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I was wondering if there's any analysis on which source of caffeine is GHG-wise the most sustainable.

Coffee is often shipped around half the globe, while energy drinks usually come in a can, which - even if recycled - need a lot of energy in production. Black or green tea are another option, as well as maté, but also only grow in certain areas of the world. The latter also is available as (glass-)bottled soda, which might taste better, but requires more processing and hence produces more GHG.

So, how do I fuel my caffeine craving best when it comes to climate wise sustainability?

I am aware of the issues of virtual water and social sustainability/working conditions, but for the sake of simplicity would like to ignore them for this question.

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2 Answers 2

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There is an analysis of the carbon footprint of coffee here with a less academic write up here by Professor Mark Maslin and PhD student Carmen Nab (both University College London, Geography).

The primary impacts are fertiliser use, managing water, transport (particularly if air freighted) and milk production. Solutions include buying certified coffee that is considered to have a lower carbon footprint, the rainforest alliance is recomended, and drinking your coffee black or with non-dairy whitener.

Over 9.5 billion kg of coffee is produced annually and demand is expected to triple by 2050. We identify and quantify the greenhouse gas emission of coffee produced in Brazil and Vietnam and exported to the United Kingdom. The average carbon footprint of Arabica coffee from both countries was calculated as 15.33 (±0.72) kg CO2e kg−1 for conventional coffee production and 3.51 (±0.13) kg CO2e kg−1 for sustainable coffee production.

Comparison of the carbon footprint of different styles of coffee using conventional or sustainable coffee and diary milk or non-diary milk

The contribution of each phase to the total carbon footprint of coffee production

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Depending on your location, you can grow your own caffeine!

Camellia sinensis sitka is a hardy variety of the common tea plant. It does well to Zone 8, or even colder, if you can put it in a protected location, like along a south-facing wall.

We had one through ten winters, some with up to a metre of snow, and it did well. Snow is better than dry cold, as snow has insulating value.

You can feed it kitchen compost, rather than expensive (financially, and sustainably) fertilizer.

The American Camellia Society is a good resource for getting started. They claim starting from seed is easy, although I found it to be finicky, and prefer buying greenhouse stock.

Growing your own is almost without exception the best way to be sustainable!

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  • Wont work for me since I don't have a garden, sorry.
    – Erik
    Jul 27 at 9:22
  • You can grow it inside, in a large pot, if you have decent window sunlight! Jul 28 at 0:05

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