Finding the most accurate way to measure the environmental impact of coffee

The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) commissioned the French Agricultural Research Center for International Development (CIRAD) to review current processes for green coffee – the raw seeds of coffee cherries that have not yet been roasted – with the aim of creating a clearer picture of how to measure environmental impact.

The carbon footprint of green coffee can vary widely: depending on a wide range of factors from the level of nitrogen fertilizer used to the emissions produced by decomposing waste products, such as coffee husks.

But the key principle for creating accurate LCAs is ‘absolute transparency’ across the supply chain, says the ISIC.

Assessing 234 coffee systems

Coffee is produced in a number of countries with very different ecosystems: ranging from Brazil to Colombia to Vietnam to Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, different ways of calculating LCAs mean that estimates of estimates of environmental impacts can vary enormously.

In its review, CIRAD identified and reviewed 34 studies covering 234 coffee systems, alongside international agricultural guidelines, on measuring carbon footprints.

These studies were representative of the different regions and settings coffee is grown in (for example, 72% of the studied farm systems were located in central and south America, which aligns with the 70% of global coffee produced in this region).

Assessing the body of LCA studies illustrated to researchers just how diverse coffee systems are: but also ‘diverging assumptions’ and a lack of quality data in some areas.