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Science and Technology Food, Agriculture & Environment Vol.1(2) : 295-300. 2003

Life cycle assessment applied to coffee production: investigating environmental impacts to

aid decision making for improvements at company level
Roberta Salomone
Dipartimento RIAM - Università di Messina - Piazza S. Pugliatti 1, 98121 Messina,Italy.

Received 18 January 2003, accepted 29 April 2003.

Coffee production has grown by nearly 200 percent since 1950; after oil it is the most important traded commodity in the world. Although it is only grown in
tropical and equatorial areas (it is the primary export of many developing countries), the majority of coffee is consumed in the developed world (the United
States and the European Community combined import two out of every three bags of coffee produced in the world). Considering that the coffee chain is very
wide-ranging, involving many companies of different types and sizes, each environmental decision, at any point of the coffee chain, should be taken under a
“life cycle thinking” perspective. It was with this intention that Life Cycle Assessment methodology was applied to analyse the environmental impacts
connected to a coffee business located in Sicily. System boundaries were defined to include all life cycle steps: from coffee growing through to its distribution
to consumers, consumption and disposal. The aim of the study was to identify the “hot spots” in the stages of the product’s life cycle in which environmental
improvements were easily achievable and to suggest alternatives to minimise the environmental impact of production phases, thereby improving processes
and company performance.

Key words: LCA, environmental impact, coffee production, life cycle impacts.

Introduction material consumption in order to identify the “hot spots” in the

Coffee production has grown by nearly 200 percent since 1950; stages of the product’s life cycle in which environmental improve-
after oil it is the most important traded commodity in the world. ments are easily achievable then to suggest alternatives to minimise
Although it is grown only in tropical and equatorial areas (it is the the environmental impact of production phases, thereby improv-
primary export of many developing countries) most of the coffee ing processes and company performance.
produced is consumed in developed countries (the United States
and the European Community jointly import two out of every three
bags of coffee produced in the world)1. Considering that the cof-
The analysis of the environmental impacts of a coffee company
fee chain is very wide-ranging, involving many different types of
company of varying size, each environmental decision, at any point located in Sicily was investigated by applying Life Cycle Assess-
whatsoever of the coffee chain, should be taken using “life cycle ment (LCA). LCA is a methodology used for analysing and as-
thinking”. Environmental management has become increasingly sessing the environmental loads and potential environmental im-
important to productive and innovative businesses and often in- pacts of a material, product or service throughout its entire life
volves suppliers upstream and the companies downstream. A busi- cycle, from raw materials extraction and processing, through
ness that wishes to implement an effective internal environmental manufacturing, transport, use and final disposal 3. The product sys-
management system must first of all analyse the environmental tem studied is delimited from the surrounding environment by
impacts of its production process and its products/services. In- “system boundaries” that define the processes to be included in
evitably, this entails identifying impact factors found at the start the study and calculations are made on the base of a “functional
or end of pipeline and therefore outside the physical confines of unit” (e.g. 1 ton of the product studied).
the business’ own productive sphere of activity2. Life Cycle As- In accordance with ISO standards3, 4, 5, 6 an LCA study consists of
sessment (LCA) is making its mark as one of the most interesting the following steps:
tools available to management for environmental assessment and -goal and scope definition: the reason for carrying out the study is
control. LCA broadens the vision of a producer giving it a more clearly defined; the product, process or service system to be
generalised view of the environmental impacts of the production assessed is described, specifying the individual processes to
line. The business has to involve suppliers upstream and the com- be included in the study; a functional unit for calculation is
panies downstream to collect inventory data in accordance with chosen;
the boundaries of the system analysed. This paper presents an en- -inventory analysis: inputs and outputs - energy, materials and emis-
vironmental analysis of a coffee business adopting LCA method- sions - of each process included in the product system are
ology. The analysis was carried out on a firm in Sicily (Italy) that quantified and collected; data collected are related to the func-
roasts and distributes coffee. The reason for applying LCA to this tional unit;
business is to examine the ways in which the company itself im- -impact assessment: the results of inventory analysis are grouped
pacts on the environment in order to identify how to reduce those into different impact categories according to the kind of envi-
impacts and increase the environmental sustainability of the com- ronmental problem to which they contribute - classification;
pany in line with “life cycle thinking”. The aim of the study is to contributions to all environmental impact categories are indi-
obtain data relating to energy use, waste management and raw vidually quantified - characterization; the environmental cat-

