May 25, 2022 - Technology

Coffee importers turn to sailboats to fight climate change

Animated illustration of a suited hand with the finger pushing a coffee cup on the screen
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Like everything else shipped around the world on huge, diesel-hungry cargo vessels, your morning cup of joe comes with a significant environmental cost. But what if there were a greener way to move coffee beans from port to port — say, for instance, by sailboat?

Why it matters: Shipping emits over 2% of the world's total carbon emissions, per TIME, and they're in the midst of a major, industry-wide push to reduce that figure.

A handful of coffee importers are trying exactly that, Bloomberg reports.

  • One such company, France-based Belco, imported 22 tons of Colombian coffee via schooner earlier this year.
  • While more expensive than traditionally shipped varieties, the sailboat-shipped beans were such a hit with eco-conscious consumers that Belco now wants to sail up to 4,000 tons of beans from South America to Europe by 2025.

What's next: Shipbuilders in Europe, South America and elsewhere are responding to the newfound demand by designing bigger, better sailboats up to par with modern nautical standards.

Yes, but: A flotilla of schooners won't make much of a dent in the global shipping industry's total carbon footprint, so it's still urgent for giants like Maersk to embrace alternative fuels and other emissions-reducing innovations.

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