【SDGs CHALLENGE】Rio Coffee-Tackling “2050 Problem” reducing CO2 emissions from a cup of coffee, Altalena, Inc.


<Interviewee Profile>
Altalena Corporation-Mr. Toshimasa Yagi, President and Representative Director

As the representative of RIO COFFEE, he operates three stores in Ashiya, Kitano Kobe, and  Nakanoshima Osaka. He is also active in the Japan Specialty Coffee Association and participates in international coffee competitions. He is also active as a coffee experience researcher and a cooperative researcher of the Brain Information Engineering Laboratory of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) Brain Information and Communications Integration Research Center (CiNet).

This article is reprinted from Life-Tech KOBE.

SDGs Challenge – Since 2021, we support business development and overseas expansion of startups that take on the challenges of solving global-scale SDGs issues to create systems and products that create global social change pivoting from Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe City. The SDGs The “SDGs CHALLENGE” is a co-creation program that aims to solve global SDG issues. We will introduce the startups selected for this program one by one in the Stories category of this website.

<Service Introduction>
The Value _way Project, where consumers take the initiative in creating environmental value.
There is a research report that predicts coffee production to be cut in half by 2050 due to climate change. Therefore, this project has started a survey in Africa in cooperation with an international NGO. The goal of the project is to compile data on emissions during production around the world. The service is characterized by the adoption of an environmental value model in which the amount of emissions is determined by consumers taking the initiative in recording their consumption experiences. In addition, a verification experiment to reduce emissions by recycling coffee grounds after consumption was conducted in Kobe. The company is preparing a service that records data from production to recycling in a blockchain with members outside the company and would circulate the data through the economy in  the future.

Illustration explains a cycle of sustainable coffee development and consumption

To promote behavioral change in coffee-consuming countries to solve the “2050 problem”.

-Please tell us how and why you started your business.

Yagi : I started my own business in 2005. Until that time, I had never been employed by a corporate, and I thought I was a socially unfit person (lol). I was thinking that I must start something on my own if I want to be employed. That is when I remembered the fact that my mom had a cafe growing up, so coffee was always something nearby. I was fascinated by the depth of espresso and decided to start my coffee shop. Coffee was slowly becoming more common in Japan during that time. I was shocked by the fruity and bright flavor of specialty coffees, rather than the dark and bitter coffees of the past. It sparked a will in me to popularize it in Japan. I started roasting my coffee in 2009 to spread the concept of specialty coffee. As I wanted to offer delicious coffee to a wider audience, I also learned about the “2050 problem,” when coffee will no longer be as abundant as today due to climate change. Specialty coffees utilize beans called Arabica, which is commonly produced in areas with high altitudes where there are temperature differences. This region is affected by climate change, and by 2050, the amount suitable to grow beans will be reduced by half, resulting in a decrease in coffee harvest. To solve this problem, producing countries are taking various measures such as planting new coffee varieties, But that is not enough. As consumers also have a part in this and I thought we must contribute as consumers. That is why I started a new project called “Value Way”.

-What is the “Value Way” project?

Yagi: In addition to encouraging change in consumer behavior by visualizing CO2 emissions and carbon footprint to the consumers. The “Value Way” project is also working on upcycling coffee grounds. Coffee is a familiar commodity in our daily lives, so we launched a dedicated application to visualize the CO2 emitted from a cup of coffee in the hope that coffee will be a catalyst to raise awareness of CO2 reduction. It is a system whereby the amount of emissions can be determined and recorded by recording that you have actually consumed coffee. Another initiative to reduce CO2 emissions is the production of biochar (charcoal made from natural organic matter) from coffee grounds discarded at our stores, which will lead to waste reduction and CO2 emissions reduction. Biochar is an internationally recognized method of decarbonizing farmland, and this initiative aims to make biochar from post-consumer coffee grounds.

-Are there any challenges as you pursue this new project?

Yagi: Yes, there are. Coffee grounds from stores and convenience stores are labelled as general commercial waste, and collection and transportation of them require a permit from the city. Therefore, we cannot collect it under the current law. We are exploring the possibility of legalization by carefully communicating with city officials to determine whether the coffee grounds that will be turned into biochar can be used as a valuable resource. And while we are exploring the possibility of legality, each municipal has different interpretation and regulations for waste management. Because of this, I feel that the hurdles for nationwide expansion are quite high.

Aiming to reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 800,000 tons

-What made you decide to participate in the SDGs Challenge?

Yagi: I am a member of the KiP(Entrepreneurship Plaza), where the SDGs Challenge is held. So I knew about the challenge from their very first year. The fact that it is a program run by a local government gives me a sense of security. Also, the program supports overseas demonstrations on the theme of SDGs that I want to solve attracted me to this challenge.  I actually applied for the program before, but at the time I was not clear on what I wanted to do, and I was declined. I decided to reapply for the second round with a clear vision of what I wanted to do to solve the “2050 problem.” Hence I was ready to start working on it, and I was accepted.

-How was your participation in the project?

Yagi: I went to Rwanda and Ethiopia in January to conduct field research and to purchase coffee. I chose Rwanda mainly because there is a NGO that conducts field research on carbon footprint. Also because the City of Kobe is working to strengthen its partnership with the city of Kigali in Rwanda, and I thought they might be more supportive. We also visited Ethiopia and talked about our desire to promote similar initiatives there, and they were very willing to support our efforts in the future. I am grateful to this project for opening many doors for us.

-What kind of value do you hope to contribute to society in the future?

Yagi: Coffee is a delicacy, a luxury indeed. It may be a cup of coffee to calm you or motivate you. We are promoting the “Value Way” project to attain a sustainable Coffee chain ecosystem that meets the taste of each individual while delivered in an environmentally friendly manner without subsidizing the quality. By recycling coffee grounds consumed in Japan, we aim to reduce greenhouse gases including CO2 by about 800,000 tons hand in hand with coffee lovers.