Sustainable coffee shops: Balancing business with protecting the planet

In 2022, 48% of all new coffee products carried an ethical or environmental claim – which is close to double the number from almost a decade ago (2012).

Hence, the ethos is shifting meaning sustainable coffee is becoming the new norm. And this shift is ultimately being driven by the consumer.

A 2021 research study evaluated consumer willingness to pay (WTP) for sustainable coffee. A choice experiment was designed whereby consumers could opt between conventional coffee and coffee with four sustainable attributes listed on the packaging: Organic, pesticide-free, shade-grown, and Bird Friendly certified coffee. This study found that consumers were willing to pay a premium of $2.20 for a greener product.

Hence, sustainable coffee shops are not only good for our planet, but they’re also blatantly good business.

With this in mind, we’ve created this Green Business Bureau article to act as your starter coffee shop sustainability guide, giving you 5 top tips to kick-start your sustainability program.

5 top tips to create a sustainable coffee shop

The creation of a sustainable coffee shop will go beyond the top tips given in this article. Yet, every sustainability program needs to start somewhere. And so we’ve summarized our 5 top tips to kick-start your sustainable coffee shop brand.

Tip #1: Source coffee beans from certified sustainable suppliers

When choosing coffee beans to source for your coffee shop, look for certifications such as organic, Fairtrade, UTZ, or Rainforest Alliance. All of the aforementioned certifications ensure a high standard of environmental and social practices. Sustainably grown coffee looks to conserve the environment and provides better livelihoods for the people that grow and process it.

One other commitment you can make is to join the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, which is an initiative that’s working to make coffee a completely sustainable product by uniting and educating farmers, roasters, and retailers alike. Join names like Starbucks, Dunkin’, Mcdonald’s, and hundreds of others in this effort to keep up with the demand for coffee in a sustainable fashion.

Tip #2: Encourage the use of reusable coffee cups

Incentivize customers to bring in their own reusable containers for their coffee by offering a discount on their order. This is also a great opportunity to sell branded merchandise that customers will be inclined to purchase upon learning about the possible discount. Your aim is to significantly decrease – or eliminate – the number of single-use cups you’re distributing to eliminate waste from your business.

One business championing this tip is Green Business Bureau member Coffee Cup Collective. Members of Coffee Cup Collective have access to check out a cup at participating cafes, enjoy their coffee, and then return the cup to one of the drop-off stations. The Coffee Cup Collective team then collects the dirty cups, washes and sanitizes them, and then redistributes the cups for reuse.

Tip #3: Utilize energy-efficient lighting and appliances

Switch to LED lightbulbs

LED light bulbs are 80% more efficient compared to their incandescent counterparts. They also don’t waste energy as heat, which not only saves energy but is also much safer for your coffee shop, minimizing the risk of fires.

Use water-saving devices

  • Implement water-efficient faucets or low-flow faucets in restrooms and the kitchen areas.
  • Upgrade to water-saving and Energy-Star dishwashers. Make sure the dishwasher is full before running the appliance.
  • Serve filtered water only on command.
  • Upgrade to water-saving toilets such as two-stage flush system toilets, which use about 20% less water per year than conventional one-flush-only toilets.

Use energy-efficient appliances

Make the switch to use Energy Star Appliances, which can save you 10-15% of the energy required (depending on the comparison model). For instance, Energy Star refrigerators typically save ~9% more energy than non-certified models.

Tip #4: Minimize food waste

The US produces 125 to 160 billion pounds of food waste every year, much of which is edible, and thrown out far before it’s close to spoiling. The easiest way to minimize this waste in your coffee shop is by tracking your food waste. If an item is constantly getting thrown out, keep an inventory of that item and be more conscious during production or repurchasing.

Another way to reduce food waste is to mark down items near expiration. For example, if you mark down a day-old pastry by 40%, you’re still profiting off an item that would have otherwise been thrown out.

Alternatively, all edible food items within their date of expiration could be donated to food pantries (or other local organizations addressing food insecurity). This not only helps you tackle food waste but also supports your community.

And finally, a compost bin is a perfect place to dispose of any food scraps and especially wet coffee grounds that you are destined to produce in large quantities. Bonus points if you get in touch with a local farmer who can repurpose your composted coffee grounds as fertilizer for their crops. Check for composting options near you

Tip #5: Work to eliminate single-use plastics

Water bottles, coffee cup lids, straws, bags, cutlery, takeaway containers, and food wrapping – these are all common sources of problematic single-use plastic pollution. A sustainable coffee shop needs to take accountability for their plastic waste, by reducing packaging and seeking alternative materials.

Your first step would be to look to swap single-use plastics for alternative materials like paper and cardboard – such material is easily recycled and biodegradable. In the global fight against plastic waste, today we’re seeing a plethora of plastic packaging alternatives come to the market – alternatives that are biodegradable and don’t hold a high carbon footprint. Examples include cornstarch (the new polystyrene) and mushroom packaging. Check out the below Green Business Bureau articles which cover alternative forms of packaging:

Certify your green efforts with the Green Business Bureau

As previously mentioned, the 5 tips given in this article serve as a primer, to kick-start your sustainability program. That is, creating a sustainable coffee shop is not limited to these tips. Rather, sustainability should be viewed as a continuum, where operations can progressively be improved with the introduction of new green initiatives.

In this sense, your sustainability program can quickly become complex. And so you need a means of documenting what green initiatives have been introduced, tracking your progress, measuring results and creating transparency for stakeholders. Once more, you need a comprehensive guide, one that will give context as to where you’re at now and set future sustainability goals. And this is where the Green Business Bureau (GBB) steps in.

GBB’s EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment host over 400 green initiatives covering a wide range of industries to help organizations establish more sustainable operations. In this sense, GBB is your guide to creating a greener company. Once more, GBB documents your achievements, which are visible to stakeholders via a member’s EcoProfile. Order initiatives by cost and effort, set your green goals, and get certified for your achievements with the Green Business Bureau.

Click here for more information on the Green Business Bureau and how to get started!

Grace is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. She is passionate about environmentalism and sustainability, especially in regard to the fashion industry. In her free time, she loves to be with her friends, family, and dog, Leo. She also enjoys reading, cooking, and creating art!

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