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How Starbucks plans to make its coffee carbon neutral

If you buy an espresso at Starbucks—brewed in a machine running on renewable electricity—most of the carbon footprint of the drink comes from how the coffee was grown. But by the end of the decade, the company plans to reach its goal of making even the production of its raw coffee beans carbon neutral.

The company is still studying the problem and experimenting with the most effective solutions to allow it to reach its goal. In trials with smallholder farmers, Starbucks is testing a new app that can scan the soil and instantly give farmers details about the health of the soil, so fertilizer, a major source of emissions, can be targeted to only the places that it’s needed and used in the best combinations. “In the field, within minutes, you can have the ability to test a sample, get data downloaded, and have the best mixes brought to the surface,” says Michelle Burns, senior vice president for global coffee and tea at Starbucks. The app can aggregate tens of thousands of soil samples and visualize trends across the company’s supply chain.

The new technology can also track how more carbon is stored in the soil over time as farmers take additional steps like planting shade trees next to coffee. On an experimental farm that the company runs in Costa Rica, the company is also helping breed and test new varieties of coffee trees that can better resist disease. The trees can produce more coffee beans, which means that they also sequester more carbon in the soil while helping farmers with small plots earn a better living.

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