Food, Agriculture & Environment; Vol. 1(2), April 2003 295

egories to which each process contributes are compared – ticular for energy, fertilizer and pesticide use7. Fertilizer and pes-
valuation;interpretation: results are interpreted and translated ticide production data were included using commercially avail-
into opportunities to reduce the environmental impacts of the able databases8, 9 while nitrogen and phosphorus emissions and
product system. pesticide emissions were quantified using estimation methods10,
11, 12
Results and Discussion Average coffee production per hectare varies in relation to the
Goal and scope definition. The goal of the study is to examine type and characteristics of the land on which it is planted, together
the ways in which the coffee roasting and distribution company with other ecological factors, as well as to the age of plants. The
makes an impact on the environment in order to identify how to approximate yield ranges from 2 to 6.5 quintals of finished prod-
reduce its impacts and increase the environmental sustainability uct per hectare13. We assumed an average yield of 4.25 quintals/
of the product from a life cycle perspective. It is important to hectare.
ascertain the environmental aspects of coffee processing and in- Coffee beans can be processed in two ways: the dry method or the
clude the environmental impacts connected with life cycle stages wet one. We assumed that only the dry method (also called the
other than those relating solely to the company itself. The com- natural one) was used to process coffee beans and that the coffee
pany wishes to use the information obtained from the LCA study berries were both sun-dried and by using machines (assuming
as a starting point for the development of its environmental man- heavy fuel oil consumption of 0.11 l/kg) 7 and that the whole proc-
agement set-up. This means collecting information about the en- ess was done by hand. This is very common in small or medium
tire life cycle of the product and using this information to im- plantations and in regions where the temperatures are warmer and
prove the company’s eco-efficiency. The functional unit was de- supplies of clean, fresh water are not plentiful. The dry method
fined as 1 kg of packaged coffee delivered to the final consumer. produces a single residue, the inner skin or outer hull, amounting
The business has a wide product range but the functional unit was to about 0.99 t per 5.5 t of coffee beans14.
chosen in order to avoid allocation (in accordance with ISO
B) Processing. For this step specific site data were collected for
14041), with no distinction between the various products (e.g. dif-
each basic process contained within the company box of the sys-
C o ff e e c u l tiv a ti o n
tem flow chart.
The direct material and energy inputs of the coffee processing
T ra n sp o r t cr u d e and packing stage are: green coffee (or dried berries); electricity
c o ff e e
(to power the equipment); natural gas (for the roasting step) and
C om pany
packing materials. The direct outputs are: roast coffee in primary
S to ri n g , c le a n in g
a n d w e ig h in g
W as te
and secondary packaging; air emissions (from natural gas com-
bustion in the roaster) and waste (dust and scraps from cleaning
R o a s tin g W as te
and coffee chaff from roasting).
C o o li n g
C) Packaging. The company uses many different types of primary
R o a s te d c o ffe e and secondary packaging for roast coffee (aluminium cans, paper
tr a n s p o r t
filters, etc). All of these have been included in the inventory analysis
P r o c e s s in g a t
P a c k a g in g
m a n u fa c tu r e
G rin d i n g ex terna l (specific site data) whilst commercially available databases have
i n d u s tr ie s
been used for the manufacturing of packaging materials8, 9.
P a c k a g in g T re a te d c o ffe e
Pac k aging
tr a n s p o r t tr a n s p o r t
D) Transport. The main transportation activities take place at dif-
T ra n s p o r t T r a n s p o r t u s in g
ferent life-cycle stages as follows:
w i th c a r r ie r c o m p a n y v e h ic le s
1. Pesticides and fertilizers to coffee growers;
2. Green coffee from growers to the coffee company premises;
D i str ib u tio n
3. Packaging from manufacturers to the coffee company premises;
C o n su m p tio n W a s te
4. Packaged coffee from the coffee company premises to local
wholesalers and final points of sale;
W a ste m a n a g e m e n t 5. Packaged coffee from the coffee company premises to national
and international wholesalers;
Figure 1: Coffee life cycle. 6. Packaged coffee from each national and international whole-
saler to final points of sale.
ferent blends, different types of packaging, traditional and decaf- Point 1 is not included in the transport calculation. Primary data
feinated coffee, etc.). System boundaries were defined to include for points 2 and 3 were collected regarding distances travelled
all life cycle steps from coffee cultivation through to its distribu- and quantities delivered. Primary data for point 4 were collected
tion to consumers, consumption and disposal. Production of ma- on diesel oil consumption for the quantities delivered (transported
chinery and equipment are excluded from the system. In Figure 1 using company vehicles). In relation to point 5 it was extremely
the coffee life cycle is presented: steps in the dotted boxes are difficult to ascertain the deliveries made by carriers to each
not included in the study. wholesaler. Therefore estimates of the average distance between
the factory and a market town (discriminating between three mar-
Inventory analysis. The inventory analysis includes the follow- ket areas: regional, national and international) were made on the
ing stages: basis of data provided by the company. Point 6 is not included in
A) Cultivation. For this step literature data were collected, in par- the transport calculation since it was nearly impossible to collect

