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Grounds for optimism

Tayla Ansell looks at three companies offering sustainable choices for coffee drinkers.

The UK is no longer just a nation of tea drinkers, with consumer demand driving a 20-fold increase in the number of coffee shops in the last 17 years, according to analysis from CBRE. The coffee chain revolution has had an impact in offices, too, creating demand for more choice and higher quality drinks. But have changing tastes had a detrimental effect on the environment?

In-house or take-out?

The UK is no longer just a nation of tea drinkers, with consumer demand driving a 20-fold increase in the number of coffee shops in the last 17 years
The UK is no longer just a nation of tea drinkers, with consumer demand driving a 20-fold increase in the number of coffee shops in the last 17 years

A recent survey by the Office Coffee Company suggests that office workers are increasingly heading to the high street for their hot drinks. More than half (53%) of office workers admit to leaving the office during the working day to purchase a hot drink (up from 40% in the 2015 survey). Four out ten say they are unable to have their preferred hot drink at work.

In addition to time wasted away from the office (see article opposite), the use of High Street chains has an environmental cost. In satisfying the huge demand for take-away coffee, major coffee shops hand out billions of disposable coffee cups each year, very few of which end up being recycled.

Carbon Clear, a provider of carbon and energy management and sustainability services, has examined the environmental impact of paper, polystyrene and ceramic cups through their lifetime, including manufacture, use, re-use and disposal, and concludes that ceramic cups are the environmentally responsible choice – and the better choice financially.

Making sure the office kitchen is stocked with a choice of good quality hot drinks and plenty of ceramic mugs could encourage more employees to make their coffee at work.

Bean vs. pod

Coffee-pod machines are increasingly popular in the UK, but brewing coffee using single use coffee pods or capsules is environmentally problematic. The German city of Hamburg has even gone so far as to ban coffee pods from state-run buildings.

Honest Coffees, a company that provides coffee machines and Fairtrade coffee for offices, is a strong proponent of using bean-to-cup machines rather than single serve pod solutions, primarily for reasons of sustainability.

In a series of blog posts, the company highlights the environmental impact of plastic and aluminium pods, which, being made from a mix of materials, aren’t easy to recycle and are piling up in UK landfill sites. It points out that bean-to-cup machines are just as convenient as pods and, with no capsule to insert and remove, just as quick to use. It also argues that the taste and quality of freshly ground coffee is superior to that of coffee from a pod.

Honest Coffees managing director and co-founder Wyatt Cavalier said: “The best advice we can give is to ditch the nespresso machines and go for a bean-to-cup option. You can pick your own (Fairtrade and organic) coffee; it’s easier to use and clean; and it’s massively better for the environment. Really, the only thing pods have going for them is George Clooney!”

Waste not want not

The Office Coffee Company is encouraging businesses to go a step further and start recycling waste coffee grounds in the interests of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

In its latest how green is your office survey, over 65% of respondents said their office ‘could do more’ to be environmentally friendly. The research found that recycling of food waste, particularly coffee grounds, is low in offices.

Bucking this trend, the Office Coffee Company recently launched a coffee grounds recycling service for clients in Greater London. The service is being delivered in partnership with bio-bean, an award-winning clean technology company that has industrialised the process of recycling waste coffee grounds into advanced biofuels.

Arthur Kay, founder and CEO of biobean, said: “I came up with the idea for bio-bean whilst studying architecture at The Bartlett, UCL. Set the task of designing a coffee shop, I realised that coffee was being wasted everywhere and set out to address the problem.”

Today, the company works with coffee shops, office blocks, transport hubs and instant coffee factories, collecting their waste coffee grounds and converting them into useful biofuels that it then supplies back to the producers of the waste.

In addition, bio-bean recently launched a new product for the general public. Coffee Logs are biomass briquettes that can be used as a clean and sustainable alternative to wood and coal in appliances such as wood burning ovens, stoves, BBQs, chinemeas and open fires at home. Recently, the company has been raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign to help them produce the briquettes on a larger scale.

There’s a lot to consider in making your coffee habit greener – where the coffee is from, how you make it, what you drink it from, how you dispose of waste. Encouraging sustainable and ethical habits in the office, where a lot of coffee is consumed, is a great place to start making a difference.

Business Info Magazine & Site is Published by Kingswood Media 2022