Becoming Scotland’s First Carbon Neutral Roasters

As the pressure from civil society to tackle the global threat of climate change gathers pace individuals, businesses and governments are finally starting to take real action. Last week the prime minister took the step of committing to the UK reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. But grand targets aren’t going to make the difference alone. We all have to take responsibility for our carbon footprint and the impact we are having on our own futures. 

As a small wholesale coffee roastery in Aberfeldy we have always been aware of the long distances that coffee has to travel from green beans in producer countries to cups of coffee in the cafes we supply across Scotland. So last year we launched an innovate project with local secondary school Breadalbane Academy to make a detailed assessment of our carbon footprint over a 12 month period (April 2017 – April 2018).

We have worked with one senior pupil at the school, Jay Anderson, to carry out this research as part of his Scottish Science Baccalaureate course. Jay’s brief was to research the carbon cost of shipping green coffee from origin countries, to the roasting and delivery of roasted beans to the cafes we supply. Jay also factored in daily staff commutes to work and international trips to coffee origins.

As well as providing us with a detailed carbon audit of our business, Jay developed a software program that we hope to share with other roasters across the UK. This software allows coffee roasting businesses to input all the raw data of their activities, including coffee transport, energy usage in roasting coffee and the day to day running of a business premises. This software (currently in the final stages of development) aims to give accurate figures for the coffee roasters’ carbon footprint, allowing them implement and track measures to reduce their carbon outputs year on year. 

Some of the most interesting findings from this research are: 

  • Shipping is often quoted as a low impact form of transport and yet tanker ships use low grade ‘bunker fuel’ with high sulphur content that has a much greater impact on the planet than other fuels.  
  • Shipping on the high seas is not counted in country assessment of carbon emissions. Governments are therefore not accounting for the true carbon cost of international trade. 
  • Small businesses rarely make assessments of their carbon footprint, so there is very little comparable data available for analysis.
  • Predicting how much CO2 a tree is likely to absorb is not an exact science, as there are so many factors to take into account. We settled on a figure of 900kg of carbon over a 40 year period, based on a study by University of North Carolina University (UNC Carbon Capture Group).
  • Jay’s research highlighted a number of variables so he ended up having to make some educated estimates. To try and take account of this we revised our calculation upwards (10% buffer) so that our final assessment would not underestimate our carbon footprint.  

The initial results from this research estimates that Glen Lyon Coffee was responsible for the production of a total of almost two hundred tons (189,852 kg)of carbon over the 12 month study period. This was revised down after research into proportion of green energy generated by our electricity supplier. To offset the carbon produced in this period we ended up concluding that we would need to plant and maintain 180 trees.

As an initial step towards tackling our carbon footprint we have already planted 155 native trees (mainly rowan, birch and scots pine) in Inverness-shire with the charity Trees for Life in 2018. In October this year we will return with Trees for life to plant a further 180 trees in Glen Affric. We will continue to plant a corresponding number of trees to offset our usage year on year which to the best of our knowledge would make us the first carbon neutral coffee roaster in Scotland. As well as doing our best to run a carbon neutral business we are thrilled to be making this contribution to Trees for Life’s effort to re-wild Scotland. 

We are working hard to both reduce our carbon footprint together with the amount of waste we produce.  We switched over to a fully electric car (Nissan Leaf) for all of our local deliveries in June 2018. On the packaging front we have gone over to 100% compostable kilo coffee bags this year as another step to our commitment to zero waste. 

This has been a complex project that threw up as many questions as answers. As we struggle even to come to terms with the terrible impact that climate change is having on the planet it would be great to see all businesses small and large carry out this exercise. There really shouldn’t be any exceptions or excuses. As carbon polluters we have to take responsibility for our carbon footprint and do what we can to help build a low carbon future.

Breadalbane Academy student Jay Anderson who has developed a software program to give accurate figures for coffee roasters’ carbon footprint.