296 Food, Agriculture & Environment; Vol. 1(2), April 2003

accurate data about quantities delivered regionally, nationally and Cultivation Processing Packaging Transport Consumption Disposal
internationally to each supermarket and shop, and from these points
Photochemical oxidant formation
of sale to each consumer. For these reasons this step is clearly
underestimated. Depletion of the ozone layer

E) Consumption. The consumption step is very difficult to meas- Greenhouse effect

ure and/or estimate because it depends on so many different fac- Terrestrial Eco-toxicity
tors: consumer nationality and tastes (the amounts of coffee and
water used to make French coffee and Italian espresso differ Human Toxicity

greatly) or the type and brand of coffee machine used (in particu- Eutrophication (water)

lar for energy consumption) amongst others and these differences

are highly significant (+-30%). Nevertheless, in order to obtain Aquatic Eco-toxicity

some general information, selected data from a Pré Consultant Air Acidification

LCA study9 and specific information provided by Illycaffè Spa15

0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
were used. Data for the international market refer to two different Figure 2. Impact categories studied.
filter coffee machines used by households throughout Europe9: tions of the process stages (in %) to the category results where
an electric aluminium coffee machine with a thermos jug (ma- the total of all contributions to each impact category is set at 100%.
chine A) and a coffee maker for use on an ordinary gas stove (ma- From the figure it can be seen that the cultivation and the con-
chine B); we assumed that 50% of the coffee delivered onto the sumption stages make the greatest impacts. The cultivation stage
international market was prepared with the first kind of machine contributes the most to Terrestrial Eco-toxicity and Eutrophica-
and 50% with the second. We further assumed the use of 7-gram tion (contributions greater than 97%); the consumption stage con-
mono-dose filters. Data for the Italian market refer to an electric tributes the most to air acidification, aquatic eco-toxicity, human
espresso coffee machine (machine C) used by households through- toxicity, greenhouse effect, depletion of ozone layer and photo-
out Italy15 assuming that 7 grams of coffee are used for a single chemical oxidant formation (contribution exceeds 68% for all
cup of espresso. categories cited). The disposal stage contributes to aquatic eco-
The use of professional coffee machines is not included because toxicity (after consumption) and to eutrophication (after cultiva-
they are far more complicated (they generally have other acces- tion). The contributions made by transport are very limited but
sories that consume more energy). Water consumption (for cof- influence photochemical oxidant formation, greenhouse effect,
fee preparation and for cleaning the machine) and sugar are also human toxicity and air acidification (after consumption and culti-
excluded as they are assumed to be of little importance to the vation) and the depletion of ozone layer and aquatic eco-toxicity
whole life cycle of the product and are also too difficult to model. (after consumption but before cultivation). The contributions of
F) Disposal. Waste management includes packaging, coffee chaff the processing and packaging stages are almost negligible (less
and coffee grounds. We assumed that all these materials were dis- than 1.7% for all categories).
posed of without any recycling. Data quality and assumptions are
expressed in the previous description of the stages included in the
inventory analysis. In general, specific on-site data were collected
for the most important aspects of the life cycle; or were obtained
from scientific literature and/or commercially available databases
where on-site data were not available. The reference period for
data collection was the year 2001. The LCA software used was
TEAM 3.0 by Ecobilan16.

