Sustainability: The Future Is Now

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Sustainability. It’s a buzz word these days – and the cynics of this world would say businesses use the word to promote a positive image; to show their company cares about more than profits and growth.

The coffee industry is no different. Stick the word organic or eco or sustainable on the side of your packet and suddenly you can charge twice the price. So you earn more – and look like a better person.

Right? Maybe it works that way for some people.

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But not in the case of Costa Rican coffee expert Kattia Barrantes. For her, sustainability is at the core of every single thing she does, every single day. And believe me, she’s an incredibly busy woman.

Her family has produced speciality Arabica coffee on its own estate in Lourdes de Naranjo, Costa Rica, for three generations. The coffee is processed in its own micro-mills, Herbazu and Perla de Café, and sold under the brand Kaba Coffee. It’s available as a speciality coffee worldwide. In 2015 coffee from Herbazu bagged first place in Costa Rica’s Cup of Excellence awards, graded at 91/100.

But it’s not just the coffee that’s impressive.

Take a look at Kattia’s qualifications and experience.

She studied International Business and also holds the title of Q-grade cupper and barista – top qualifications issued by the SCAA, the Speciality Coffee Association of America. She worked for four years in the promotions office of the Costa Rica Coffee Institute and founded the Kaba Coffee Centre in 2013, the first barista, cupping and coffee roasting school in the country.

Its vision is simple but clear – be the leader in Costa Rica for its dedication to teaching and training at all levels of the coffee industry, from the grain to the cup. It also aims to generate a coffee culture in Costa Rica that reflects the country’s position as one of the best producers of high-quality coffee beans on the planet. Kaba Coffee is also a member of the Alianza de Mujeres en Café de Costa Rica and last year Kattia teamed up with other coffee professionals to create a foundation called Pro-Café which aims to empower and educate small producers. “Since I started in the world of coffee and became a professional one of my dreams was to reach the producers who are in the field every day. They’re the ones whose efforts ensure the coffee reaches the cup of the consumer,” she says.

And guess what? She’s doing just that.

The diversity of the Kaba Coffee’s activities is mind-boggling. They’re active at every part of the coffee journey – growing the plants, picking and processing the beans, selling speciality coffee, training baristas and teaching others how to manage their own coffee business. And in each of these activities, there’s one concept that overrides all else, and which links everything together.

Sustainability.

Which brings me back to the initial question: What does sustainability actually mean?

Kattia was more than happy to explain. “It’s equilibrium between what we do and what we have around us,” she says. “Every action has a positive or negative impact on society, the environment and the universe in general. Sustainability is the important link that allows us to keep working with the resources that we have and ensuring that every one of our practices has a positive impact. It shouldn’t be a fashion. It should be a conscious concern of everybody on the planet, not only businesses.”

Good explanation. But what does it mean in practical terms?

Kattia says sustainability is at the core of every action, every day, in every aspect of her business. For example, in her school, students learn not only about preparing coffee but are also taught about all the extensive work that comes before the cup. On the family farms, all work in the coffee-producing process is carried out with a focus on protecting resources, reducing the impact and contamination of chemicals, conservation of soils and forests and fair treatment of workers. Kattia said this approach ensures that the beans sold by Kaba Coffee are not only high quality but also products a positive social and environmental footprint. “We are a company that recognises the value of coffee from the seed to the cup and that makes us different. It gives us control over the whole chain,” she said.

Luckily for Kattia, the notion of sustainability is well supported in Costa Rica. It’s already declared its intention to be carbon neutral by 2021, the first country to do so. Kattia says government and private institutions are working hard to support and finance what they see as a collective goal. In addition, they’ve established specific strategies to address the carbon footprint in other areas such as ecotourism, agricultural practices and conservation of the environment.

But while Kaba Coffee can “guarantee sustainability” in its own work activities, Kattia stresses that manufacturers, coffee shops and consumers must ensure the good work continues at every stage of the coffee journey. “This coffee should be prepared using an espresso machine manufactured by a company that recognises it’s not just a machine that extracts coffee, but instead, it’s the best friend of the coffee and the barista.” She believes that customers will have a more positive experience if they can see their coffee has been produced in a sustainable way from the bean to the machine to the cup.

Sound like something for the future, right?

Wrong.

Iberital, as coffee manufacturers but also as The Coffee Universe blog creators, share the same point of view as Katia presents and embraces the sustainability as well.

“We started out manufacturing spare parts for espresso machines forty years ago, but now we are a leading designer, creator and manufacturer, of new models that match the needs of the ever-evolving coffee industry. In recent years we have introduced many changes across our business including the creation of an ethical code for workers, improving the use of energy and renovating our industrial planet to include recycling of water and energy used in the production process. We also collaborate with the local community to support schools and centres for disabled children.”

Iberital staff follows a business philosophy that respects the environment and that’s the basis for all our activities. “It doesn’t make sense to promote sustainability if our installations and our own activities and coffee machines are not eco-efficient too”.

This positive approach to sustainability has given rise to Iberital’s latest project – the creation of an “Eco” espresso coffee machine developed with the support of the European Commission as part of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Several media have already labelled this machine as “the espresso machine of the future” – but it’s right here, right now.

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So what are the benefits?

In a nutshell, it is more energy efficient, reduces the CO2 footprint and almost eliminates the presence of heavy metals like lead and nickel in the water – making drinks much healthier. It also makes innovative use of new technologies to allow remote access to its control system and interaction between the barista, roaster and the technical support team.

It has great potential. Currently, there are no other machines on the market that offer the same innovations and benefits. Our machines have become increasingly efficient because Iberital’s goal is not only to produce an ecological product to cover the niche market for people worried about the environment – we want to form part of that eco-conscious collective. With this new machine, we’ve exceeded ourselves.

But is sustainability just a passing fad? Absolutely not.

In the future, it won’t just be a matter of the conscience. It will be something that’s regulated. Little by little all manufacturers will follow this route because the market and the consumers demand it. At the moment what sets us apart is having the endorsement of the European Commission as a seal of guarantee since they have believed in and invested in our project

In theory, it looks like a win-win approach. Working sustainably means being kinder to the planet and fairer to workers while improving the image and profits of coffee businesses. And at the end of it all awaits a mighty fine cup of coffee for a consumer who is healthier and better educated about the whole process. So why don’t all companies work in a sustainable way?

“Because it requires constant work,” says Kattia of Kaba Coffee. “We have to identify our impact and find ways we can improve and find the equilibrium expected when we talk about sustainability. In some cases, this might require investment, investigations, time and, above all, a work team that’s aware of the way we work and of our ideas. We can never stay still. We are constantly investigating and working every day to keep producing with this social and environmental conscience. The only constant is change. It’s clear that in the coffee world you learn something new every day,” she says. “But sustainability is something we work with from the very beginning to the very end, with every action of the business.”

So there you have it. Genuine sustainability is not about gimmicks and slick catchphrases. It’s not about marketing. It’s about dedication, education and innovation – and businesses like Kaba Coffee and Iberital realise it’s not something we can delay or put off until tomorrow. The future is now.