A NEW sustainability rating scheme for cafés could work, says Wolfgang Weinmann, but it needs to be scrutinised.
The UK loves coffee. By the end of 2013 there were 16,501 coffee shops – an annual increase of 6.2% - and by 2018 we could hit 20,500. Alongside increasing consumption levels and expectations of better quality, there has also been a rise in awareness of social and environmental issues.
Nowadays we can’t escape the plethora of sustainability labels associated with coffee. However, all of them focus on the product side. To complicate matters, cafés do not just serve black coffee: more often than not other ingredients are added to coffee and other products. These might have completely different sustainability labels attached.
This is all progress, of course. But let’s face it: how do we combine all these different labels to offer a clear sense of the overall sustainability labels can’t do justice to what should be expected from a café in terms of its overall sustainability credentials.
The initiative just launched by the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) and Costa, involving a rating scheme that judges a café’s entire operations in terms of social and environmental performance, is a step in the right direction. We should care about a café’s waste and energy footprint, employee wellbeing and local community engagement on top of the provenance of the coffee itself.
There are two crucial things that will see it succeed or fail. First, there needs to be absolute transparency about the rating scheme and how the sustainability key performance indicators were chosen and will be rated, and who the judges are. Will there be any third-party accreditation the scheme to ensure it meets minimal existing standards? This is vital to ensure full credibility and avoid any sense of greenwash.
Second, the scheme should be opened up to public engagement and scrutiny. Everyone could post their ratings alongside the SRA’s. So you ask the café staff questions about the sustainability issues you care most about and then give your favourite coffee shop the thumbs up – not only for the quality of coffee and service provided but also their sustainability credentials.
Wolfgang Weinmann is an independent sustainability consultant.