Impact assessment: main results. The impact assessment step

was performed investigating eight different impact categories (Ta-
ble.1); Ecopoints were used as a general weighting factor and for
the sensitivity analysis. Figure 2 shows the individual contribu-

Table 1. Impact categories. Figure 3. CML – Air Acidification (g eq. H+) – Main pollutants.

Impact categories Method Unit

Air acidification University of Leiden, Centre of Environmental Science (CML) g eq. hydrogen (H+)
Aquatic Eco-toxicity University of Leiden, Centre of Environmental Science (CML) 1e3 m3
Eutrophication (water) University of Leiden, Centre of Environmental Science (CML) g eq. phosphates (PO43-)
Human toxicity University of Leiden, Centre of Environmental Science (CML) g
Terrestrial Eco-toxicity University of Leiden, Centre of Environmental Science (CML) t
Greenhouse effect (direct, 100 y.) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate (IPPC) g eq. carbon dioxide (CO2)
Depletion of ozone layer World Meteorological Organization (WMO) g eq. trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11)
Photochemical oxidant formation. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) g eq. ethylene

Food, Agriculture & Environment; Vol. 1(2), April 2003 297

Figure 5. CML – Eutrophication, water (g eq. PO43-)–Main pollutants.

Figure 4. CML - Aquatic Eco-toxicity (1e3m3)-Main pollutants.

Figure 7. CML – Terrestrial Eco-toxicity (t) – Main pollutants.

Figure 6. CML – Human Toxicity (g)–Main pollutants.

Figure 8. IPCC– Greenhouse effect (g eq. CO2)–Main

Figure 9. WMO– Depletion of the ozone layer (g eq. CFC-11)–Main

Figure 10. WMO–Photochemical oxidant formation (g eq. ethylene)–

Main pollutants. Figure 11. Ecopoints.

298 Food, Agriculture & Environment; Vol. 1(2), April 2003

Table 2. Variables changed in sensitivity analysis.
Life Cycle Variable Base case Assumptions changed
Cultivation Machine-drying Heavy Fuel Oil Natural gas
Cultivation Fertilizer use Mineral fertilizer Organic fertilizer
Cultivation Pesticide used Yes No
Consumption Energy consumption 100% 50%
Machine A
Consumption Coffee machine Machine B Only machine B
Machine C Only machine C

