Earth Day: A more sustainable brew with Grind Coffee

Coffee fields

On Earth Day, we discuss what makes a more sustainable morning brew

By Anastasia Miari

Is the cup that fuels your morning productivity sustainable? It might not be a question we ask ourselves when we’re knocking back that espresso. But sustainability isn’t a new topic to those working in the coffee sector. Dating back to 1962 and the very first International Coffee Agreement, sustainability and fair trade in an industry that sees so many third-world workers exploited has been a pervasive issue. Since then, the global coffee market has grown to be worth more than US$400b globally. 

In recent years, with the convenience of coffee machines tucked into kitchens all over the western world has come the inconvenience of the coffee capsules. Around 39,000 of these little pods are produced every minute and 29,000 end up in landfill at the same rate. 

While environmentalists and campaigners for a greener planet might then opt for a filter coffee to avoid adding to our plastic waste, the capsule (done right) could well be the answer to our sustainable coffee quandaries. 

In terms of energy (after the growing, harvesting and transporting of beans to their end destination), a barista-type brew uses more energy than if you make a coffee with a capsule. It’s more energy efficient to heat just enough water for one portion with a machine instead of boiling a kettle for an instant cup of Nescafé.

Plastic waste is an issue, but experts have found that the greater environmental impacts of our coffee consumption begins right at the very source of the chain, when farming and harvesting the beans. Feeding our coffee habits has an effect on water availability, local ecosystems and climate change – all of that before the bean is even picked and transported thousands of miles across the planet for roasting. The answer, then, might rest in using less coffee per cup. 
An iced coffee
A woman holding a coffee pod holder
‘One third of the amount of coffee goes into a pod than we might use at home in a filter. But what comes out in terms of a cup of coffee is actually a comparable product,’ says Ted Robinson from Grind, the brand that began as a cult coffee shop 10 years ago in London’s Shoreditch. 

Pivoting the cafe business to an online retail business in the past year (thanks, COVID-19), Grind has turned over more in the past 12 months in retailing its own coffee machine and compostable coffee pods than it ever did in a year as a hospitality business. Now supplying all of the Soho Houses internationally with sustainably sourced coffee, Grind’s mission is to bring that into everyone’s homes. 

‘People trust us to get a decent coffee at home, because we’ve been doing coffee for 10 years now,’ says Robinson, who remembers starting out as a dishwasher when Grind was just hitting the cultural zeitgeist for ‘Antipodean’-style coffee that comes with a sense of community, as well as a duty to the planet. ‘We introduced people to flat white culture, and within that is a need to know where your coffee’s coming from,’ he says. Grind was one of the first coffee shops in London to have compostable cups, indicative of its mission to make things better all round. 

‘Our entire thing has always been about sustainability. We have hundreds of people who are really good at coffee and we source those beans from family-run businesses that depend on sustainable farming practices for their livelihood,’ says Robinson, who explains that Grind came about as conscious consumerism steadily became a part of our psyche. 

A Grind coffee pod is now sold every five seconds in the UK – proof that we’re all after a better brew. One thing to remember: drop your leftover pods into an organic waste bin to ensure they break down.
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