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Coffee’s Grande Water Footprint

| Monday August 22nd, 2011 | 2 Comments

In a world of depleting resources, the onus to think about consumption is not just on the manufacturer but also the consumer. There are many everyday items that take up natural resources that you might not think about. Take for example your morning coffee – have you ever wondered about the footprint of this little drink we all take for granted? Every sip translates to land, water, labour, food miles and carbon emissions.

Water is probably the most important component of food production. According to a recent article in The Guardian by Jason Clay from WWF, it takes only 0.05 litres to brew a cup of coffee, for example. But it takes a lot more to make the plastic lid (2.5 litres) as well as the paper cup and sleeve (5.6 litres) it comes in. It takes water to process the coffee and grow the sugar (7.6 litres). But it takes the most water to produce the milk (49.4 litres) and actually grow the coffee beans (142.8 litres) needed to make that single drink. Most of the water that goes into the drink is invisible i.e., the consumer doesn’t actually get to see it because it belongs to the back processes of the final product that they hold in their hands. In sum total, it takes more than 200 litres of water to make the average grande latte.

Within the final product, there are several components, each with a different variable.  For example,  coffee grown in Vietnam may use more water than coffee grown in Peru. A coffee shop only has control over the amount of water it uses within its premises and consumers have even lesser control over the water footprint of their drink. The key to effective production is the relationship between all these variables. Clay states that:

“On a finite planet, we shouldn’t be trying to maximise one variable. Rather we should try to optimise several. For a grande latte, how much land it takes may be key, how much soil is lost, how many greenhouse gases are produced and whether the producers can afford to feed their children with the money they make from producing coffee, milk or sugar are also important. And, it is not as simple as getting a number for each ingredient and adding them up. Each pound of coffee will be different as will each liter of milk. In short, an index would be more insightful than a single number.”

It is a well known fact that we are living beyond the Earth’s carrying capacity. By 2050 we will have 2-3 billion more people and they will all be consuming more and earning more. Therefore, we have to learn to do more with less. Current methods of thinking and resource management isn’t exactly projecting an encouraging picture for the future.

We need to learn to think about our products and resources differently and start setting higher standards for sustainability. Every product should be better than the last in terms of resource use. It is not enough to be ‘less bad’, we need to get better at being good. Being awesome even; because sustainability is no longer a choice.

Image Credit: Coffee. Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©



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  • brett

    That’s why euthanasia is the answer. Everyone over the age of the 30 should be ‘expired’, and people should never be allowed to have children.

    Footprint solved.

  • Gilsan

    Damn, now every time I drink my cup of coffee I start thinking of all the resources I’m using. At least I’m happy to inform the world that I like my coffee black with NO sugar. Is that more acceptable?