Navigating GHG Protocol and sustainable coffee packaging

Amelia Cooper
February 23, 2023
An image of a coffee roaster ensuring coffee bags align with GHG Protocol in an article on GHG Protocol and sustainable coffee packaging

When scientists first documented greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the 1850s, few recognised how negatively it would affect the planet some 170 years later.

Over the last decade, the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions has become alarmingly clear. While 2020 was accompanied by a record drop in emissions because of the Covid-19 pandemic, levels have effectively bounced back.

If left uncurbed, reliance on fossil fuels could increase carbon emissions to the point that the earth becomes inhospitable.

However, industries across the globe are deploying pioneering technologies, solutions, and protocols to help reverse the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. 

A prime example of this is the Greenhouse Gas Protocol or GHG Protocol, which provides guidance and tools to businesses wanting to manage their emissions.

Discover more about the pivotal role the GHG Protocol plays in coffee packaging and how it is helping the industry tackle its emissions.

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What is the GHG Protocol?

Essentially, the GHG Protocol is the supplier of leading greenhouse gas accounting standards, which are the most widely used in the world.

The GHG Protocol established a series of standards of internationally recognised, comprehensive, and standardised frameworks designed to help organisations measure and manage their greenhouse gas emissions. 

Both private and public sector operations use these frameworks, including businesses, enterprises and B-Corps. Industries span from manufacturing, distribution, and individual sites, to entire value chains. 

At least 92% of Fortune 500 companies stated they had used the GHG Protocol, either directly or indirectly, in 2016.

The GHG Protocol was first conceptualised in the 1990s. This was when the World Resources Institute (WRI) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) defined a fixed, international corporate accounting and reporting standard for greenhouse gas emissions.

In 1997, key representatives from both organisations met and launched an NGO-business partnership. One that would create pioneering, reliable, and comprehensive standardised greenhouse gas accounting methods. 

From there, a core steering group was created, with members from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Pew Centre on Global Climate Change, The Energy Research Institute, Norsk Hydro, and Shell joining to help shape the methodology.

It was in 2001 that the first edition of the Corporate Standard was published. Since then, the standards have been updated and expanded based on new technologies and calculation tools. 

More than two decades later, the GHG Protocol is more relevant than ever. Today, it remains at the forefront of global ESG standards.

Businesses around the world depend on this system to monitor and improve their emissions footprint, and that includes specialty coffee. 

Unpredictable global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases have dramatically reduced the yield of coffee farms or wiped out entire crops. 

As coffee is a notoriously delicate crop, weather changes have the potential to be absolutely catastrophic. 

Notably, in July 2021, Brazil was hit by a frost, which had a devastating impact on its coffee crop. Between 2.5 million and 5.5 million bags of coffee were lost, while some farmers found up to 80% of their coffee crop damaged.

In 2022, this resulted in a dramatically reduced harvest, which increased the price of coffee.

In turn, some producers had to sell farms or change professions as coffee farming became less viable. 

More so, rising costs were driving away customers or putting specialty roasters and cafes out of business. 

To prevent this negative cycle from being repeated, the GHG Protocol is one of the cornerstones of the coffee industry’s sustainability strategies.

An image of a barista in a coffee shop loading roast coffee into a hopper from a compostable coffee bag made from kraft paper in an article on GHG Protocol and sustainable coffee packaging

Breaking down the coffee packaging lifecycle

When it comes to improving sustainability in the coffee sector, introducing green packaging is often top of the list. 

This was because, until recently, the majority of coffee packaging was made from non-sustainable materials, which have a detrimental impact on the environment. 

A whopping 99% of all plastic is made from fossil fuels. Notably, by 2050, plastic is predicted to account for 13% of the world’s entire “carbon budget”.

Refining this material represents the most greenhouse gas-intensive part of the lifecycle of a piece of plastic. 

As coffee packaging made using plastic materials is non-recyclable and single-use, it is often sent straight to a landfill. 

Therefore, it is critical coffee outlets choose packaging solutions made from renewable and sustainable materials. This includes materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polylactic acid (PLA).

For instance, biodegradable and compostable coffee packaging options have become popular, as they greatly minimise the environmental impact of the bags. 

More so, the manufacturing process of these materials is significantly less greenhouse gas-intensive, and the packaging breaks down naturally after use. 

This is less environmentally damaging than burning waste plastic or allowing it to degrade in landfills.

An image of a coffee roaster packaging roast coffee into a compostable coffee bag made from kraft paper and PLA in an article on GHG Protocol and sustainable coffee packaging

The GHG Protocol Standards in coffee packaging

By implementing the GHG Protocol Standards, coffee outlets can assess, evaluate, and improve the volume of greenhouse gas emissions they produce. 

Using a metric-driven approach, these standards can be applied to coffee packaging. In turn, this can help businesses accurately determine the most sustainable choice of packaging. 

Using the GHG Protocol’s Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard, small-to-medium roasters and cafes can start formally measuring their emissions.

This resource outlines the best methodology and measurement approach to use when making these calculations. 

The report is designed to be easy to use, and the approach is being used by several roasters, cafes, coffee businesses, and suppliers across the world.

Managers, owners and innovators can take matters into their own hands and deploy their own emission reduction initiatives with accuracy, confidence and transparency. In the fight against climate change, such an ability is invaluable.

In addition to offering our clients sustainable coffee packaging options, MTPak Coffee is able to assist with any coffee packaging certifications you may need.

Our range of sustainable packaging solutions aligns with GHG Protocol and other environmentally friendly certifications.

We offer a selection of completely recyclable and compostable coffee packaging alternatives produced from renewable resources like kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an eco-friendly PLA lining, all of which reduce waste and support a circular economy.

We offer sustainable coffee packaging in a variety of shapes, including shaped pouches, stand-up bags, flat bottom pouches, quad seal bags, side gusset pouches, and drip coffee bags.

Furthermore, our range of corrugated kraft paper coffee mailer boxes is made from 100% recycled cardboard and is available in a wide range of size options.

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

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