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Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshot

Coffee's Grande Water Footprint

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 ©


Akhila Vijayaraghavan headshotAkhila Vijayaraghavan

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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