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Café Iguaçu:
Eco-friendly & Thriving

By Katherine McCabe

With the world’s increased concern for the environment, soluble coffee manufacturer Cia Iguaçu has been and continues to develop environmentally friendly programs for the coffee industry.

Iguaçu has various efficient environmental programs to better use resources and manufacture coffee. The company, ISO 14001 certified since 2002, has reduced atmospheric emissions and has improved the treatment of industrial effluents.

Café Iguaçu, founded in 1967 by a group of coffee growers and whose control was sold to the Marubeni Corporation in 1972, is based in Paraná, Brazil. The company produces soluble coffees for industrial applications, private label and its own Iguaçu brands. Globally, soluble coffee consumption has been significantly growing, specifically at 2-2.5% a year. This is a higher growth rate than that of regular filtered coffee. In Brazil, coffee consumption has been growing steadily due to the nation’s successful promotion to increase internal coffee consumption. Coffee consumption in Brazil has increased from 12 million bags to 18 million bags over the last 10 years. However, Brazil is an R & G coffee country, making soluble coffee not as popular, yet Iguaçu is optimistic for the future due to global growth and is thus concentrating on its worldwide markets. Customers in more developed markets, such as Japan and Europe, are becoming more conscious about sustainable products and eco-friendly practices, and thus have become optimal markets for Iguaçu trade.

When Café Iguaçu decided to make the switch to eco-friendly practices, the reasons were not mainly environmental. Water and energy costs were increasing and the company wished to avoid costly investments. The main reasons to change production methods were to increase the company’s capacity over the years while avoiding investment, and to increase production while trying to be more efficient by using less energy to produce each kilo of coffee. There were many approaches to reaching these goals but Café Iguaçu found that the reduction of water consumption would have the largest return. Café Iguaçu’s decision to implement many environmentally friendly programs began as a business investment, but has grown into an ideology.

According to the company, “the employees’ perception of the eco-friendly matters is more than an opinion, but a mindset.” The workers continually try to reduce their carbon footprint in all aspects of their lives. The employees agree with 100% of the environmental and quality issues that the company addresses and frequently act in the same manner at their homes. The company has a huge mentality centered on the constant conservation of natural resources and continuous improvement.

Through various initiatives, Café Iguaçu makes a difference in educating consumers and raising awareness for conservation improvement. Through visits to farmers, the project Coffee Growers Awareness, teaches improved agricultural practices to preserve the environment while still producing raw materials. The farmers are taught the best ways to preserve soil, water and forests, as well as using pesticides and the proper destination for residues. Also covered through this project is fire prevention in farms to protect crops and the environment. Furthermore, some employees visit the farms and do volunteer work to help educate the farmers.

Café Iguaçu is consistently educating Brazil’s youth through their Environmental Education Program, Pingo D’Água (Water Drop). Water Drop is a partnership project between COPATI (Consortium for the Environmental Protection of Tibagi River Basin) and the firm. This program brings environmental awareness to school-aged children by developing activities with schools to convey the children’s own responsibility to preserve their environmental resources.

Annually, Café Iguaçu invites approximately 200-300 local farmers to the company for an informative lecture. A subject is picked that relates to an environmental issue, such as “The Importance of Preserving the Trees Alongside the Riverbanks,” and the farmers attend. A specialist on the subject provides the farmers with increased opportunities and education as well as the techniques necessary to improve the yield in their farms.

Energy Reduction
Café Iguaçu implemented their Program for Energy Reduction in 2002, aimed to reduce the amount of energy used to produce each kilo of soluble coffee and over the past six years of the program’s existence, energy reduction totaled 19%.

In order to conserve energy, the company is switching from a boiler that burns fuel and oil to one that burns woodchips, a biomass fuel. The new boiler also burns the totality of spent coffee grounds generated in the production process that would have otherwise been discarded. Previously these spent grounds were partially burned and the parts that were unusable were donated to the local farmers for organic fertilizer.

Café Iguaçu aims to reduce the usage of fossil fuels, in turn contributing to the sustainability of the environment and reduction of carbonic gasses that have a damaging effect upon the ozone layer, inducing the greenhouse effect, which leads to global warming. Since 2005, Iguaçu has increased the use of sustainable fuels from 37.18% to 43%. The company’s goal is to reach 85% by 2009, a possibility due to the implantation of the large biomass boiler.

This new boiler will be able to burn 100% of spent grounds as well as woodchips. The boiler produces steam as a source of energy, so there is no direct link from the new boiler to the productivity of coffee; however, this is a much cheaper energy source. “The new machine does not affect production directly, but reduces the cost of production dramatically,” states corporate planning manager, Fabio Sato. The new boiler was purchased from a Brazilian company, Bremer. “This boiler is considered better because it is not burning oil and thus allows the company to receive carbon credit in return,” continues Sato. Carbon credits are awarded to companies that significantly reduce their emissions, and can be traded in the stock exchange as an “environmental commodity.” Carbon credits are mechanisms created by Kyoto Protocol, through which, companies in developing countries who switch their non-renewable energy sources by renewable ones, not emitting such gases, are awarded with carbon credits that can be sold to companies in the developed countries. This boiler allows Café Iguaçu to reduce emissions and harness a cheaper source of energy.

