5 Steps to Make Your Coffee Shop More Sustainable

It’s no secret that consumers have taken a deep interest in caring for the climate. Recent studies show that the public expects brands to make changes in their practices that address climate change. And in many of the studies it's shown that customers are willing to pay to support brands that are active in the area. 

Built upon an agricultural product, the coffee industry has always been a target of climate-conscious consumers. If you’re just starting a coffee shop, or have been running one for years, below are 5 easy steps you can take to make your cafe more sustainable. 

Know Your Products and Partners

Most coffee shop owners have a tight list of the purveyors and suppliers they use. Start with your core product—coffee! There are a range of certifications and practices you can lean into to ensure your coffee is grown, processed and roasted with sustainability in mind. Make sure to look for certifications such as Fair Trade, Organic, Bird Friendly, Rainforest Alliance and many more. Don’t be afraid to ask your roaster about their sourcing practices and if there are programs they’re doing on the ground with producers. If you are roasting yourself, consider offsetting your emissions, or look into emission free roasters such as Bellwether or Loring machines. 

Next, check into your other purveyors. Do their values align with yours? Everything from dairy to the cups you serve your coffee in, is important in ensuring that your business is supporting your mission to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. 

Even something as simple as choosing a POS can have an impact. Companies like SumUp are part of 1% For The Planet. Working with tools like this builds sustainability into your business plan without adding cost. 

Minimize Waste

As the old saying goes, “Haste makes waste.” When we rush through our days, we create waste. Within the ecosystem of a coffee shop, things move quickly. However, that doesn’t mean we need to act fast. Install practices that slow things down for your staff, but are efficient and create a smooth barflow. This can include weighing and measuring everything from milks, coffees and syrups. This can do two things, reduce waste when making drinks as well as create consistent, quality drinks for your customers. 

If you receive pastries daily, make sure to track sales accurately to reduce waste and consider offering discounts to customers after a certain period to incentivize sales before you need to waste product. In addition to pastries, make sure to implement ways to track inventory and ordering effectively. The turnover of products is often high within a coffee shop, so it can be difficult to manage. Setup spreadsheets, integrate tools with your POS, and do whatever you can to reduce throwing things away. Not only is it good for the environment, it’s good for your bottom line.

To sum it up, find manageable ways to track your waste. Some coffee shops even make waste versions of their products to account for them in their POS and sales reports. 

Recycle, Compost and Reuse

On the subject of waste, for the things we need to toss, consider moving away from traditional landfill items to recyclable and compostable items. Everything from cups, straws, flatware and more, to composting food waste and coffee grounds. If there aren’t traditional compost services in your area, consider partnering with local gardens or community farms and donate your compostable items. Some places will even pay for this.

Although recycling and composting are a step in the right direction, when it comes to certain items—like cups—look to create circular systems! You can do things like offer a discount for customers who bring in their own cup or, as Unravel Coffee in Denver has done, offer reusable to-go wares. Rather than to-go cups, Unravel has incorporated a reusable jar system. Customers love it, and it offers a unique marketing opportunity for Unravel when seen on the streets. 

Go Energy Efficient 

There are so many things you can do behind the scenes to reduce your energy and water consumption within your business. Below are a few areas you can find easy wins that are eco-friendly and will save you money on utilities:

  1. Replace old light bulbs with energy efficient ones, and consider using LED lighting throughout your coffee shop. LEDs are great because they can reduce your energy costs and many times offer more customization options than traditional lighting. 

  2. Look into Energy Star rated appliances such as refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers. Choosing energy efficient appliances also can open up tax credits and other incentives for your business. 

  3. Look to save water through smart practices, and items such as low usage toilets. 

These are some items you can do yourself, however if you have yet to find a location for your coffee shop, consider focusing on buildings that are LEEDS certified.

Create A Culture Around Sustainability

These are just a few things you can do that will reduce your carbon footprint as a business. However, creating a culture that cares about climate and sustainability will do wonders and expand your impact outside the four walls of your business. Remember, coffee shops are community hubs and the things you do can galvanize the people you interact with to do more on their own. 

  • Promote to your customers the things you are doing, and create channels for them to do the same! 

  • Offer incentives to employees to take public transit and empower them to improve systems on the ground level to help. 

  • Partner with local businesses and community leaders to have conversations around sustainability and other topics. 

There are so many little things you can do that will add up overtime. 

At the end of the day, the climate directly impacts every cup of coffee served. As recent years have shown, hot temperatures, frosted harvests, and plant disease have all driven up prices of coffee. Implementing sustainable practices at coffee shops should be looked at as reinvesting in the coffee supply chain and in your own business for the long-term. 

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Alex Rawal