Trade for Development Centre is a programme of Enabel, the Belgian development agency.

Java goes carbon neutral to fight climate change 

Belgian coffee roaster Java has organic and fair trade-labelled coffees in its product range. Yet, it prefers to focus its efforts on sustainability and impact on the climate, a commitment that materialises in CO2 neutral certification. 

The coffee roaster was founded almost a century ago. It specialises in roasting Java coffee. In 2016, it decided to take a major step forward by committing itself to carbon neutrality. “At the time, the Paris Climate Agreement had just been signed, which prompted us to look at our impact as a company and that of the coffee market in general,” recalls CEO Kathleen Claes. “Two things emerged: coffee production generates CO2 emissions throughout the chain, but over 80% of these emissions take place in the countries of origin. As a small global player, we have little impact. Nevertheless, we decided not to wait for the market leaders to take action.” In the wake of that decision, Java calculated all its CO2 emissions, from the field to the factory, with the environmental consultant CO2logic.

The output of that exercise has since been updated every year. Secondly, every year the company strives to reduce its emissions a little further wherever it considers it can. For example, by installing solar panels on the roofs of its facilities or by replacing the vehicles in its fleet with electric cars. Finally, in the third phase, residual emissions, i.e. those that could not be further reduced, such as those linked to the use of gas for roasting coffee or those generated in producing countries over which the company has little control, are offset through the purchase of carbon credits. These are then used to finance various CO2 reduction and capture projects in the regions where the coffee originates. “We can therefore conclude that all our Java brand coffees are climate-neutral, whether they are destined for the retail, hotel and catering, office or institutional sectors,” Kathleen Claes is pleased to say, adding that private customers who so wish can always opt for a coffee that is not climate-neutral. 

What is Scope 1, 2, 3? 

In 2022, Java’s carbon footprint reached 2,215 tonnes of CO2, a figure 47% up on the previous year, but 44% down on 2019 (3,999 tCO2). This represents 4.86 kilos of CO2 per kilo of coffee produced, according to the annual report published by Java and CO2logic. The document also points out that the sharp rise observed between 2021 and 2022 is largely due to more accurate data collection, which undoubtedly implies an underestimation of emissions in previous years. In addition, Java has also purchased more beans in 2022, which automatically translates into higher emissions in absolute terms. It should also be noted that this carbon footprint covers Scope 1 emissions, i.e. the company’s direct emissions (heating, vehicles, etc.) and Scope 2 emissions (indirect energy-related emissions such as the production of electricity, gas or petrol), but only a portion of Scope 3 emissions, including the purchase of goods and services upstream and transport and distribution to wholesalers downstream. However, from 2024 onwards, scope 3 should be extended to the end customer. Other indirect emissions linked, for example, to the consumption of products (use of a coffee machine), their recycling or destruction at the end of their life cycle, or the possible rental of certain installations, are therefore not taken into account, and therefore neither reduced nor offset.  

At present, the Belgian roaster’s CO2 neutral certification does not show the nuance, but this should soon change, as CO2logic is rolling out a new certification system, which now comes in three levels: bronze (covering scopes 1 and 2), silver (scopes 1, 2 and part of 3) and gold (scopes 1, 2 and at least three quarters of scope 3 emissions). “We are currently working on this change, but it will not be visible on our packaging until 2025. We would then have the silver label,” explains Kathleen Claes, who points out that Java already includes in its calculation all emissions from the coffee plantations to its customers’ depots. 

“The customer is king” 

In the conclusions presented in the annual report, we note that emissions linked to land use change, in other words deforestation, accounted for no less than 707 tonnes of CO2, or 32% of total Java emissions last year. In 2021, these emissions were ‘only’ 184 tonnes of CO2. This is why for CO2logic it is important to have a deforestation-free supply chain and to source coffee from organic farming, which emits fewer greenhouse gases. “We are buying more and more organic coffees, not least because they help to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Kathleen Claes. “We also monitor where we buy our coffees and give preference to regions where there has been no deforestation. ” However, the CEO’s admits, certified organic coffee currently represents only a very small proportion of Java’s total production. “We do not really notice a demand for this from our private or business customers. The institutional sector, on the other hand, sometimes make a request, but it is more often directed towards fair trade, which is experiencing a real craze. We have been offering fair trade coffees for around thirty years, because we believe in this approach. In fact, we are currently looking into the possibility of expanding our offering in this area.” 

However, Java has no plans to switch to a 100% fairtrade range. “Whether it is fair trade or organic, there is always a premium, and not all private consumers or public institutions are necessarily prepared to pay more,”  explains Kathleen Claes. “In the retail sector, we recently launched three new products for Bio-Planet that are both certified organic and fair trade, and even triple certified (including CO2 neutral certification), but this only targets a specific group of consumers. We cannot extend this to all our customers.” In this respect, while she believes roasters could do more in terms of sustainability in general, she emphasises that it is also up to consumers to be more willing to pay more to improve the living conditions of coffee growers. ”Ultimately, I think we are heading towards a coffee sector that will be sustainable and fair overall. When? I hope sooner rather than later, but it will be up to the consumer to decide. The customer is king. If tomorrow customers demand sustainable and fairtrade products, things would change very quickly,” concludes Kathleen Claes. 

Interview by Anthony Planus for Enabel’s Trade for Development Centre. 

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