I’m an avid coffee drinker, I have been for most of my life. When I first moved to the UK, which was almost 20 years ago, coffee was a rarity. In fact, there were 2, may be 3 brands of instant coffee on the supermarket shelves. Fast forward to 2019, and coffee has become the norm. Independent coffee houses and chains are popping up on virtually every high street in the country.

The coffee craze is such a social norm that it is rapidly gaining popularity across the globe. On the UK high streets alone, cafés seem to be replacing the old traditional neighbourhood pubs.  According to the World Coffee Portal, there were less than 600 coffee outlets in the country in 1999. Last year, the number was more than 10 fold, 7,470 ‘branded outlets’.

Coffee has become so popular that you can now also serve any type of coffee you want to friends and family within the comfort of your own home. Sales of coffee machines have been rising and so has the availability of brands in the supermarkets, with more than ½ an aisle dedicated to coffee.

While sales of coffee are on the rise, the environmental concerns are not far behind. More land and water is needed to keep up with the demand, contribution to waste is a concern and so is the treatment of workers and farmers.

There’s no stopping this global craze, so what are businesses doing to enable us to continue enjoying our favourite hot beverage whilst reducing its environmental and social impacts?

The last 5 years have seen a growing shift to leading a more conscious and ethical lifestyle. Businesses have started to succumb to the environmental pressures around them and have finally realised that in order for their business to continue thriving in the future, changes must be made.

A number of initiatives are taking place as we speak.  Multinational brands, for example, have started to invest time and resources to introduce packaging that is more environmental friendly.

Nespresso is implementing initiatives towards a zero waste society. They use aluminium coffee pods and have started trialling a close loop system for the collection of the pods – a system whereby you purchase an item and when you are done, you return it to the manufacturer for recycle or reuse.

The ‘Coffee vs Gang’ ads by Kenco ran on television for many months depicting their work with coffee producing communities in South America. Such initiatives highlight the necessity for businesses to work closely with local farmers to ensure fair pay and working conditions are met.

Independent businesses have also realised the potential of this growing eco-conscious, ethical consumer base. So profitability combined with sustainability at the heart of its operations is the ethos of the new business models. They support farmer initiatives, ensure that their coffee comes from sustainable farms, carry the fair trade mark and/or organic certifications and use packaging that is biodegradable and/or compostable. Independent businesses such as Percol, Toast Artisan Coffee and Kru Café, are all examples of this growing ethical business model.

Whilst coffee brands are doing their bit for the environment, what excites me more is that manufacturers are going a step further. Although their objective will be maximising news ways of profitability, technological advancements in manufacturing are gaining traction in the race to clean up the environment.

I recently came across a very interesting article on artificial intelligence, often referred to as AI and the phrase – Conversational Commerce – something I wasn’t familiar with until recently. Conversational commerce as explained by Avrohom Gottheil, founder of #AskTheCEO, Why you should pay attention to Conversational Commerce, is how we communicate with technology to carry out an action. So for instance, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Goggle Assistant, are examples of AI platforms that we use in everyday life. Until now, I had never thought of these platforms beyond their current capabilities.

Now I know some of you will be wary of AI taking over your homes, but this is a good example of how AI can be integrated into sustainability. Avrohom’s article highlights how AI can be used in appliances to carry out our tasks to make everyday life a bit easier. For example, your refrigerator telling you that you are running out of milk and ordering it for you. Another example, your coffee machine letting you know when your filter will need changing.

Looking at it from a sustainability perspective, the article is a great example of how we can use AI to reduce our waste and curb consumption habits.  How many of us are guilty of ‘assuming’ we need more coffee pods or cereal when out shopping?  When we get home, we find that there are already several boxes in the cupboard.  Smart appliances, with conversational commerce capabilities can assist us with managing those little shopping tasks, minimise impulsive buying and ensure that we don’t overspend and overconsume. It is an idea that I am slowly warming up to. If implemented correctly, these AI platforms can prove to be crucial in gradually adapting to and becoming a more sustainable society.

While manufacturers are starting to introduce these features into smart appliances and coffee brands are implementing an eco-conscious business model, we as customers, should make the most of the new technology and business ethics to streamline our shopping and consumption habits.  In doing so, we will collectively start to see a reduction of our negative impacts on the environment.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.


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