culture
Coffee has publicly discussed its findings via its web site and blog (counterculturecoffee.com).

2 Retrieved from: http://www.energystar.gov/ia/business/small_business/restaurants_guide.pdf

3 Extrapolated using: http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html#results

4 Statistics found at www.fishnick.com

With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Tracy Ging has spent the bulk of her career in the coffee industry, where she has worked on both sides of the supply-chain, developing a deep understanding of the market and the trends driving it. Tracy is a Certified CSR Practicioner and currently serves as Deputy Executive Director of SCAA.