Sustainably sustaining a mild caffeine addiction as a student is no small feat. Premium coffee is a godlike vacation from the usual rocket fuel instant-coffee concoction in my reusable cup, but when the cost of that delightful drink is half an hour of my meagre wages, and also the future of the planet, the tasty light of joy is dimmed.
In this issue of Trinity News — we’re putting the planet first (where it probably should be, objectively). Micro-economists tell us that our day-to-day consumer choices have a massive impact on the function of businesses, and while I hate to admit it, the economists are completely right. TN is here to help you make an informed choice when indulging the coffee addiction. Read on for a comprehensive sustainability vs. price comparison on Starbucks, Costa, and of course, your SU Café! Price points of these cafés will be judged based on their smallest size of americano, because it is literally a shot of coffee and hot water and I resent paying more than €1.80 for it.
Starbucks Coffee Co.
Location: College Green, 2 mins from Trinity’s Nassau Street entrance.
Sustainability Stars: 2/5
Price Point: Tall Americano €3.35
One of the most recognisable brands in the world, Starbucks, has dominated everything caffeinated across the USA and has now infiltrated College Green. Certainly, it’s a tasty brew, but how sustainable is the Big Green Giant?
“Although they are clearly aware of the issues posed by Starbucks single-use plastics, the momentum behind the eradication of plastics from their stores is not as powerful as we’d like to see.”
Pros: Over 99% of Starbucks coffee beans are sourced with Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) practices in mind. These are a set of industry standards which promote farmers’ environmental education, water conservation, and biodiversity. Starbucks has committed to becoming a net-zero carbon company by 2050 and is also aware of the work it has yet to do in terms of plant-based menu options and waste management. The paper/ plastic combo in their disposable cups means they’re recyclable but with more energy expense than a purely paper cup.
Cons: Although they are clearly aware of the issues posed by Starbucks single-use plastics, the momentum behind the eradication of plastics from their stores is not as powerful as we’d like to see. Plastics are still the operational standard, and most coffee cups, despite being made with some recyclable materials, are not discarded by customers in a manner that allows for their reuse. By no fault of their own, iced-coffee fiends are the worst contributors to Starbucks waste, as in their hunt for some chilled coffee goodness, it seems single-use plastic is the only vessel. In other bad news, Starbucks charges extra for plant-based milks and very few products are locally sourced.
Location: Nassau Street (like you didn’t know already), across the road from College’s Nassau Street entrance
Sustainability Stars: 3/5
Price Point: Small Americano €3.10
The arts block has been stalked by Costa coffee cups since time immemorial. Haunting and tempting is the siren’s call to a gigantic cup of that good stuff while making moves towards a less-than-exhilarating lecture. However, I’m sorry to say that this sweet thing is not sustainable on the planet, nor on our empty wallets.
Pros: With a similar energy to Starbucks, Costa has focused on its supply chain, and can boast that an impressive 100% of its beans come from Rainforest Alliance farms. Rainforest Alliance claims that all coffee beans are sourced sustainably, with climate-smart growing methods, limitations on pesticides and improving biodiversity. Costa has one-upped Starbucks, aiming for net-zero carbon status by 2040. In other good news, the Costa takeaway cup is made of 100% plant-based, renewable materials, and the iced-coffee cup (more good news) is 50% recyclable. It’s not perfect, but it’s making a solid attempt!
Cons: Big bad news. I’m sorry to report this, as it was all looking so good, but Costa Coffee is owned by Coca-Cola, which plummets its rating in my eyes as Coca-Cola is a corporate consumption nightmare. This is because, as more layers of corporate hierarchy are added into a company, the harder it becomes to manage and track supply chains, and local value gets lost along the way. Costa still charges extra for plant-based milks, and very few products are locally sourced.
The SU Café
Location: Goldsmith Hall
Sustainability Stars: 4/5
Price Point: Standard Americano €2.50
“Whipping out coffees and toasties like nobody’s business since their grand re-opening in January this year, the SU cafe hails an impressive €5.50 deal for a toastie and crisps. The SU café also has a can-do attitude and its customer service was overwhelmingly positive.”
You know them, you love them, the SU café is the student union-led coffee shop in Goldsmith Hall. Whipping out coffees and toasties like nobody’s business since their grand re-opening in January this year, the SU cafe hails an impressive €5.50 deal for a toastie and crisps. The SU café also has a can-do attitude and its customer service was overwhelmingly positive. But how does the union’s stretched budget line up with sustainability goals from anarcho-environmentalist Trinity students?
Pros: The SU Café knocks Costa and Starbucks out of the park in terms of local produce, sourcing their beans from Warbler and Wren, which are roasted locally in Tallaght. Even though the budgeting grind has led to gentle pleas from the @trinitysucafe instagram for students to donate ceramic cups, this is actually a brilliant sustainability move and we love to see the reuse. Also, plant milks are included in coffee prices! A win for the Oatly cult. Final point of praise: the SU Café has a compost bin!
Cons: Plant-based toastie options are not as on point as the corporate giants (shocker), but we hear of exciting new plant-based options for Green Week on the horizon. I dare to dream. Let’s talk about the disposable cups, which are elegantly embellished with Warbler and Wren’s logo. These cups are compostable, which is brilliant. Unfortunately, I find it hard to believe that students en masse are aware of this and are still disposing of their drained cups ineffectively. With a little more signposting from the SU Café, the compostable cups can be actually composted and could make for happy soil.
“However, another important factor I did not quantify here was The Heart. It wants what it wants. Perhaps for the dear reader, it’s the pretty green circle with a mermaid on the cup that brings the morning together.”
There we go. As could have been expected, the smaller, independent café is more able to be sustainable than the corporate coffee confederacies. However, another important factor I did not quantify here was The Heart. It wants what it wants. Perhaps for the dear reader, it’s the pretty green circle with a mermaid on the cup that brings the morning together. We don’t judge here at Trinity News — remaining absolutely objective is a passion. But for those who want to make the greener choice, my main advice from research gathered here is this: small local independent coffee shops are better for the planet.