Public awareness of climate change has shifted tremendously over the last year, and cafés and coffee shops are taking note. It’s clear you are only future-proofing your business by implementing greener practices.

In fact, a recent survey by Hope Not Hate found that the majority of people from eight countries including France, Germany, Italy, UK and Brazil now thinks that the climate crisis is our number one issue. No wonder consumers are more likely to buy sustainable products.

So what can you do to curb your environmental footprint as a café owner? Apart from using produce from eco-friendly companies, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your waste, carbon emissions and other impacts on the environment.

1. Use sustainable coffee

Where does your coffee come from? Did it cause deforestation? Is it grown sustainably and for a fair wage?

A lot of coffee comes from unsustainable suppliers guilty of harming natural habitat by using harmful pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. Coffee is in fact sprayed with more chemicals than any other edibles except for tobacco.

But you can make a difference by choosing sustainable brands. Look for certifications like USDA Organic, Bird Friendly Habitat and Fairtrade which all hold some of the highest environmental and ethical standards. Rainforest Alliance Certified may only refer to part of the product, and Fair Trade Certified is not as strict as Fairtrade.

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environmental and ethical food certifications

2. Offer more vegan and vegetarian options

One of the biggest ways an individual can cut their carbon footprint and prevent deforestation is to reduce meat and dairy consumption, and many are eating less of it as a result. So why not offer more vegan or vegetarian options to customers?

Limiting fish in your food is also impactful, as overfishing is a huge problem leaving oceans depleted so the people who depend on seafood for survival are affected.

You don’t have to go full veggie-café if that’s too high a risk. With a few tasty meat and fish options and a wider range of irresistibly-looking vegan meals, your customers won’t complain. Also make sure there are several vegan milk options for your coffees.

3. Reward customers bringing their refillable cups

The amount of non-recyclable (and recyclable) plastic-coated paper cups with plastic lids that go to landfill every day is staggering. For a coffee shop, that’s entirely within your influence to limit.

It’s easy to serve hot drinks in washable porcelain mugs for customers who stay, but how do you limit takeout drinks in disposable cups? By rewarding those who bring their own reusable cup.

You can give discounts, points to spend on future purchases or anything else customers would appreciate. To encourage this further, sell your own reusable cups for those who don’t have one already.

When you can’t avoid giving out single-use cups:

  • Avoid disposable stirrers – provide metal spoons instead to use at the counter.
  • Use compostable cups – at least steer clear of non-recyclable cups.
  • Don’t hand out lids unless necessary – and only if they’re recyclable or compostable.
  • Provide recycling and compost bins clearly marked for what goes in them.
digital receipt on phone

Electronic receipts can slash your paper use, and customers benefit from an anywhere digital proof of purchase.

4. Don’t print paper receipts

An oft-forgotten environmental sinner is the humble paper receipt. Did you know that the shiny, no-ink receipts from card terminals and many receipt printers contain the harmful chemical BPA? It means you can’t recycle them, and they can cause a wide range of health problems with longterm exposure.

Applicable to all types of paper receipts is, well, they are made of paper. Although not plastic, which we all know is bad, it comes from the very trees we need more of globally in order to curb carbon emissions.

Fortunately, most cloud-based POS systems allow you to send digital receipts via email or text. In a coffee shop, most customers will not require a receipt anyway, but those who do can benefit from having a digital copy that won’t go lost in the washing or desk drawer.

5. Use coffee grounds as an effective fertiliser

Did you know that used coffee grounds that end up in landfill release methane, a far more damaging greenhouse gas than CO2, as they break down? When you imagine just how much coffee we brew internationally, it’s obvious the way we dispose of coffee grounds is not so trivial.

Instead of throwing the coffee in the bin or compost, you can give it people or local gardening groups tending to plants. Coffee is an excellent fertiliser that adds nutrients to depleted soil, attracts worms (good thing), supporting plant growth. You can just scatter it around the plants – even your potted ones in need of some TLC.

6. Buy organic and eco-friendly inventory where possible

Whatever kitchen things you use, choose organic and eco-friendly where possible. Non-organic kitchen cloths, for example, may be made of cotton grown with harmful pesticides exhausting the land and biodiversity where it grew.

