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Three cups of coffee, that's how much Mr and Mrs Swiss drink. Every day. With an average of 1069 cups per capita per year, we rank fourth in the world in terms of coffee consumption - only Norway (1460 cups), Germany (1300) and Austria (1147) have a higher average.
The fact that we are not only among the world's leaders in the consumption of chocolate and cheese, but also of coffee, has changed little in recent years. Gone, however, are the days when people didn't care in the least what they drank. This is one of the reasons why micro-roasting shops are in vogue. There are now more than 80 such small businesses in Switzerland, which thrive on the fact that coffee drinkers have become more demanding; they want less mass-produced coffee and more special brands, and are also prepared to pay more for them.
Sustainable coffee - is that even possible?
The label "sustainable" has become more important for mocha and co. But while today many people know that their daily cup is not one of the most resource-conserving habits, most fail to realise something crucial: just because they buy the coffee at the local roastery and carry it home in a jute bag does not make it sustainable. In fact, truly sustainable coffee does not even exist.
The most obvious (ecological) reasons are evident: to produce one cup (!) of espresso - from irrigation to processing to transport and preparation - you need 140 litres of water, i.e. a whole bathtub full. This makes coffee the second most water-intensive food after cocoa. Besides, the beans don't grow around the corner, not even those from the most trusted roastery. Most of the coffee that leaves our machines originates from countries in the "coffee belt" around the equator, where the conditions for growing the delicate coffee plant are right: Brazil, Colombia or Vietnam. Anyone who has followed the climate debate in recent years knows that people who travel usually leave behind a large carbon footprint.
«If we don't measure out the ground coffee correctly, throw away residues or operate the machine the wrong way, our coffee has a significantly higher impact on the environment.»
Wie man Kaffee nachhaltiger trinkt
How to drink coffee in a more sustainable way
So what is the actual situation when it comes to coffee? The Swiss company Nespresso wanted to know in detail and commissioned the sustainability consulting group Quantis in 2020 to draw up a life cycle assessment for an espresso consumed in Switzerland. The consultancy, which specialises in sustainability, looked at the entire life cycle analysis of coffee, from the extraction of all raw materials to the brewing of the coffee to the disposal of the packaging.
The experts concluded that a 40 ml cup of Nespresso Professional coffee produces about 80 g of CO2 equivalents*. Most of this (around 45 per cent) is produced - unsurprisingly - by the cultivation and irrigation of the green coffee and the transport of the beans. Coffee preparation, i.e. which cups we use or how we portion and brew the coffee, comes in second place with 37 percent. In other words, if we don't measure out the ground coffee correctly, throw away residues or operate the machine the wrong way, our coffee has a significantly higher impact on the environment.
Why you can drink coffee with a clear conscience
This fact is precisely one of the reasons why the study gives Nespresso a good report card. "By using a precise amount of coffee and energy, the Nespresso system avoids overuse that might occur with other systems, thus reducing the risk of waste", says Sébastien Humbert, scientific director and sustainability consultant at Quantis. If you are wondering how the often-maligned aluminium capsules are faring: at eight per cent, packaging apparently has a relatively small impact on the environment. If the capsules are recycled, which has been possible in Switzerland since 1991, the so-called end-of-life factor even has a positive effect on the overall balance of minus four per cent. This is because, according to Humbert, "the aluminium in the capsules can be completely recycled after use and the coffee recovered for the production of compost or biogas".
*CO equivalents (CO₂e) are a unit of measurement for standardising the climate impact of the different greenhouse gases.