World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

A cup of black coffee in a white cup and saucer

How to Enjoy Your Morning Cup, Emissions-Light

  • Date: 20 November 2023
  • Author: Katherine Devine, WWF

It started when my three-year-old was around 18 months. I would make my way downstairs to begin one of the most important morning rituals: preparing my coffee. I say my coffee because, while it is for me and my spouse, I’m the one that downs more than half our pot most days.

I open the cabinet, take out a bag of locally roasted beans, and pour it in the burr grinder. My kid then begins what we’ve now dubbed “The Coffee Dance,” where they like to dance to the rhythm of the coffee grinder. I don’t think I will ever stop doing The Coffee Dance, even when my kid loses interest, which I’m sure will be sooner than I’d like.

While the coffee is grinding, I fill up my electric tea kettle to warm the water. I get out one of my (three) French presses or, if I’m feeling fancy, my Chemex. I pour in the ground up beans, followed by a little water to let them bloom briefly, then the rest of the water.

I wait.

The four minutes feel like an eternity, but it’s well worth the wait as I take down one of my favorite mugs and pour my first cup, black. I inhale the aroma and enjoy my first sip. Inevitably, it grows cold as I tend to toddler breakfast demands, but I savor it nonetheless.

Maybe your morning routine looks like mine, though admittedly I am a bit particular about my coffee after working with coffee farmers in the Dominican Republic. I delight once a year when my favorite local coffee roaster gets their annual lot from a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic, Finca Ramirez, which I visited during my Peace Corps training.

Maybe your routine involves prepping your coffee pot the night before so that your timed pot is hot and fresh as you enter your kitchen. Then again, perhaps you frequent a certain coffee shop where they know your order but frequently misspell your name on the side of the cup.

However you take it, coffee is evocative, rife with ritual. And it is a crop profoundly affected by our changing climate. A previous blog, and this WWF study, looked at on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts; however, packaging, roasting, and brewing also contribute to the emissions in your morning brew.

Brewing coffee results in emissions due to the energy required to heat the water. In some cases, such as with an electric pot that maintains temperature with a heating element, keeping coffee warm is another contributor. The way in which coffee is brewed has a considerable influence on how high emissions are from this stage in making your cup. Methods like my French press contribute about 1kg CO2e/kg roasted coffee (RC). Automatic coffee makers, on the other hand, come in at more than two and up to six times that amount (2.5-6kg CO2e/kg RC) due to more significant demands for electricity.

So, how can you make your cup more sustainable? Brew only what you plan to consume; food (and beverage) waste squanders not only what you’ve made, but also all of the resources that went into growing the food (or, in this case, the coffee beans). I like to save my leftover coffee and make iced coffee for the next day. Avoid coffee makers that are always on, wasting energy by keeping water warm for long periods of time. Many workplaces and coffee shops have machines of this style. Consider trying to influence workplace policy or going to coffee shops where coffee is brewed fresh in small batches. And if you want to switch to a French press, feel free to drop me a note. I have some ideas, and some dance moves to enhance the experience.