Let me start by saying that I don’t expect you to believe what you are about to read. Why should you take an opinion of an executive of a multi-national at face value?
There was a recent quote on Reddit that opened my eyes to an unexpected truth: “April fool’s day is the one day of the year when people critically evaluate news articles before accepting them as true,” (user: kellenbrent). But shouldn’t we aspire to have this attitude every day? Let’s be critical when we are presented with a foregone conclusion. Let’s be curious about what is behind every piece of information we see or hear. Let’s leave preconceived notions at the door and be open to challenging what we believe or what may seem obvious.
So, here is the question that I want to raise: can single serve coffee be environmentally sustainable?
Let’s start with what it truly means to be sustainable, in absolute terms as well as in comparison to viable alternatives. We can measure this through life cycle assessment - looking at how a product impacts the environment all along its value chain.
In the case of portioned coffee, filter coffee is a viable alternative. The first and most obvious difference is packaging; clearly portioned coffee has more. The impact that comes from the sourcing and brewing the coffee is less immediately visible, but ultimately more important as the most significant environmental impacts of coffee consumption occur on the farm and in our kitchens.
In fact, several studies - the most recent one being Life Cycle Assessment of coffee consumption: comparison of single-serve coffee and bulk coffee brewing by Quantis Canada for PAC, Packaging Consortium – show that preparation of coffee using a portioned coffee system can have a lower environmental impact than one made using filter methods. The exact outcome depends on various parameters: the amount of water and coffee used (and potentially wasted) and the amount of energy used to heat the water. Let’s take an example - a coffee made using the Nespresso system. First, the capsule contains precisely the right amount of roast and ground coffee; second, the machine only heats the amount of water required for one cup, and guarantees the optimal extraction of the coffee aromas and flavours. The precision of the system prevents the waste which can result from traditional filter coffee preparation methods, when consumers often prepare more coffee than they wish to drink, which wastes coffee, water and energy. Precision Consumption can therefore reduce waste, and in many scenarios this more than compensates for the additional packaging used in portioned coffee system, particularly true for recyclable single serve packaging, such as Nespresso’s aluminium capsules.
Sustainability today goes beyond mitigating the negative impacts - it is about driving a positive and lasting legacy as well. That is the thinking behind our Positive Cup approach, a series of new sustainability initiatives that will create significant benefits for society, the environment and our business as well. We have announced that we are investing heavily to source 100% of our coffee sustainably, to put in place the capacity to recycle 100% of our capsules, to source 100% of virgin aluminium from responsible sources and to reach 100% carbon efficient operations.
We recognize that there is no perfect, zero impact way to consume coffee. But we should be willing to take a critical view of the facts, to look beyond the obvious and weigh the real impact of the choices we make. And my hope is that we will do this, even when we flip the calendar to 2nd April.