Sustainability is a ubiquitous word; if we can more accurately understand its definition then we can start to consider the principles in the context of the coffee sector.
Sustainability is focused on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social—also known informally as profits, planet, and people. Let’s review these points…
A complex supply chain
The coffee supply chain is complex and very different in each producing country. To take a very broad view of the extremes: Brazil is characterised by enormous farms; the construction of which was largely supported by slave labour. In Africa disparate co-operatives act on behalf of hundreds of farmers and their tiny plots of land. It’s therefore very difficult to consistently and accurately track the distribution of funds from your cup down the chain back to the farmer via the network of importers, exporters, processing plants, co-operatives etc. What we do know for certain is that there are two models in play within the coffee sector.
Two grades of coffee
The ‘vicious circle’, which is where farmers sell Commodity grade coffee which is locked to the ‘C’ price set at the New York Stock Exchange, which often results in coffee revenues for the farmers that are below the cost of production. This means no funds are available to invest at a farm level so quality remains poor, families suffer hardship and future generations move away from coffee farming. Amamus simply doesn’t support this, so we don’t supply any Commodity grade coffee.
The ‘virtuous circle’ is coffee sold via the Specialty sector where the price paid is linked to quality. The higher prices mean additional revenue that can be invested to continually improve coffee quality and the lives of people living and working in coffee communities. amamus believes this is the only way to consume and enjoy coffee. We help clients understand their Specialty options and provide details on the origin of their coffee.
The Fairtrade Organisation have worked hard over the years to secure a guaranteed price for farmers; but this cost is still often too low and isn’t linked to quality or taste of the coffee. amamus promises exceptional quality and taste to our clients; so buying Fairtrade simply narrows our choice of farmers to those who are able or willing to pay for accreditation.
Arabica coffee shrubs grow best in shady environments, which means well-run plantations often support a wonderful diversity of flora and fauna. Being a naturally growing plant, coffee naturally absorbs carbon dioxide over its life. However, the most common ‘natural’ process of removing the skin and flesh from around the bean requires large quantities of water. In the past many farms have polluted local water systems by irresponsibly discharging waste water. In farms where there is sufficient investment available, recycling initiatives have been implemented that allow the coffee waste to be re-used as fertiliser and cleaned water to be re-used for processing.
This organisation recently combined with UTZ to create a powerful body promoting sustainable agricultural practice. The focus is on how farms are managed, with certification being awarded to farms that meet the standards of their Sustainable Agricultural Standard. Where we can amamus supports farms accredited with these standards. For example our Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is accredited.
Three of the biggest environmental challenges the coffee industry faces are…
Deforestation – slash and burn activity clears land for farming cheap Robusta coffee, which is generally blended into other poor quality coffee. Large spaces with no shade trees allows for increased mechanisation with a devastating environmental impact. Soil erosion, removal of natural habitats for wildlife, reduced absorption of carbon dioxide are just some of the negative effects.
Transportation of coffee – the truth is that just a fraction of coffee grown is consumed in the producing countries. Coffee can only be grown in a narrow band across the globe, between the tropics, so most is sent for export on polluting ships around the world. At the moment there’s really no way around this apart from a carbon off-setting programme to help reduce the impact of fossil fuels being burned. amamus is researching the options available to see if we can make a positive impact in this space.
The other transportation impact is delivery to clients from our roasteries. Some of our roasters deliver to local clients in returnable containers on a bicycle (preferred) but for most clients we use courier companies who are doing multiple drops to carefully planned routes.
Single use plastics – roasted coffee is generally delivered in 1KG bags that are plastic and aluminium-lined to lock in the freshness. Scientific research has proven that this type of bag indeed extends the freshness – particularly when coffee is being sold via retail and sat on racking through the supply chain. But there is a significant environmental cost as this type of bag won’t breakdown and therefore ends up in landfill. amamus roasts to order then delivers in fully compostable bags, which can be disposed of with your used coffee grounds in household compost. We have found that provided your roasted whole-bean coffee is used within 4 weeks of delivery then there’s no perceptible staling.
We are committed
amamus is a young progressive company and we take our environmental responsibilities seriously – we aren’t locked into historic methods of roasting and distributing coffee. We are always seeking better ways to do business that will make our children proud. Our approach chimes with clients who also have their own sustainability agenda – for example Colten Care who are seeking to remove single-use plastic from their business. Working with Colten we tested and developed the compostable bags across their estate of 21 care homes.
We are also seeking B-Corp certification to validate our commitment to a sustainable coffee production for businesses.
Please get in touch with us if you’re seeking to extend your sustainability agenda across your business or have more questions around ‘what is sustainable coffee?’. amamus have proven that it’s possible to enjoy better coffee that’s produced, roasted and delivered using more sustainable methods. We can prove the origin of your coffee and welcome clients to visit our roastery and see the sacks of green beans we’re roasting. We believe transparency is the best way to pursue our sustainable coffee agenda.