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Report, 2022

Environmental impact of coffee, tea and cocoa – data collection for a consumer guide for plant-based foods

Eneroth, Hanna; Karlsson Potter, Hanna; Röös, Elin


In 2020, WWF launched a consumer guide on plant-based products targeting Swedish consumers. The development of the guide is described in a journal paper (Karlsson Potter & Röös, 2021) and the environmental impact of different plant based foods was published in a report (Karlsson Potter, Lundmark, & Röös, 2020). This report was prepared for WWF Sweden to provide scientific background information for complementing the consumer guide with information on coffee, tea and cocoa. This report includes quantitative estimations for several environmental categories (climate, land use, biodiversity and water use) of coffee (per L), tea (per L) and cocoa powder (per kg), building on the previously established methodology for the consumer guide. In addition, scenarios of consumption of coffee, tea and cocoa drink with milk/plant-based drinks and waste at household level, are presented. Tea, coffee and cacao beans have a lot in common. They are tropical perennial crops traditionally grown in the shade among other species, i.e. in agroforestry systems. Today, the production in intensive monocultures has negative impact on biodiversity. Re-introducing agroforestry practices may be part of the solution to improve biodiversity in these landscapes. Climate change will likely, due to changes in temperature, extreme weather events and increases in pests and disease, alter the areas where these crops can be grown in the future. A relatively high ratio of the global land used for coffee, tea and cocoa is certified according to sustainability standards, compared to other crops. Although research on the implications of voluntary standards on different outcomes is inconclusive, the literature supports that certifications have a role in incentivizing more sustainable farming. Coffee, tea and cocoa all contain caffeine and have a high content of bioactive compounds such as antioxidants, and they have all been associated with positive health outcomes. While there is a strong coffee culture in Sweden and coffee contributes substantially to the environmental impact of our diet, tea is a less consumed beverage. Cocoa powder is consumed as a beverage, but substantial amounts of our cocoa consumption is in the form of chocolate. Roasted ground coffee on the Swedish market had a climate impact of 4.0 kg CO2e per kg powder, while the climate impact of instant coffee powder was 11.5 kg CO2e per kg. Per litre, including the energy use for making the coffee, the total climate impact was estimated to 0.25 kg CO2e per L brewed coffee and 0.16 kg CO2e per L for instant coffee. Less green coffee beans are needed to produce the same amount of ready to drink coffee from instant coffee than from brewed coffee. Tea had a climate impact of approximately 6.3 kg CO2 e per kg dry leaves corresponding to an impact of 0.064 CO2e per L ready to drink tea. In the assessment of climate impact per cup, tea had the lowest impact with 0.013 kg CO2e, followed by black instant coffee (0.024 kg CO2e), black coffee (0.038 kg CO2e), and cocoa drink made with milk (0.33 kg CO2e). The climate impact of 1kg cocoa powder on the Swedish market was estimated to 2.8 kg CO2e. Adding milk to coffee or tea increases the climate impact substantially. The literature describes a high proportion of the total climate impact of coffee from the consumer stage due to the electricity used by the coffee machine. However, with the Nordic low-carbon energy mix, the brewing and heating of water and milk contributes to only a minor part of the climate impact of coffee. As in previous research, coffee also had a higher land use, water use and biodiversity impact than tea per L beverage. Another factor of interest at the consumer stage is the waste of prepared coffee. Waste of prepared coffee contributes to climate impact through the additional production costs and electricity for preparation, even though the latter was small in our calculations. The waste of coffee and tea at Summary household level is extensive and measures to reduce the amount of wasted coffee and tea could reduce the environmental impact of Swedish hot drink consumption. For the final evaluation of coffee and tea for the consumer guide, the boundary for the fruit and vegetable group was used. The functional unit for coffee and tea was 1 L prepared beverage without any added milk or sweetener. In the guide, the final evaluation of conventionally grown coffee is that it is ‘yellow’ (‘Consume sometimes’), and for organic produce, ‘light green’ (‘Please consume). The evaluation of conventionally grown tea is that it is ‘light green’, and for organic produce, ‘dark green’ (‘Preferably consume this’). For cocoa, the functional unit is 1 kg of cocoa powder and the boundary was taken from the protein group. The final evaluation of conventionally grown cocoa is that it is ‘orange’ (‘Be careful’), and for organically produced cocoa, ‘light green’.


coffee; tea; cocoa; environmental impact; climate; land use; biodiversity; water use; certifications; consumption

Published in

Report / Department of Energy and Tecnology, SLU
2022, number: 122
Publisher: Department of Energy and Technology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Eneroth, Hanna
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)