The impact categories investigated are presented in Figures 3- effects of varying the base case data for certain parameters. These
10 to show the relative contributions made by major pollutants to parameters and changes made to them are shown in Table 2. Each
the environmental problems examined split according to the stages parameter was changed independently of all others so that the ex-
in the life cycle in which they occur. Figure 11 shows a general tent of its effects on the base case could be assessed alone. There-
weighting factor based on ecopoints16 relating to energy and waste, fore, no single sensitivity case represents the best or worst situa-
air emissions and water emissions for each life cycle stage con- tion under which these systems might operate. Figure 12 shows
sidered. It is evident that air emissions are the most relevant and the sensitivity analysis results using a general weighting factor
the consumption stage accounts for the greatest impacts. based on ecopoints for energy and waste, air emissions and water
A sensitivity analysis was conducted to make an in-depth evalu- emissions for each of the variables considered.
ation of the environmental impact assessment by examining the From the sensitivity analysis it is evident that the exclusive use
of gas stove coffee making (machine B) instead of a mix of gas
E c o p o in ts A ir
stove and electric coffee machines has the largest positive effect
on the system analysed, while the exclusive use of electric coffee
machine (machine C) has the worst effect. Energy efficiency in
35000 the consumption step would also improve the eco-balance of the
30000 system, while the other assumptions (localized in the cultivation
25000 steps) make only slight differences in comparison to the base case.
5000 Conclusions
0 For a better understanding of the importance of environmental
C ase base N a tu r a l g a s N o p e s tic id e s O rg a n ic 5 0 % e n e rg y O n ly M a c h in e B O n ly m a c h in e C
fe rtilize rs c o n s u m p tio n
management conducted under a life cycle perspective, Figure 13
shows the ecopoints applicable solely to the company (i.e. from
E c o p o in ts E n e rg y & W a s te Figure 1 the steps included in the company box plus the step relat-
ing to distribution made by company vehicles). An analysis of en-
vironmental impacts made at company level alone in order to make
environmental improvements would steer management towards
targeting almost exclusively the distribution stage (e.g. improve-
ments to the company vehicle pool) and the coffee roasting stage
(e.g. improving energy consumption, air emissions and waste man-
agement). Accordingly, at company level, the main environmental

improvements that could be addressed are the following.
C ase base N a tu ra l g a s N o p e s tic id e s O r g a n ic 5 0 % e n e rg y O n ly M a c h in e B O n ly m a c h in e C
fe r tilize r s c o n s u m p tio n Air emissions - principally due to fuel consumption of vehicles
for local deliveries (all the vehicles used for local deliveries run
E c o p o in ts W a te r
50 on diesel fuel) and to a lesser extent from the combustion of fos-
45 sil fuels in the roaster (natural gas). Improvements in fuel con-
sumption would enable air emissions to be lowered.
30 Energy consumption - electricity consumption refers to single
25 processing steps and to forklifts that are powered by electric bat-
20 teries. Improvements in energy efficiency would also enable air
emissions to be lowered.
0 Waste management - waste management at company level is
C ase base N a tu r a l g a s N o p e s tic id e s O rg a n ic 5 0 % e n e rg y O n ly M a c h in e B O n ly m a c h in e C
fe rtilize rs c o n s u m p tio n
mainly related to coffee chaff. At present this solid waste is dis-
posed of alongside other urban refuse. Although the company would
be interested in seeking an alternative use, it has been discour-
Figure 12. Sensitivity analysis results:ecopoints.
aged from taking any initiative due to the small quantities con-

