Coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the world, and this is borne out by the fact that the world is full of high street chains selling it on the premises, in addition to the jars and sachets people can use to make it at home.
Given how much people consume in the West, coffee is an area where business ethics get a lot of attention, not least as it is mainly grown in low or middle-income countries in conditions where there is often a conflict between the preservation of ecosystems and the provision of land for growing it.
Ethical coffee comes from different angles. Many companies, whether coffee brands, retailers or coffee shops themselves, will make a point of offering things like Fairtrade Coffee, which carries a certain price premium but does so on the basis that farmers are being paid a set minimum figure for it, to ensure they are not impoverished.
The appeal to consumers of such coffee, along with other Fairtrade products, is knowing they will be paying that bit extra to make sure the benefits go to the people most in need of it.
A second certified ethical approach to coffee comes through the Rainforest Alliance, which aims to benefit growers through sustainable development while also protecting the forests as globally important ecosystems and vital animal habitats.
This means buyers of coffee carrying the Rainforest Alliance kitemark can be sure they are getting it from producers and firms that are taking care of the environment and people alike.
Such considerations should be uppermost in the minds of those providing branded takeaway coffee cups. If these containers are not made from sustainable packaging, this can undermine any reputation you want to build for being ethical when it comes to coffee, as well as damaging your own efforts to help the environment.
Efforts to be greener and ethical can be very laudable, but accusations of hypocrisy and “greenwashing” will never be far away if you are found to be falling short. After all, what sort of virtue is there in selling coffee that costs a bit more so you can pay the farmers better while saving money on packaging by going for a cheap and polluting option?
By taking into account your packaging, you can achieve more. It means you can happily and truthfully tell your customers that you have taken a range of steps to ensure your coffee products contribute positively to the world.
Part of that can be the economic benefits for poor farmers in the developing world, while another is a holistic approach to environmental issues.
In 2017, a report commissioned by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee found that just one in 400 takeaway coffee cups was recycled. Matters may have improved somewhat since then, but starting from such a low base means it is a big challenge.
However, by using sustainable and biodegradable cups, you can help ensure that you can be as ethical with your coffee on the high streets of Britain as you are in coffee plantations thousands of miles away.