But what does it mean to become carbon neutral? It means the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that we generate through the daily activities of our global operations are offset by an equal amount of carbon sequestration. This can be achieved through several ways, such as buying carbon credits, buying power from renewable sources such as solar or wind farms, or by planting trees. In order to achieve carbon neutrality, it is also important to identify ways of reducing the greenhouse gases emitted by a company, such as by using more energy efficient machines, reducing all forms of travel, or using more sustainable packaging materials.
Measuring Our Carbon Footprint
The first step towards carbon neutrality is to measure your carbon footprint for a given year. All the daily activities of our operations have an effect on the environment. For example, work commutes, business travel, land and sea freight, waste generation, and the purchase of goods and services, which, of course, includes purchasing parchment/green coffee.
We started measuring our carbon footprint in 2017 and have slowly improved our understanding and measurement of it. Last year we partnered with Climate Neutral, an independent non-profit organization, to improve our calculation methodology. By using their CO2 calculator, in 2019 our total emissions were revised upwards a staggering 60 times compared to the previous year, from 660 tons of CO2e to 39,186 tons of CO2e.
The primary factor driving this increase was the inclusion of the carbon footprint related to our green coffee purchases. It is estimated that the production of a kg of green coffee, from seed to export, releases on average almost 2.0 kg of CO2e, half of which is emitted at the farm level, with the balance being generated via processing, milling and export. For example, coffee trees require fertilizer, which releases nitrogen and other greenhouse gases to the environment. Even the pruning or stumping of coffee trees contributes to the positive carbon footprint of coffee production.
Realizing that almost all our carbon footprint is due to the coffee we purchase and sell has made us redouble our efforts into finding ways of reducing the carbon footprint at the farm level. To that effect, in collaboration with the NGO Solidaridad, we are currently undertaking a study with 50 coffee farmers in Planadas, Tolima to calculate and compare the carbon footprint of organic farms vs conventional farms. With that information, we can better understand where emission reductions on coffee farms are more easily achieved. As part of that project, we are also supporting the establishment of native tree nurseries in Planadas so that these coffee farmers can undertake reforestation projects in their farms.
Reducing and Offsetting our Carbon Footprint
Becoming carbon neutral implies coming up with internal strategies and mitigation measures to become more efficient in terms of energy, water, and gas consumption, among others. Last year we carried out important changes in our dry mill facility in Colombia focusing on improving energy efficiency, replacing most of the sorting equipment with updated, energy efficient machines, and installing solar panels on the roof our dry mill. These two upgrades helped us reduce our energy consumption in Colombia by 12.2%. This year we completed the installation of a second dry milling line dedicated to smaller lots and microlots, thereby reducing energy requirements while increasing the productivity and efficiency of the plant.
Despite all the internal measures that we have taken to become more energy efficient and reduce our carbon footprint, it is practically impossible to become carbon neutral through these steps alone. For this reason, this year we partnered with Mas Bosques, a Colombian NGO that promotes the conservation and efficient usage of natural resources. Among their services is the BanCO2 platform, which facilitates the purchase of carbon credits from small-scale farmers around Colombia who focus on the conservation and protection of forests and the biodiversity of their lands.
Through this platform, and with the support of the Corporacion Autonoma Regional de Risaralda (CARDER), we acquired carbon credits to offset 2,700 tons of CO2e, which corresponds to our carbon footprint excluding the purchase of green coffee. Income from these credits provided direct economic support to 12 families living in the municipalities of Apia, Balboa, Belen de Umbria, and La Celia in the department of Risaralda, helping them to continue preserving over 23 hectares of native forests that are carbon sinks.
A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit these families, and we were amazed by their enthusiasm for protecting their forests and the biodiversity of their lands and neighbor lands. These families are committed to being the guardians and keepers of these areas. Best of all, most of these farms also cultivate coffee and cacao. Our PECA leader, Hector Calderón, took advantage of his visit to do what we know best: discuss the nature of specialty coffee production and provide recommendations to improve the quality of their coffee. We are keen to try their coffees and potentially even purchase their coffee at premium prices to further increase their incomes. We are deeply thankful to each one of these families for their extraordinary work protecting the environment. Their dedication motivates us to continue working towards our 2025 goal.
Since we still have a lot to do to achieve carbon neutrality, we are now creating a strategy to help families in the regions where we source coffee who also have forest to protect. We will also be collaborating with some of our farmer partners in Cauca, Huila, and Nariño who want to reforest some of their land with native trees, thereby promoting biodiversity and the creation of biological zones within coffee production areas, potentially increasing their incomes through the sale of carbon credits.
We understand that our 2025 goal is ambitious. Emissions related to green coffee far outweigh our direct emissions, and even vast efforts to reduce them will never accomplish carbon neutrality at the farm level without significant investment in money and resources. We are equally conscious that it won’t be achievable without the active collaboration and commitment of the entire industry: coffee growers, roasters, consumers and NGO’s. We invite you to follow our journey to carbon neutrality and, if possible, help us on our path by reaching out in case you want to support our efforts to preserve the wellbeing of our planet and to create a more sustainable coffee industry.
Watch the recording of last week’s webinar “Is it Just the Caffeine? What keeps a Customer Choosing You?”
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