Food, Agriculture & Environment; Vol. 1(2), April 2003 299

Under a life cycle perspective the company should approach its Acknowledgement
environmental management decision making differently and con- We would like to thank the staff of Miscela d’Oro SpA, Messina
centrate mostly on the cultivation and consumption stages. (Italy), for their cooperation. Special thanks to Dr. Marilena Cioni
Natural resource use – although not all the data relating to culti- for her active collaboration.
vation have been included, it is evident (see Figure 2) that this
step has a significant impact on the entire coffee life cycle, there-
fore it is fundamental for the company to include the data in its 1
environmental considerations. Environmental improvements could 2
Mirulla, R. 2001. La gestione ambientale nella supply chain: esperienze e
certainly be achieved by choosing organic and/or sustainable cof- metodi di coinvolgimento dei fornitori. In Scaramazza, R. (eds.). La
fee farms as suppliers. fabbrica verde. Certificazione ambientale e imprese sostenibili. Roma:
Nuovo Studio Tecna. p. 143-150.
Solid wastes – at company level the main solid waste is coffee ISO 14040: 1997. Environmental management. Life cycle assessment.
chaff, but when the consumption step is also taken into considera- Principles and framework.
tion then coffee grounds make up the largest proportion of solid ISO 14041: 1998. Environmental management. Life cycle assessment. Goal
and scope definition and inventory analysis.
waste (apart from packing materials). Instead of being disposed 5
ISO 14042: 2000. Environmental management. Life cycle assessment. Life
of, coffee grounds could be used as food for worms as well as for cycle impact assessment.
compost. The company should place bins for composting food 6
ISO 14043: 2000. Environmental management. Life cycle assessment. Life
waste in each point of consumption to which they deliver. These cycle interpretation.
can then be collected when subsequent deliveries are made and 7
Diers, A., Langowski, H.-C., Pannkoke, K., Hop, R. 1999. Produkt-Ökobilanz
contents used for composting in a worm farm. The worms would vakuumverpackter Röstkaffee. Bobingen: Eco-Informa Press. LCA
process the coffee grounds into fertilizers. The amounts obtained Documents. vol.3.
through collecting coffee grounds in this way together with the Ecobilan Group Data for Environmental Analysis and Management
coffee chaff produced on the company premises could allow it to (DEAMTM). 1999. Version 3.0.
Pré Consultants SimaPro 5.1. 2003. Amersfoort, Netherlands.
start up a small-scale enterprise for vermiculture or compost pro- 10
Brentrup, F., Küsters, J., Lammel, J., Kuhlmann, H. 2000. Methods to
duction. estimate on-field nitrogen emissions from crop production as an input to
LCA studies in the agricultural sector. International Journal of LCA. 5
Energy consumption – other methods to increase the environ- (6): 349-357.
mental sustainability of the company could involve setting up 11
Heathwaite, L. 2000. Flows of phosphorous in the environment: identifying
projects in collaboration with manufacturers of coffee machines pathways of loss from agricultural land. In: Weidema, B.P., Meeusen,
where such projects undertake joint research aimed at improving M.J.G. Agricultural data for Life Cycle Assessment. The Hague: Agri-
energy efficiency. Energy waste could also be prevented by infor- cultural Economics Research Institute (LEI). vol. II.
mation campaigns to heighten consumer awareness (both at pro- Hauschild, M. 2000. Estimating pesticide emissions for LCA of agricul-
tural products. In: Weidema, B.P., Meeusen, M.J.G. Agricultural data
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Packaging - even though this step makes no great impact, inves- 13
Barbiroli, G. 1970. Produzione e commercio internazionale del caffè. Bolo-
tigating more recyclable alternatives to the current types of pack- gna: Riccardo Patron.
aging used could nevertheless be very worthwhile. 14
Camaggio Sancinetti, G., Nicoletti, G.M. 1995. Il ciclo di lavorazione del
From the above LCA clearly emerges as a useful tool to provide caffè ed i sui sottoprodotti Nota 1: Aspetti quantitativi. Industrie alimentari.
information for effective environmental management under a life XXXIV: 1137-1146.
cycle perspective, and as one that does not limit improvement op- Illycaffè Spa. 2003. e.mail 4/4/03.
portunities to the physical confines of a company alone. Ecobilan Group Tools for Environmental Analysis and Management
(TEAMTM). 1999. Version 3.0.

A ir W a te r E n e rg y & W a s te
1 20

1 00

E c o p o in ts




S t o ri n g , c le a n in g a n d R o a s t in g M i ll i n g P a c k a g in g Di s t rib u t io n
w e ig h t in g
P r o ce s s in g s te p s

Figure 13. Company level - Ecopoints.

300 Food, Agriculture & Environment; Vol. 1(2), April 2003