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The humble bean

6th December 2016

Coffee is now far more than a hot beverage; its global importance - culturally, socially and economically – keeps growing.  The humble bean’s position as the second largest trading commodity in the world, means it has the potential to play a vital role in the quest for a circular economy.

Researchers at Southampton Solent University are currently investigating the sustainability of small-scale coffee production and retail.

“We’re especially interested in third wave artisan producers and retailers – providing coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, much like wine or cheese, rather than as a commodity product,” says Solent University’s environmental scientist and Life Cycle Assessment expert, Dr Laurie Wright.

Sam and Laurie are focusing on coffee

Laurie and his team are working with a number of external partners, including Southampton’s independent coffee shop, Mettricks, to explore the environmental and social consequences of small-scale coffee production.

Sam Williams - a Graduate Associate working with Laurie on the project –says: “The particularly interesting aspect to this project is the involvement of Mettricks and their supplier, Union – who will enable us to trace back the supply chain to the farmers. Being able to apply our research to the great work they're already doing adds depth to the project; it will be used to enhance both businesses relationship with producers and the environment.”

Mettricks, their UK-based roaster and the producers work together in ‘direct trade’ - bypassing the global market to ensure fairer trade deals and better than Fairtrade prices to farmers.

Mettricks owner Spencer is taking part in the project

As well as assessing the entire life cycle of coffee production - evaluating the environmental, social and economic consequences that arise - the study will also explore the retail and distribution side of the system, including the issue of waste arising from cups and packaging.

“This approach will not only provide transparency to this system, but also identify hot-spots of environmental concern, and inform solutions for sustainable alternatives,” says Laurie.

As well as assessing the coffee product system, the study hopes to increase public awareness of the issues of waste and sustainability of coffee.

“The issues facing the success of the circular economy are many, but projects like these will provide the opportunities needed to tackle the issues head on,” says Laurie.

Coffee beans in a cup