Coffee has a sizable carbon footprint. Coffee production is known for emitting methane gases, and the fertilizers used to treat the soil can be considerable. Green Mountain Coffee of Vermont has long been known as a practitioner of eco-friendly business methods. But the company's use of the single-use K-Cup has left a lot of environmentalists protesting. Recently, the New York Times reported on the “coffee conundrum” that Green Mountain Coffee faces with its K-Cups.

Last year Green Mountain Coffee made $803 million in sales, and 80 percent came from the single-use serving K-Cups. K-Cups are all made from non-recyclable plastic and tinfoil pods that are thrown out after one use. And as Green Mountain Coffee reports, “in the Keurig system broadly, over 2.7 million K-Cup portion packs were brewed every day in FY ’08.”

Environmentalists are concerned that a company with the motto “brewing a better world” would embark on such a wasteful enterprise. After all, the company's green initiatives have been abundant. Green Mountain Coffee, which has been composting since 1983, has developed oxygen-whitened and dioxin-free Earth-friendly filters and opened a 10,000-gallon biodiesel fueling station at its Vermont distribution center. Further, in 2008 the company commissioned a life-cycle analysis of its package types to determine the most eco-friendly practices.  

Green Mountain Coffee maintains that brewing one cup of coffee at a time reduces the environmental waste, therefore limiting the environmental impact per cup. Further, they say that 30 percent of the company's sales are of fair trade-certified coffees, which come from environmentally friendly farms and growers who are paid an ethical price for their beans. They also offer the “My K-Cup” which is a reusable filter assembly, and they have developed all K-Cups to be free of bisphenol-A (BPA).

Michael Dupee is Green Mountain’s vice president for corporate social responsibility. As he told the NY Times, “Consumers see the waste stream and they compare it to what they had done before, and they have a perception that there is a problem.” The company plans to test some recyclable paper K-Cups that they deem more eco-friendly.

For further reading:

Green Mountain Coffee addresses single-use servings
Longtime eco-friendly coffee makers attempt a green solution to the waste of single servings.