Our Digital Carbon Emissions are part of the Coffee Industry’s Environmental Impact

Let’s be aware of our online carbon footprint, and how United Baristas is offsetting your use of our services.

Internet usage is now a leading contributor to global warming, accounting for more than two percent of global carbon emissions (Nature, 2018) – a higher level than the aviation industry.

The specialty coffee industry is avid users of social media platforms, apps, forums, and websites, such as United Baristas services.

Digital services such as websites and apps are run on servers, which require significant amounts of energy for their fast computation, as well as vast cooling infrastructure to manage the heat produced from their operation. Electricity is also required to transmit data from servers to our computers, phones and tablets, and electricity is also required to run these devices. A study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that:

  • 48% of energy is used at the data centre
  • 14% of energy is used by telecommunications networks transmitting the data
  • 38% of energy is used by the end user’s computer or mobile device

In testing of specialty coffee industry websites, we found carbon dioxide emissions per page view vary between 1.1 g (benefitting from green electricity production to run servers) to 22.55 g. Poor design, complex scripts and too large images are common causes of higher emission levels. An average page view on United Baristas services produces circa 6 g of carbon dioxide (about average compared with the widely reported, but potentially wrong, figure of 6.8 g per average internet page view).

It’s estimated that 48% of the energy used to view a web page is used by data centres

A driving rationale for starting United Baristas was to enable a full and productive working life for coffee equipment by facilitating the buying and selling of used equipment between equipment. Over time we’ve also added functions to:

  • enable the better selection of equipment
  • provide information on the maintenance of equipment
  • make engineering services more accessible

As well as being commercially valuable for the coffee industry, these services reduce the industry’s environmental impacts by working to ensure that the equipment that is purchase has a full and long working life.

Estimating the reduction in carbon emissions and general environmental benefit United Baristas services has proven difficult without specific embodied energy information on espresso machines and other key items of coffee equipment. Better understanding the environmental impacts of coffee equipment remains a work in progress. However, with hundreds of machines changing hands and more equipment being better maintained, we would like to think that the environmental benefits from United Baristas services easily mitigate the impacts from its use.

In the interim we’ve taken the step to offset the carbon emissions from the use of our services by contributing to tree planting and protection projects in the coffee producing countries of Kenya and Brazil.

Tree planting projects in Kenya’s Rift Valley, from Carbon Footprint

In Kenya over 180,000 tress have been planted over the past decade as part of a scheme run by the Carbon Footprint. In Brazil the scheme works to prevent deforestation of existing trees.

United Baristas believes the de-carbonisation of the economy, and particularly the UK’s energy mix, is essential for meeting the the International Panel on Climate Change’s target of a temperature rise of less than 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels.

The coffee industry has a special and direct responsibility. Coffee’s carbon footprint is considered a ‘high intensity’ (Killian et al., 2013) and the impacts of climate change both threaten coffee production and the livelihoods of many of the world’s coffee producers (Kew Gardens).

References and further reading