Sustainability Spotlight

Sustainabilty Spotlight invites businesses within the SCA Ireland community to describe what sustainability looks like in their coffee space. In this, our first Sustainability Spotlight, we talked to Stephen, of McCabe’s Coffee.

Stephen McCabe is MD of McCabe’s Coffee, a family roasting business started by his father, Clive, in 1995.

As a business that spans two generations, McCabe’s has seen many changes since the mid 90s. “The amount of coffee roasters, the amount of cafes, the interest in quality, the interest in presentation with latte art, it really has changed in so many ways”. Now situated in Newtownmountkennedy in Co. Wicklow, Stephen talked to us about how sustainability issues are prioritized at McCabe’s, and the practices in place at McCabe’s to minimise waste and reduce the carbon footprint across the entire business.

“If we take it right back to the farm, we’re looking for certified coffees, we’re looking for Fairtrade, Organic”. Looking at the farm as one of the ‘hotspots’ of harmful environmental impact [the other being the importing-country end of the industry], Stephen sees sourcing organic coffee as crucial to reducing the harmful impacts of using chemical fertilisers, and protecting biodiversity. To be able to see close up how the farms they buy operate, environmentally and socially, McCabe’s visit the farms they buy coffee from. “We like to meet the farmers to establish that relationship, so we know what’s behind the coffee, the people behind the coffee, how they’re dealing with water treatment on these farms, and how they are treating their workers, how much they’re being paid, and really building that relationship so we know it’s a sustainable product we’re getting”. Stephen describes how these close relationships allow them to look at a checklist before doing any trade, that includes looking at what the conditions are for the workers, wages, accommodation, health provisions and making sure there are no underage workers on the farm. “Over the years now we’ve built up some wonderful relationships going out to visit these farms, in Kenya, Costa Rica, India, and some have some really sustainable community solutions”. While these relationships are established with a farm visit, Stephen maintains the relationships and keeps his travel emissions down using the virtual tools of email and Zoom! McCabe’s have supported a co-op in Sumatra by paying for ten diesel pulpers, to reduce the amount of time spent and distance walked by workers during harvest.

Once the coffee comes into the country, there are opportunities to look at reducing harmful environmental impacts, and Stephen tells us that biogas, instead of natural gas is a change that McCabe’s are looking at for the future. Packaging is another point where they take the opportunity to reduce harmful impact. McCabe’s are, like every other roaster in Ireland, challenged by the limitations of Ireland’s waste management. “Unfortunately, the soft packaging can’t be recycled here, it’s incinerated. We came up with a solution where we teamed up with a company called Terracycle, and they recycle the plastic in the bags, they shred it down and remould it into plant pots and watering cans …long life plastic products so it gives them a new life”. The bags are collected and brought back to be baled and sent to Terracycle. Retail customers can also participate in this, McCabe;s, on request, send out zero-waste boxes that can be sent back once full, to be sent with the other pastic waste for recycling/upcycling by Terracycle.

a bale of packaging ready to go to Terracycle

Stephen told us about a project for using the chaff that is a waste byproduct of the roasting process, whereby the local county council take the chaff and use it to create a natural compost that they use in parks in the area. The council also take the coffee sacks and wrap them round the base of trees to keep weeds at bay, instead of using poisonous weedkiller.

Coffee sacks as weed control

Chaff being collected for use as compost

Offsetting is also a measure McCabe’s have in place, with Tree Nation, a project which plants trees in the tropics where the coffees are grown and where there is a lot of deforestation and loss of biodiversity. “We’re planting upwards of 2000 trees per year now to offset our carbon emissions and we want to increase that as time goes by.

Trees planted as offsets in coffee growing countries

Looking to the future, Stephen thinks we will see more interest in sustainability issues in coffee, “This is what the customer wants, this is what the cafe wants, this is what the business wants. I think we’re going to see a more in-depth approach with sustainable coffee, over the next thirty years”.

Huge thanks to Stephen and the team at McCabe’s for their time! Watch the video interview on @sca_ireland on instagram

CALL TO ACTION #contactlesscoffee


SCA Ireland are partnering with Conscious Cup Campaign, to encourage and promote an already-existing initiative, called  #contactlesscoffee. Cloud Picker published a video widely seen in the media, of how #contactlesscoffee can be served safely, and many of you may already be also doing this. 

Initially the Covid 19 pandemic safety precautions had understandably pushed cafés towards single use disposables, however in June, Greenpeace published a statement, signed by 125 health experts from 19 countries, defending the safety of the proper use of reusables. One of these is Professor Luke O’Neill of Trinity College Dublin, one of the five leading immunologists in the world, and he has endorsed reusables as safe to use.

In 2018 it was published that 22,000 cups were thrown away per hour in Ireland, and it is estimated that less than 1% of single use cups and lids are properly processed for recycling or composting. In order to limit ongoing environmental harm, it’s important to know that we can now return to advocating for reusable cups, and do it safely.

Below is a map of cafes serving #contactlesscoffee. If this is something you offer, we’d like to know about it, and add your business to the map. If you tag @sca_ireland and @consciouscupcampaign on your social media posts, use the hashtag #contactlesscoffee and we will repost, as will Sorcha, from Conscious Cup. If you’d like to make a short video of how you do #contactlesscoffee for us to post across social media platforms, please DM it @sca_ireland on Instagram.

We are 20 years on from when the UN Sustainable Development Goals were set, and with ten years to go,  the UN Global Compact Progress Report reports that we are NOT on track to meet the climate change goals, BUT…we still have time to do it! So, 2020 is an important year, and marks the beginning of what the UN calls “The Decade of Action”!  According to @time magazine, “2020 is our last, best chance to save the planet”.

Cloud Picker coffee show #contactlesscoffee done safely!