The Environmental Footprint of the Coffee Bean

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Coffee is our dearest friend and as it turns out, our second-largest environmentally-damaging foe. The number of coffee drinkers are growing globally, however this tradition does not exist without extremely adverse environmental impacts. And perhaps these impacts are largely unknown by the membership or perhaps the liquid gold outshines any possible secondary thought, however, the environmental hazards posed by coffee plantations must be shared. It is up to manufacturers and distributors to ensure their practices are free from exploitation and lasting environmental impact and to do so, inventory management practices can help.

Goodbye Shade, Hello Sun

While green-fingered enthusiasts might live by the notion that plants require sun for photosynthesis and subsequent energy production, coffee is traditionally grown under a lush canopy of trees. The environment created by this canopy is perfect for all sorts of flora and boasts a richness of nutrients that requires no added fertiliser. These traditional methods had been passed down for centuries in the coffee-growing nations, however the delicate balance of man and nature was disrupted in the 1970s by the adoption of sun cultivation. This was where swathes of forest were chopped down to make way for neat rows of coffee plants to grow in full sun, requiring the addition of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides in return for a much greater yield.

More yield equates to more produce and more jobs which can be added back into the local economy. This is a quaint idea, except the gross deforestation that preceded sun cultivation has had a dramatic and detrimental effect on the environment.

Water Wastage

Water is one of the world’s most valuable resources and unfortunately, it is largely running out. A recent report reveals that the average cup is produced with approximately 140 litres of water whether it be from irrigation, processing or the journey to the café. What is concerning, is that this number is far greater for sun-cultivated crops compared to the traditional canopy-cultivated plants.

What a Waste

The waste produced from coffee harvesting and processing is extremely worrying and poses a massive environmental threat to our world. The waste produced is derived from separating the coffee beans from the coffee cherries to produce a pulp. Back in the late 1980’s, it was estimated that in Central America 110,000 cubic metres of water was polluted each day by the coffee cherry pulp. With the increase in environmental impact and awareness, practices are improving and incorporate processes for composting pulp for use as fertiliser, steeping it to create new and exciting beverages and grinding it down to create a flour for baking.

What does all this have to do with inventory management?

A large component of effective production and inventory management is intricately understanding the product you create as well as all raw materials it is comprised of. This involves actively investigating your entire supply chain and ensuring there is transparency at every point.

It is also beneficial to decide the ethical course of the company and what sustainable practices it wants to get behind. In doing so, you are then able to seek out ethical suppliers who support your vision or encourage existing suppliers on how changes may be implemented.

Of course, any changes to raw material production or acquisition of supply can affect cost and delivery structures and therefore this all needs to built into production planning so that inventory can still be optimised. Packaging and shelf-life without chemicals and preservatives, while beneficial for the environment, can have massive effects on inventory management and utilisation in product. Therefore, any changes that are made need to be considered carefully with all effects fully accounted for. However, it is extremely important to still make these changes for global profitability and to ensure our environmental footprint is kept to a minimum.

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Melanie - Unleashed Software

Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.

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