Dear EarthTalk: I heard about something called the Green Café Network. What is it and what are they trying to accomplish for the environment?
— Jane Stevenson, Los Angeles, CA
The Green Café Network (GCN), a project of the non-profit Earth Island Institute, seeks to reduce Americans’ environmental impacts by greening the coffeehouse industry and harnessing cafe culture for community environmental awareness. By educating and working with cafe owners and staff, GCN helps network members reduce waste, save energy, conserve water and increase community stewardship. GCN’s 30-plus cafes scattered across Northern California (as well as one in New York City and another in Keshena, Wisconsin) are committed to reducing their carbon footprints, promoting environmental responsibility and generally operating in as sustainable a manner as possible.
The approach of the GCN is to build on the influence of key institutions—neighborhood cafes and Americans’ infatuation with coffee—to try to raise environmental awareness and spur individual action. The idea is that when people see their local café as a positive example of green business practices and community building, there is a ripple effect, and the community is strengthened accordingly.
For cafes interested in getting involved, GCN provides personalized consulting services to help owners reduce their ecological footprints, enhance and streamline their operations, and set a visible good example of environmental responsibility for the community at large. Services can address specific areas in need of attention, such as energy and water conservation, waste reduction, toxics minimization and eco-friendly purchasing, and also overall efforts to green the business from top to bottom. GCN can also consult on green building issues in the design, construction and remodel phases of a cafe’s lifecycle. With a project tagline of “Love Our Planet a Latte,” how could one not love what GCN is doing?
Cafes and coffee shops can take steps to align environmental considerations with business operations even without membership in GCN. The Barista Exchange website, for one, offers a treasure trove of information and tips on greening up cafes and coffee shops through energy and waste reduction, eco-friendly procurement and the sourcing of organic fair trade coffee. U.S. coffee shops serve up about 25 million cups every day, so coffee shops can make a huge difference by being green.
For its part, the nation’s leading coffee retailer, Starbucks, has been a pioneer in greening the coffee industry, and the company considers environmental stewardship a priority. With dedicated programs for increasing recycling, conserving energy and water, sourcing greener beans, using sustainable building techniques and materials in new stores, and offsetting carbon emissions, Starbucks has worked hard to set a green example.
Of course, cafe owners and staff aren’t the only ones responsible for greening your coffee habit. You can play a role too. One obvious place to start is to bring in your own reusable mug to fill up on your favorite blend to cut down on paper cup waste. And requesting fair trade coffee will help ensure living wages for coffee workers out in the fields and send a message to café owners that you value doing the right thing.