Residue Reduction
A bench made of ecowood.

Café Iguaçu has also developed the Program for the Reduction in Solid Residues. Not only is the discard of solid residues reduced, but the materials are also changed in such a way that 85% of residues generated are recyclable. 76% of white paper within the offices and factory has been replaced with recycled in an effort to reduce paper. The company had previously used cardboard boxes as packing materials but has since switched to alternative packing such as shrink wrap packaging whenever possible. Also in the factory, paper towels have been replaced with cloth towels. The supply of towels is frequently audited to insure that they are washed in an eco-friendly manner. The company claims to recycle 100% of paper and cardboard residues, and send them to a facility to be recycled.

Iguaçu has also implemented a program to reduce wood residues and derivatives. This was prioritized in 2006 and 2007 to reduce the number of trees cut to supply the company. Ecowood, a mixture of plastic and organic material, using the spent grounds that would have been discarded, have replaced wooden pallets. The spent grounds from the factory are sent to a company that mixes them with plastic resin to produce the ecowood. The ecowood was originally used in the factory as benches to monitor their performance against rain and heat. According to Sato, “since the benches did very well, the ecowood is now being used to make pallets.” These pallets do not break as easily and are more resistant.

Water Treatment & Reduction
Water is the most used resource in the production of soluble coffee and thus Café Iguaçu has created the Program for the Reduction in Water Consumption. Water is used in generating steam, cleaning, extracting soluble solids and refrigeration. Iguaçu gets their water from deep artesian wells that utilize the Guarani Aquifer. These waters flow deep underground at 50ºC and pass through three semi-artesian wells at 1,000 meters deep. These wells are necessary to extract the coffee, just as is done by an espresso machine. Since 2002, Iguaçu has been successful in reducing water consumption by 42% and was consequently awarded as the best program for attaining Water Saving in Industrial Processes of South Region, by the publishers of Ecology Expression Publisher.

As much as possible, the company tries to reuse the water. Water is used in the factory to refrigerate and cool the machines. Previously, this water would pass through the machine’s motor and be discarded. Now this water is re-circulated allowing it to be reused for other purposes. “By saving water, we are helping to preserve one of the biggest underground water reservoirs of the planet (Guarani aquifer),” states the company.

Café Iguaçu is also Brazil’s pioneer in the development of a Coffee Effluents Treatment (ETE). The Iguaçu station is considered a model throughout Brazil as it treats 100% of the company’s industrial sewage. Therefore, the treated water is returned to the environment with an exceptionally high standard of cleanliness. The company’s medium-term goal is to be able to achieve total reuse of the water obtained from the treatment.

This attempt at going green has, however, been hindered. There are a few difficulties that the company is currently facing in regards to these projects. The principal difficulties include the appreciation of local currency, the Brazilian real, tariffs, tax system and location. The European Union imposes strong and discriminatory tariffs against Brazilian instant coffee affecting the company results and damaging Brazilian exports. “It is our expectation that our government will soon question the EU at WTO on this taxation,” states Sato. Moreover, Iguaçu as well as the Brazilian industry is not allowed to use green coffee from other countries. Café Iguaçu has sales of 17,000 tons of instant coffee per year, with sales to over 40 countries on five continents.

The implementation of eco-friendly programs has not yielded a significant financial return. However, the company did avoid many further investments. According to Fabio Sato, Iguaçu’s corporate planning manager, it is difficult to predict when the company will return on investment, but the image they have been trying to promote is positively affected. Café Iguaçu sends the message to the consumers and community that it is trying to be 100% sustainable and cares about the environment. Café Iguaçu follows the “kaizen” (continuous improvement) as a philosophy so the company “can never stop searching for opportunities to be more eco-efficient and thus reduce our footprint,” states Sato.

In accordance with the kaizen, Café Iguaçu has implemented the 5-S’s program over the past 16 years. This is a program consisting of five steps beginning with “S” to ensure quality throughout the coffee production. The first step, “Sort,” is to make things clean and organized. The second step, “Set in order,” is to further organize, while identifying and arranging things in a systematic manner. The third step, “Shine” involves regular cleaning and maintenance of all machines to make sure that they are constantly in working order. The fourth step, “Standardize” makes it easy to maintain productivity by simplifying and standardizing. The final step, “Sustain” is in place to maintain what has been accomplished. The 5-S program is an asset to the company and to the kaizen philosophy.

Café Iguaçu is a company doing its part to save the environment. The inclusion of eco-friendly programs has not only benefited the environment but the company as well. As Brazil’s environmentally friendly pioneer, Café Iguaçu serves as an example for other companies considering the switch to going green.

Tea & Coffee - September, 2008

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