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Last week, Dr. Dave Reay, senior lecturer in carbon management at Edinburgh University, issued a study where he calculates that ‘standard’ drip-brewed coffee is responsible for 50 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than its less expensive instant equivalent.
He writes that the average cup of standard coffee is responsible for 125 grams of carbon emissions, but that of an average cup of instant coffee is around 80 grams. His reasoning? First, instant coffee is less bulky, requiring less energy to transport over long distances. Second, the cultivating and roasting of regular coffee creates a higher level of emission than the production of instant coffee. In the most shocking revelation, Dr. Reay stated that a person who consumes six cups a day accumulates 175 kg of carbon dioxide a year, or the equivalent of a flight from London to Rome.
This conflicts with the “green” image that major coffee chains are touting. “As part of Starbucks Shared Planet, we are continuing our ten-year partnership with Conservation International, a non-profit environmental organization that aims to protect life on earth.”
Now, I’m no scientist. So I don’t have an intelligent opinion on this subject. But, I do have an opinion. I’m not switching to instant coffee to reduce my carbon footprint.
It’s not that I don’t want to do my part and protect the environment, only that I won’t do so on the weight of a single report. It isn’t a strong argument until you’ve heard from the other side and while I commend Dr. Reay for taking on this task, I doubt it will get enough mainstream attention to prompt a response. Until it does, I live my life as I did before the report, as interesting as it was to read.
I understand the idea that a little litter is not the problem, it’s the accumulation of litter and I can take steps to reduce my footprint. However, could even the world’s entire coffee drinking people make that much impact by switching to instant coffee? You might say yes, by a third since each cup is only producing 80 grams. But whether right or wrong, I was once told that the international meat industry is responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Something tells me I could reduce my meat intake by a third and have a much more profound effect. That’s the problem with these single-study reports, they put the likes of Starbucks in the corner to account for their harmful impact on the environment, but it’s taken out of the context of bigger priorities.
I like how Starbucks handled it. A single statement to acknowledge that the report was read and to reiterate their commitment to green and fair trade practices. I think the report is interesting, even if it doesn’t impact my coffee drinking.