• Product Carbon Footprints or PCFs

    Industry in developed countries, including the coffee industry, is increasingly looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint but, if the footprint cannot be reliably measured, how can it be managed?


    Product Carbon Footprint describes the sum of greenhouse gases accumulated during the full life cycle of a product (good or service) in a specified application.

    This definition was developed by participants in the PCF Pilot Project Germany, an initiative that aims to draw up recommendations for the methodical development and international coordination for implementing a transparent and scientifically substantiated method for measuring Product Carbon Footprints. With the added objective to adapt this within the coffee community to a common or at least a benchmark standard that will facilitate PCF measuring by coffee growers and others. *

    Example of a PCF analysis in the coffee value chain

    A pilot study, entitled Privat Kaffee Rarity Machare, has been carried out on Tanzanian coffee. The results, together with other reports, are available at http://www.pcf-projekt.de/main/results/case-studies

    The major German roaster Tchibo GmbH - www.tchibo.com - partnered in this study which identifies a number of stages in the coffee chain as contributors to emissions to the air, to the water and to the soil and offers schematic overviews of what takes place where, and what generates what in terms of GHG.

    Of interest here is of course:

    • The contribution to GHG emissions of the different processes within the producing country, i.e. on-farm cultivation, processing, transport, milling, packaging.
    • And within the consuming end of the chain, i.e. overseas transportation, roasting, packaging, distribution, grinding/purchasing, consumption and waste disposal.


    The authors conclude that in this particular case study the on-farm processes (production/processing and upstream processes, including the production of agro-chemicals) and the actual consumer phase (shopping, preparation) are the main CO2 emission drivers. They point out however that the production methods on the two farms studied are of a very high standard and more conventional production systems may produce different results. Nevertheless, the study offers detailed insight in the PCF analysis process and should be of considerable interest to the industry at large.

    The authors also comment that in many instances it is difficult to trace individual coffees back to their original production site given that so much coffee is mixed at origin and is shipped overseas in bulk. They recommend that the coffee industry should develop harmonized standards for compensation methods within the coffee chain and stress the importance of ensuring both transparency and credibility when it comes to making public statements regarding PCFs.

    Some examples of individual initiatives to reduce PCFs

    To see how one small individual roaster reduced their company's carbon footprint visit www.bewleys.com. This company reduced its contribution to GHG emissions through a number of internal measures and purchased carbon credits to cover the remainder as evidenced by the Carbon Neutral Certificate that is available on their website.

    The Nestlé Company currently uses some 800,000 tonnes of coffee grounds produced by 20 soluble plants worldwide as supplemental fuel, instead of sending it to landfills as in the past.

    Nestlé in the US works with a producer of fireplace logs who uses Nestlé's spent coffee grounds to produce and market "coffee firelogs" for use in domestic fireplaces. More information on this product can be found at http://www.pinemountainbrands.com/

    The same company's 'Creating Shared Value Report' offers insight in how Nestlé deals with environmental issues generally. Other major roasting companies as the Sara Lee Corporation - www.saralee.com, and Kraft Foods - www.kraftfoods.com offer similar web-based information.

    To note here that the Carbon Disclosure Project collects information on the carbon footprint of some 2,500 large companies worldwide, including the world's leading multi-national roasting companies. Participants measure and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and climate change strategies through CDP, in order that they can set reduction targets and make performance improvements. To access these reports one has to register with the CD project.

    Of course there are many initiatives that deal with PCF reduction in industry generally, not limited to coffee. Slower vessel speeds, more efficient use of transport, using recycled packaging material, cleaner fuels, reduced energy use etc.. but these are not within the scope of this discussion.

    *Currently there is a lack of consistency in methods for calculation and reporting of PCFs, meaning that it can be difficult to compare published footprints. See www.carbontrust.co.uk for more.

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