Photo Source: http://www.freshandeasy.com/blog/2007_05_01_archive.html
I can’t wait to have one of these stores near me
I’ve been so busy roasting, cupping and adding new coffees that I haven’t had time to pontificate on deep and meaningful things in the space lately. So here’s a little something to chew on…
I’ve been thinking about carbon footprints lately. We’ve spent a lot of money to help design, debug and install the ultra-efficient Revelation roaster (note that the photos on Dan’s website are of our roaster). I would like to promote the environmental advantages of our roasting system, and locally that’s really a no-brainer. Our machine utilizes catalytic oxidation to eliminate smoke, then we recirculate the hot air back to the roaster. The net effect is a MUCH more efficient system, as I will describe. So if you lived here and required no shipping for your coffee, and you had a choice between buying coffee from us, and from somebody with a conventional roasting system, you would have less carbon impact if you bought it from us. This much is certainly true, as I will describe. The question I would like to answer is, what if you lived far enough away that it required shipping? Does efficient roast + ship equal less carbon impact than local roast on conventional system? What is the shipping distance where efficient roast loses out to shipping?
I was inspired by a paper from Tyler Coleman and Pablo Paster, entitled “Red, White and Green: The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade”, published by the American Association of Wine Economists. I exchanged email with Pablo, and was able to adapt his work to my coffee question above.
The first question to answer is the difference in carbon output between my roasting system and a conventional system of the same size. For sake of comparison, I went to the specifications for a conventional system that I was considering before I went with the Revelation; I made sure to use the specs for a system that also utilized catalytic oxidation to eliminate the smoke contribution, hence the differences I’m comparing are carbon due to energy consumption. I’ll skip the calculations here and jump to the results: our Revelation produces 0.00004 ton CO2e per pound roasted. A comparable, new conventional system produces 0.00181 ton CO2e per pound roasted. Ours is favorable by 0.00177 ton CO2e per pound, or a whopping 97.7%. That’s how much emitted CO2 you eliminate by buying your coffee from us instead of another local alternative, assuming you require no shipping.
So the question is then whether shipping generates more than 0.00177 ton CO2 per pound. That’s 1607 grams CO2e per pound of coffee. At some point it’s bound to happen, so how far can I ship it to you and still have favorable carbon differential? Turns out the answer is pretty darn far. Anywhere in the country, in fact. Pablo’s research enabled me to answer the question; here’s the summary.
Let’s assume air freight for a minute. At the end of a long string of math, it turns out that air freight generates 0.459 grams CO2e per mile shipped. So I can air freight coffee up to 3500 miles and still produce less CO2 than roasting the same coffee locally in a conventional system. Truck shipping is 2.26 times MORE favorable, i.e., lass carbon production, than air shipping (0.203 grams CO2e per mile).
So let’s say you live in Charlottesville, Virginia, 231 miles from my shop in Morrisville NC. Buying a pound of coffee from me generates 36.3 grams CO2e. Shipping it generates another 46.9 grams CO2e, for a total of 83.2 grams CO2e. If you bought the same coffee locally and required no shipping, a conventional system would generate 1643.5 grams CO2e. You achieve a 94.9% reduction in emitted CO2 by buying the coffee from me and shipping it.
What if you lived in Providence, Rhode Island, 683 miles away, and required air freight? Your local alternative is still 1643.5 grams CO2e. My roasting is still 36.3 grams. Shipping adds another 313.5 grams CO2e, for a grand total of 349.8 grams CO2e. You achieve a 78.7% reduction in emitted CO2 by buying from me and having it shipped by air. California? You still achieve a 14% reduction via air freight, and even more if shipped by truck. Pretty cool, huh?
So if you buy local to keep your food dollars in your local economy and maintain relationships, you should keep doing that. If you buy locally because you think food miles are adding to your carbon footprint, you would be right if you bought some coffee roasted on a conventional system. But if you are trying to reduce your carbon footprint while still getting great coffee, you should buy it from us.