How to Make Your Coffee Shop More Sustainable

Sustainability is a topic on everyone’s mind — including business owners. If you want to make your coffee shop a little greener, keep reading for tips on how to take your sustainable practices to the next level.

Recommended: Read our full, in-depth How to Start a Coffee Shop Business guides, inspired by coffee professionals, they will help make your coffee dreams real, from sourcing beans to hiring baristas, choosing the best POS system, forming an actual company, and everything in between.


Why All the Fuss?

You might ask yourself, “Is coffee really that environmentally unfriendly?” The answer is surprising. Coffee can be an unexpectedly harmful industry. From troubling farming practices and bad habits in coffee shops to the waste produced by disposable cups, lids, and straws, the environmental effects can add up quickly.

Yet, the marketability of sustainable practices in the coffee world is vast. Promotion of compostable packaging, food waste reduction, and more can inform customers of your desire to enhance your business model to positively impact the world around you.

A cube with LLC printed on its sides

Recommended: In addition to sustainability, cafes should try to buy ethical coffee beans

Getting Started

If you’re ready to move toward a more sustainable business model, here are several initial ideas to consider:

Start Composting

Sign up for a composting service with your city or, if your city doesn’t provide this service, compost your shop’s waste yourself. Switching to compostable coffee filters is an easy way to integrate composting into your shop’s daily routine. Naturally acidic coffee grounds also make a great addition to soil for a variety of outdoor and indoor plants, giving you a good excuse to add some greenery to your cafe space.

Recommended: Check to see if there's a composting program near you

Change Your Coffee-Sourcing Criteria

Source coffee beans from farms with organic practices. Certified organic farms make ideal choices. However, many coffee farms that also follow organic practices struggle to gain this certification due to a lack of funds. Do your homework so you know the farming practices used to grow your coffee before you buy.

Consider Alternative Packaging Options

Coffee packaging is extremely important to the sale and distribution of coffee because it creates a barrier between the coffee and oxygen — vital to maintaining product quality and longevity. The downside, however, is the plastic or foil lining used to create this barrier. While durable and inexpensive, these materials also create an incredible amount of waste. To help make your coffee packaging a little more sustainable without sacrificing quality, consider:

  • Researching the recyclability of the packaging you currently use as well as the recycling services in your area. If possible, switch to a recyclable package.
  • Choosing coffee bags with no lamination or lamination made of recycled plastics. While lamination helps keep coffee separated from oxygen, these options can enable you to reduce or eliminate the harmful plastics in your packaging.
  • Switching to biodegradable or compostable packaging as the coffee packaging world moves toward compostable linings, enclosures, and valves. Examples of companies offering these alternative packaging products include Tekpak Solutions, Pacific Bag, and Elevate Packaging.

Rethink Your To-Go Containers

Disposable coffee cups, lids, and straws might be the most wasteful aspect of operating a coffee shop. You often can’t recycle these single-use items and they don’t biodegrade. Switching to biodegradable or compostable cups and lids can reduce your overall waste while ensuring your business maintains its current profit from takeaway beverages. Eco-Products is one example of a company that specializes in compostable coffee containers.

PRO TIP: Selling reusable cups in your coffee shop can not only help you reduce waste and boost profits, but also serve as a great merchandising idea when they feature your business logo.

Trim Your Energy Use

The amount of energy necessary to power a coffee shop may surprise you. From your lighting, refrigerators, and water heater to your espresso and drip coffee machines, you run a range of power-hungry equipment. To help reduce your energy usage, consider:

  • Switching your normal light bulbs to LED versions.
  • Choosing an espresso machine with energy-saving features, such as insulated boilers, saturated groups, or LED lights, if you’re still shopping for the right machine for your shop.

Minimize Food Waste

Every food service provider deals with some level of food waste. Whether due to health department requirements or simply the freshness of an item, coffee shops toss out unconsumed food on a daily basis. To decrease food waste in your shop, consider:

  • Ordering or preparing fewer pastries if you have leftovers at the end of the day.
  • Donating leftover food and pastries to local food banks. Some will even accept food and beverages past their expiration date.
  • Selling leftover pastries for half price the next day.
  • Ordering and selling food items with a longer shelf life, such as bagels with cream cheese rather than avocado toast.

Paperless Receipts

By investing in a smart POS system, you can produce e-receipts for your customers. These e-receipts can go to customer's phone as text message or email address. Moreover, this will help you build a database of customers for future advertising. Read our guide on the best POS systems for coffee shops to choose the one that suits you the most. 

Engaging Your Customers

Customer participation is key to any successful change to your business model. By engaging your customer base with the right incentives, you can make your transition to a more sustainable operation a positive experience that will keep them coming back. To help incentivize your customers, consider:

  • Offering them a discount for using reusable cups. If you also want to promote the sale of your own branded merchandise, offer a larger discount for reusable cups purchased from your shop.
  • Selling sustainable items, such as reusable coffee filters, to promote environmentally friendly items while also boosting your profits.
  • Offering discounts to customers who bring in their own reusable straws and selling reusable straws at your register.
  • Charging a small fee for to-go orders that require disposable cups then donate the proceeds to climate-friendly organizations to help offset the waste created by those disposable items.

Wrapping Up

While moving toward a more sustainable business can seem like a big undertaking, even small steps can make a difference. By following these tips and doing your own research about recycling and composting services in your area, you can make the transition easier and more attainable.

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