Should roasters aim to become net water positive?

Amelia Cooper
July 22, 2022
Should roasters aim to become “net water positive”?

A growing number of manufacturers, suppliers, and household brand names around the world are implementing pioneering new strategies to cut down their carbon emissions. 

As industries take a more nuanced global approach to sustainability, other targets and gold standards are coming to the forefront. In addition to carbon neutrality, aiming to become net water positive is being added to brands’ future environmental targets.

Essentially, being water positive means a business puts more water back into the environment in which it operates than it takes out. This is becoming a critical practice as climate change is set to have unprecedented effects on the farming industry, including coffee production.

Notably, for each degree of global warming, around 7% of the world population will have 20% less freshwater. By 2030, it is predicted the world will face a 40% water deficit if climate change continues unchecked.

As successful coffee cultivation is heavily reliant on water, aiming to become net water positive may prove beneficial to both specialty roasters and coffee shops. 

Find out more about how to become net water positive and how it could benefit the entire specialty coffee sector. 

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An image of a coffee farmer watering crops, showing why coffee businesses should aim to become net water positive

What does it mean to be net water positive?

To be ‌net water positive, a business must give more water back to the planet than it has used. 

It works in much the same way as carbon neutrality, which requires a business to remove the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as its operations produce.

To be water positive, a business must replenish the water used throughout all areas of operation. 

Within the coffee industry, this includes replacing the water used in growing the beans – outside of natural rainfall. Additionally, it includes the water used to wash and process the beans. 

Any machinery that uses water cooling systems will have to be considered, whether this is during the transport, roasting, or packaging processes. 

For coffee shops, it would include the water used to brew coffee offerings and produce any food available for sale. The water used in bathrooms, to clean used crockery, as well as clean the establishment would also need to be considered. 

To accurately determine whether a business is net water positive, its total water usage will need to be calculated across its entire processes. 

Once this sum has been calculated, the brand will know exactly how much water needs to be replenished, and can create a suitable strategy to do so. 

As climate change continues to reduce global water resources, the status of net water positive is rapidly increasing in importance. 

Water shortages are becoming a problem that climate change is only exacerbating. A 2022 UNICEF report reveals around 450 million children live in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability. This means they do not have enough water to meet their everyday needs.

Climate change is causing droughts and limited rainfall in some areas, while rising sea levels are making fresh water areas too salty for safe consumption. 

Due to this combination of factors, UNICEF predicts almost a quarter of the world’s children will live in areas of extremely high water stress by 2040.

An example of how water is used in the coffee industry, showing why coffee businesses should aim to become net water positive.

How can roasters and coffee shops become net water positive?

Roasters and coffee shops can achieve a water positive status through several approaches.

An effective way is to partner with non-governmental organisations such as WaterAid. Donating money or hosting fundraisers for global water charities can go towards counteracting a business’ water usage.

Additionally, it can help ensure a portion of company profits goes toward improving water resources elsewhere. 

Furthermore, making clean, safe drinking water supplies accessible can help a business create a net positive impact. That said, it is important roasters and coffee shops do not succumb to the same criticisms that appear to have made carbon offsetting problematic.

Many believe it is not enough for companies to pay organisations to do the sustainability work while they continue to use the same volumes of water. 

Supporting charities such as WaterAid is an effective initiative, but more can be done. A growing number of customers are demanding businesses take an active, responsible approach to sustainability. 

This means undertaking intuitive and permanent changes to their operations, which minimises their environmental impact.

To become net water positive, roasters and coffee shops will also need to implement practices to reduce their water usage or replenish it. 

One of the most popular methods is to integrate low-flow fixtures, particularly in bathrooms and kitchens. Notably, some low-flow toilet units save 75% of the water a standard unit would use.

Alternatively, roasters and coffee shops can choose to use a water supplier that uses recycled water. Multinational automotive manufacturing company General Motors saved $2 million by adopting this approach, while significantly reducing its environmental impact.

Recycling water works by collecting rain water or wastewater, cleaning it, and reusing it. 

For those in the coffee industry, it is key that any practices implemented extend to the farms they partner with. Roasters can work with farmers to introduce strategies by funding rainwater harvesting equipment.

More importantly, roasters can explain the wider sustainable targets the business is trying to reach. Building on this, education across the specialty coffee sector plays a pivotal role.

Business owners must ensure their team knows why these water-reduction initiatives are being introduced, so that they can achieve the maximum impact. 

To this aim, they may want to consider hosting a water saving seminar, where the strategy can be explained to your team. Additionally, this allows an opportunity for team members to present their own ideas for further improvement.

An image of a barista swirling black coffee in a glass pot, showing why coffee businesses should aim to become net water positive.

Why should roasters and coffee shops become net water positive?

In recent years, many coffee businesses around the world have set targets to become net water positive.

For example, Costa Coffee introduced a rainwater harvesting system in one of its main roasteries, while Starbucks aims to halve water usage for its green coffee by 2030.

Becoming net water positive can have enormous benefits across the supply chain.

If coffee companies invest in education and equipment, the farmers can be more productive. In turn, this allows them to produce the same amount of product using less natural resources. 

Net water positive companies can also bring coffee to consumers in a more sustainable way – an achievement that can be highlighted across marketing and branding materials. 

Alongside the high consumer appeal of a net water positive status, efforts such as these are vital in ensuring the coffee industry continues to succeed.

Close up image of multilayer kraft paper coffee bags, showing how coffee businesses should aim to become net water positive.

The world is changing rapidly, and the only way to guarantee that the sector continues is to ensure it remains sustainable. 

The team at MTPak Coffee can help roasters and coffee shops take proactive steps towards sustainable business processes. 

Our range of coffee packaging is 100% recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable. Our packaging line is made from sustainable materials such as kraft paper and rice paper, as well as LDPE and includes PLA-lined bags.

Furthermore, we can use digital printing to customise coffee bags to highlight your exotic offerings. We have a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time, allowing us to offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) of packaging, no matter what size or material.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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