The Opportunity of Sustainability

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Energy generation from byproducts at Buencafe, Colombia

“Innovation and sustainability are linked as key drivers for our future.”

Nina Goodrich, executive director, GreenBlue, explains why the new circular economy will depend on sustainable materials management – and what that means for the entire coffee supply chain. 

To further explore this and other critical sustainability questions, join Goodrich at the NCA Coffee Summit, Oct. 28-30, 2015, Austin, TX.

What exactly is “sustainable materials management,” and why does it matter to the coffee industry?

The U.S. EPA describes its sustainable materials management program as thinking beyond waste. It refers to the use and reuse of materials in the most productive and sustainable way across their entire life cycle — conserving resources, reducing waste, slowing climate change, and minimizing the environmental impacts of the materials we use.

Today, most companies that have embraced sustainability have focused on eliminating waste and using less. This is a great first step and can often be easily justified through cost savings.

But how does a company go beyond that? It is much more difficult to take the next step.

In a world where key commodities are becoming more volatile, the concepts of a circular economy and sustainable materials management can provide risk reduction and assurance of supply. In general, businesses have struggled to find justification to embed sustainability into their corporate strategy.

The circular economy, currently in its infancy, is beginning to provide the vision for how we can move towards a more restorative and regenerative economy. The foundation for the circular economy is sustainable materials management.

GreenBlue thinks about sustainable materials management in three focus areas:

  1. Use wisely – covers material sourcing and material optimization as well as incorporation of recycled and biopolymer content. It focuses on eliminating waste in manufacturing and conversion, using renewable energy, renewable raw materials and recycled materials where possible.
  2. Eliminate toxicity – focuses on material health and transparency. Consumers are asking to know more about the materials they put in and on their bodies.
  3. Recover more – covers re-use and recovery for remanufacturing. Material quality and quantity are critical to the development of economic recovery systems.

The sustainable materials management approach is critical to the coffee industry because it takes into account the life cycle of product and package, from sourcing, production, brewing, and waste.

Coffee pulp to be recycled at origin

Coffee pulp to be recycled at origin

What trends are you seeing in the sustainability sector?

I will be speaking about trends in my presentation at the NCA 2015 Coffee Summit.

Composting and compostable packaging is a trend we are seeing in the sustainability sector. Composting is emerging as the fastest growing solid waste diversion opportunity in the U.S.

The recent EPA report, “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2013 Fact Sheet” indicated that community food composting programs have increased from 3,227 in 2002 to 3,560 in 2013 — but that food waste still makes up 21% of the material that goes to landfill.

Composting infrastructure is growing in the U.S., but it is still very rare.

What’s the most common misconception that companies have about sustainability?

The most common misconception is that there is just one answer to sustainability. Sustainability can be achieved through a variety of avenues, and research has shown it is most effective when linked to material aspects of the business.

It is important that companies link their sustainability strategy to their business strategy. It’s also important that the package not be evaluated outside of the context of the product system. This is very true with coffee packaging, because often times the package is part of the delivery system.

The other major misconception is that sustainability is a cost. As long as we think about sustainability as a cost, we will be focusing on being “less bad.” Sustainability is an opportunity that can provide regenerative innovation to a company’s business strategy.

The companies that can integrate sustainability into their business models will be the next corporate leaders.

What drives your passion for sustainability?

Innovation and sustainability are linked as key drivers for our future. I believe in the opportunity of sustainability and the role it can play in reinventing competitive corporate strategy.

The above answers are edited excerpts from the July 2015 Inside Packaging article, “A Circular Economy.”

NCA Coffee Summit 2015

The NCA Coffee Summit 2015 will offer a dynamic, interactive forum to explore issues exclusively related to sustainability. Learn more, or register now to join this important conversation.

Photo credit: William M. Murray, NCA

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