Industry Responds to Need for Global Water Conservation Initiatives (And What You Can do to Support the Effort)


By Samantha Veide, Global Drinks Education Manager, Mars Drinks

This issue of water and sustainability is complex. It is about water scarcity—by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions1.  It is about water despoilment—all the plastic humans have ever used and discarded still exists in one form or another, and much of it is floating in the ocean in what has come to be known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Estimates of the size of this patch range from 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 square miles) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometers (5,800,000 square miles). It is about water waste—between using water for recreational purposes like water parks and golf courses, and leaking faucets and running showers in our homes, we waste billions of gallons a year. Water is indeed crucial to addressing sustainability.


How is this issue specifically related to coffee? The coffee process depends on water. Coffee plants require it to grow. And coffee mills require it for the wet milling process necessary to produce the washed Arabicas that constitute the overwhelming majority of all specialty coffees. Furthermore, we have all probably spouted the fascinating fact to new enthusiasts in the coffee industry that, “coffee is 98-99% water.” Having water, and good quality water, is essential for producing and brewing good coffee. Though the intricacies of water and sustainability are complex, and can seem daunting, the SCAA Sustainability Council – in conjunction with the larger organization – is beginning to grapple with this issue.

Laying a Foundation for Discussion: Critical Issue Briefs

“It takes 140 liters/37 gallons of water to produce a single cup of coffee.”  –Water Footprint Network

The SCAA Sustainability Council is currently publishing Critical Issue Briefs to provide a channel for industry thought-leaders and other interested stakeholders to discuss and review issues relevant to the topic of Sustainable Coffee, and to provide guidance to SCAA members in their efforts to pursue greater sustainability in their business activities. One of the ten issues that have been identified as critical is Water Security.  Adam Kline, a Green Coffee Importer at Atlantic Specialty Coffee, and the Chair of the Sustainability Council, helped with the creation of these briefs. He explains, “There are of course critical water issues that relate to drought, water conservation, and natural resource protection. These topics are essential to life, and might be the first to come to mind when thinking about water security. However, there are certain issues that aren’t immediately apparent, but are equally crucial for any population, especially coffee-growing communities. Sanitation, for instance, is mission critical; and then you start chipping away at the layers and reveal nuances like virtual water consumption (how much water it takes to ultimately produce any product around us).“

This brief seeks to define the issue of water security, to explain how it relates to coffee specifically, lay out ways to respond to the issue, and list where to seek more reliable information on the topic. This Critical Issue Brief, along with others on topics such as Food Security, Sustainable Livelihoods and Organizational Capacity Building, are under development and will eventually be published on the SCAA website.

The Green Guide: Helping Cafes Identify Ways to Approach Water Conservation

“Remember: you [cafe owners] pay for every drop of hot water THREE times: 1) for incoming water, 2) for outgoing sewer, and 3) for the water heating energy costs. According to a recent industry study, coffee shops and specialty cafes were estimated to use approximately 300 gallons
of hot water daily!”  
-The SCAA Green Guide

Humans are over-consuming natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Around 3.5 planet Earths would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American. One of the largest places of environmental impact in the coffee supply chain is at the point of consumption; therefore, one of the activities that the Sustainability Council has undertaken is to develop a Green Guide which helps cafes make more sustainable choices.
industry1In 2010, the Barista Guild and Roasters Guild approached the Sustainability Council asking for ways to help their members address sustainability. These requests grew into the idea for the Green Guide series, a set of best sustainability practices for different parts of the coffee supply chain. The main question the Green Guide series seeks to answer is not why but rather how to become more sustainable in specific business settings. The Council has begun the series with a guide for the retail setting. The energy module of the series was published as an e-book in January 2013, and gives retailers suggestions for easy projects like lighting swaps, to guidelines for purchasing refrigeration equipment. The next module in the cafe-specific series will focus on water and how to use it most efficiently. Water plays a major role in the daily operations of a café; it can be a hidden cost because the water not only has to be purchased and disposed of, but also heated for most cafe applications. Historically, water has been so inexpensive that most retailers haven’t prioritized conservation; but water, sewer, and energy prices are all on the rise. The water module includes low and no-cost strategies like fixing leaks and installing faucet aerators as well as how to make common cafe equipment like ice machines and dish washers run most efficiently. Given the potential cost savings of 10-20% for most water conservation projects undertaken in the retail setting, efficient water use is not only environmentally sustainable, but it can also make cafes more financially sustainable.

For more information on the green guide, click here

Turning the Lens Inward: Looking at SCAA’s Event

“Bottled water produces up to 1.5 million tons of plastic waste per year. That plastic requires up to 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce. And while the plastic used to bottle beverages is of high quality and in demand by recyclers, over 80 percent of plastic bottles are simply thrown away.”  -Food and Water Watch

Plastics are just one issue that arises when one considers the environmental impact of executing large international conferences, but it is an important one. SCAA recognizes that sustainability must be seen as a key consideration at every step of the value chain, and that we must include our own performance as an organization in that analysis. In an effort to do this better, SCAA has plans to take a more intentional look at the operational impact of our events.
industry2SCAA, in partnership with the Sustainability Council, has undertaken the development of a sustainable event policy in accordance with the principles outlined in the two leading event industry standards – APEX/ASTM and ISO 20121. In order to achieve this goal, SCAA has selected Santa Monica-based Three Squares Inc., specialists in implementing sustainability plans for complex, high profile projects working within the ISO 20121 and APEX/ASTM sustainable event standards, as their consultant to develop and implement the policy.

This policy will address sustainability concerns around three major themes: Environmental Impact, Social Impact, and Leadership Legacy, and will address major areas in conference planning that tend to have significant environmental impact, such as the selection of a meeting venue, hotel and accommodations, and food and beverage. For example, one of the key items that conferences need to consider is how attendees will have access to water. SCAA’s Sustainable Event Policy proposes that attendees have access to water through main thoroughfares via water fountains or similar solutions and that all drink ware will be reusable.

Furthermore, the policy will work to select conference hotels that are using green-certified cleaning and laundry products and are implementing a linen reuse program (towels and linens in guestrooms will not be laundered for at least three days unless affirmatively requested by guest). Finally, SCAA will work to give extra consideration to hotels that demonstrate water conservation technologies.

For more information on SCAA’s work to implement a Sustainable Events Policy, click here.

The Sustainability Council recognizes that these efforts are just a start in responding to the need for a global sustainable water solution, but it is, after all, a start.

End Notes

1 FAO Water,

2 World Water Assessment Program.

industry7Samantha Veide is the Global Drinks Education Manager with Mars Drinks. She oversees the design and execution of coffee, tea and sustainability training programs in five global markets for associates and business partners. She also helps Mars liaise with the larger coffee and tea community by keeping her finger on the pulse of global trends in the beverage industry for the Innovation and Technology team. She currently serves as the Vice-Chair for the SCAA Sustainability Council. She is Q Grader certified and is currently doing post-graduate work in Sustainable Business Leadership through the University of Cambridge, U.K.