How to decide on an ethical rating: Cafés

A common issue that people raise is that they are not sure where to start when it comes to writing an ethical review. Perhaps you would like to join in, but the process of deciding on an ethical rating seems overwhelming? Well, look no further, because informing this process is one of the main priorities of the Green Stars Project!

When I’m trying to decide on an ethical rating (1-5 Green Stars) I often find it useful to break it down into smaller categories. In this post I’m going list some individual ethical factors to create a scorecard that can be used to calculate a Green Stars rating. For this, I’m going take the example of writing a review of a local café.

Ethical scorecard for a café.

The table below shows some of the factors that I usually consider, and I’ve assigned a possible score to each of them. The maximum possible score is 25, and this is easily translated into a rating of 1-5 Green Stars.

A table showing a scorecard to break down the ethical Green Stars rating for a cafe. Scores are assigned for features like coffee and tea farming and trade practices; the amount of plant-based food on the menu; whether the food was sustainably grown; how much waste the cafe generates, etc.
Suggested breakdown of Green Stars score for a café. Overall score of 21-25 = 5 Green Stars; 16-20 = 4 Green Stars, 11-15 = 3 Green Stars, 6-10 = 2 Green Stars; 0-5 = 1 Green Star.

Of course you can adjust this to suit your own feelings about what’s ethically most important – either by adding or removing categories or by adjusting the maximum possible score for any one of them. Some might put more weight on plastic waste, others on coffee origin, and others on availability of vegan food, etc. Check out these posts on coffee if you’d like to learn more about the two categories I ranked highest: farming and trade practices. My ranking is based on what I consider the most important ethical consumerism issues:

  1. Climate (carbon footprint, sustainability)
  2. Habitats (land and water use, pollution, farming methods)
  3. Inequality (wealth distribution, corporate hegemony, animal rights)
  4. Population Growth (community development, trade practices)

Let’s look at some examples!

Example 1: Temple Coffee Roasters

In this post on food options in Davis, California, I reviewed Temple Coffee Roasters. Although I didn’t do it at the time, here’s how I would have scored the individual features:

Temple Coffee Roasters, Davis, California

Scorecard for deciding on an ethical Green Stars rating for Temple Coffee Roasters

Temple Coffee Roasters receive an almost perfect score of 24/25, which translates to 5/5 Green Stars. It’s encouraging that they are also very popular, suggesting that customers are starting to really appreciate and support businesses that make ethics a high priority.

Example 2: Starbucks

Take a look at this post on the social and environmental impact of Starbucks for more details on the scores below.

Starbucks, Berkeley, California

Scorecard showing how to compute an ethical rating for Starbucks.

Starbucks scores 12 / 25, which translates to 2/5 Green Stars. To be more precise, 12/25 translates to 2.4 Green Stars, which is very close to the average score (2.3) from our user-poll on Starbucks social and environmental impact.

Example 3: Esquires

Not all coffee chains are equal. Some are worse than Starbucks and some better. One example of a chain that I awarded a higher Green Stars rating than Starbucks is Esquires, which originated in Canada and expanded to the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Here’s my breakdown of the score in a branch of Esquires.

Esquires, Dublin, Ireland.

Scorecard showing how to compute an ethical rating for Esquires cafes.

I didn’t look into the last three features so I’m leaving them blank. Leaving them out, Esquires scores 14 / 19 = 74%, which translates to 4/5 Green Stars. When I wrote the review originally, I wasn’t breaking down the score as I did above, and actually awarded 5/5 Green Stars. I think they are on the border between these two scores but perhaps breaking it down helps to come up with a more accurate score.

If some categories are N/A (in that you didn’t find out one way or another) then it would be best to leave them out and adjust the total score. If however, you made an attempt to look into, for example coffee trade or food sustainability, and there was no information anywhere (in-store or online) then it’s usually more appropriate to give a low score rather than to consider it not applicable. No information on something like coffee sourcing usually indicates that there’s nothing good to say; otherwise the business would make a point of making it known. In the case of Esquires, I just didn’t happen to look into the last three categories on the scorecard.

A capuccino and cookie at Esquires cafe in Dublin.
A cappuccino and cookie at Esquires cafe in Dublin.

So there you have it. As far as chains go, Esquires scores higher than Starbucks and is one of the more ethical coffee chains. Of course, there are often smaller operations (like Temple Coffee Roasters) that go above and beyond.

I hope that breaking down the score into sub-categories proves helpful if you are trying to decide on an ethical Green Stars rating. Often I just compile something in my head, and award a score after I’ve written a review that touches on the relevant facts. But I figured that a scorecard / scoresheet might be helpful for someone who isn’t sure where to start.

The good news is that people who have written a few ethical reviews tell me that it gets easier after the first one or two. I’ve also found this to be true – it just requires some energy to get over that initial hump.

Please consider writing one, and don’t forget that you can win a gift from the World Wildlife Fund by entering the GSP contest, supporting their conservation work in the process. I’m going to run the contest on a recurring basis now, with winners announced regularly – see here for details and links to more helpful resources.


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