Toilet paper is another example. Don’t go for virgin-material rolls responsible for trees being cut down, when you can go for recycled brands that work just as well. Aluminium kitchen foil also has a resource-intensive production process. You can get foil with a much lower impact on the environment than supermarket-bought brands.

With any new products you buy, it’s always a good idea to ask the question: what is the environmental impact of this, from start to end of its lifecycle? This may take time to research, but once you know what suppliers to use for each product, it gets much easier. Plus, you start to be more conscious of the lifecycle of everyday products and where it ends up.

how to make your cafe sustainable

Swapping essentials for organic and eco-friendly versions takes some research, but is worth it.

7. Reduce and reuse – if all else fails, then recycle

This one is more general and can apply to a lot of things, which is why it is impactful.

The mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” refers to the things we can do to lower our environmental impact – in order of priority. A lot of companies are emphasising their “100% recyclable” packaging as a way to look greener, but the fact is that only a small proportion of fully recyclable packaging is actually recycled in the end – even when you put it in the recycling bin.

The best thing you can do is reduce consumption in the first place to avoid using the earth’s valuable resources for production of new things. For things you can’t reduce, opt for second-hand or reusable alternatives which minimise the need for more production and carbon emissions. Only when these aren’t viable options should you opt for recyclable things that are better than single-use products destined for landfill.

You can put those three priorities on a checklist and assess all the different things you need in your coffee shop – for instance food packaging, furniture, napkins and cutlery – to see where you can find better solutions.

And of course, dispose of rubbish responsibly in general waste, recycling or compost bins. If you can, order more specialised recycling bins available in your local area.

Although paper and innovative materials like Vegware are better than plastic, much of it still ends up in landfill.

8. Assess your heating and cooling setup

You don’t want to put off customers by being too cold or too hot, so it’s important to have a certain temperature inside. But are your windows, doors and walls properly insulated? Can you let enough natural air in when needed?

Using radiators less can slash your energy consumption, but if warm air is sipping out through doors or windows, there’s little hope of turning down the heater during cold weather. Also check if you have (or can get) double-glazed windows that are made for keeping in the heat.

Air conditioning is a saviour during hot summers, but they can actually exacerbate outdoor heating and obviously use energy. Use windows where possible to air indoor areas, use old-fashioned desktop fans, and only resort to air conditioning when really necessary.

9. Limit menu options to be more efficient

The fewer menu items, the more energy-efficient you can be with cooking and the less waste you’ll produce. You can buy larger quantities of ingredients (usually, that means less packaging overall), focus on making the recipe just right and use less energy on the oven or other cooking equipment.

For your permanent menu items, many hospitality POS systems can be set up to track ingredients of the food you sell, prompting you to order exactly what you need, in time for when you need it. Such ingredient tracking can prevent you from ordering too much or too little, or too early for when you need it, helping you to fight food waste.

Focusing on quality rather than quantity of foods can actually make you stand out among the competition. You can offer a new kind of sandwich every day so customers are motivated to return daily, a delicious cake using seasonal fruit, or a couple of lunch meals people would be too curious about not to buy.

To save water, try only giving it to customers asking for it.

10. Use water and electricity more efficiently

Conserving water protects from future water shortages and saves energy in the process of transporting it to you. There are many other reasons to protect water supplies, so it’s worth assessing your own use.

Are you filling up more jugs of water for customers in advance than you actually need? Is your dishwasher (if using) or washing machine Energy Star-qualified? Can you wash more things in the sink, using less water, than the dishwasher? Is your toilet using lots of water and can be replaced with a better flushing mechanism?

With electricity, switch off as many things as you can at night so there are no unnecessary lights or machines on standby overnight. Use sensors for the lights in the toilet, and check if your fridges, freezers and brewing equipment are energy-efficient too. Avoid tumble-drying which uses a lot of energy; instead, hang out textiles to dry naturally.

If you rely on high-energy equipment, set some rules about when to have it off or at least on standby.

For tablet checkouts: 6 best coffee shop POS systems