Considered to have been discovered in Ethiopia, coffee is the most traded agricultural commodity around the world, with Americans alone drinking almost 150 billion cups per year. Coffee is produced in over fifty different countries throughout Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Brazil is the world’s largest producer of coffee.
When coffee is produced, there are lots of different steps behind it. In fact, it can take between four and seven years for the coffee trees to produce their first harvest, and a single tree will bear fruit for around twenty-five years. Once the coffee has grown, it is harvested, either by hand or with machinery. It is then processed which removes the outer fruit containing the green coffee beans. Processing is done with one of two methods, either by using a combination of water and machinery for wet processing, or the traditional process of drying the beans in the sun. Finally, the coffee beans will be hulled, cleaned, and sorted, before they are ready to be exported and shipped globally. After shipping, the green coffee beans are roasted and packaged before being shipped to their final destination.
But just like any other industry, the production of coffee has an impact on the environment. The Water Footprint Network says that the global average water footprint of just one 125ml cup of coffee is 140l, which is equivalent to more than two eight-minute showers. And the environmental impact of coffee goes much further than just the water use.
According to research by the British Royal Botanic Gardens, climate change may be a threat to coffee. Around sixty percent of wild coffee species are at risk of extinction due to climate change, deforestation around the world, and the rise in severity of pests and fungal pathogens. Arabica, which is the most popular species of coffee in the world, is now listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
How is Coffee Produced Sustainably?
Coffee production can be made more sustainable by using more ethical practices for crop management and water use and avoiding pesticides by using pheromone boxes to keep insects away. Farmers following sustainable practices will now compost coffee bean waste as fertilizer or use coffee hulls rather than cutting down eucalyptus trees. Reforestation and shade-growing are also becoming more commonly used practices for more sustainable coffee growing.
If you want to be more responsible and kinder to the environment when it comes to your coffee consumption, you probably know that there are certain labels on coffee that you should look out for. But which ones are the most important, and how do you know what they mean?
Different Coffee Labels and Their Meanings
Over the past few decades, third-party certification labels for coffee have emerged, leading to a range of changes related to social justice and the environment such as conservation, farming practices, safeguarding the local communities, and protecting the rights of the farmers.
Rainforest Alliance Certified: This is considered to be one of the most comprehensive coffee labels. The Rainforest Alliance has been working together with coffee farmers for its certification since 1995. Farms are audited based on various criteria including protecting the health of the soil and water, biodiversity, carbon sequestering, and waste management. Along with this, the certification promotes better working and living conditions for farm employees, education access for children living in farming communities, and more gender equality. It aims to support farmers in improving the land and the livelihoods to build a future that is more financially secure.
Shade-Grown: Many modern coffee farms will look like forests, with a combination of coffee trees and plants. However, these do not provide the canopy cover for migratory birds and other native wildlife. When the coffee is labelled as ‘shade-grown’, this means that the farm has returned to more traditional farming methods with a range of native trees to create a natural canopy that the coffee plants are cultivated under. This acts as a carbon sink and helps to boost biodiversity and prevent the erosion of soil.
Organic: If you can’t get Rainforest Alliance Certified or Shade-Grown coffee, then the next best label to look out for is USDA Organic coffee. These farms are not required to provide canopy cover; however, a coffee that has this label will not have been grown with any herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. Along with this, farmers are also required to use methods to prevent the erosion of soil, which is audited by a range of accredited certifying agencies.
Sustainable Coffee Brands to Try
If you are concerned about the environmental impact of the coffee you drink and want to start being more sustainable when it comes to purchasing and consuming this beverage, the good news is that there are now more sustainable coffee brands than ever before for you to switch to. Some of the best options include:
This company has been in business since 1993 under the name Larry’s Beans, and is one of the most eco-friendly, sustainable coffees on the market. They have been a force in the fair trade, sustainable coffee industry for almost three decades and are committed to sourcing only the best beans while using their extensive roasting experience to produce the freshest, best-tasting, and highest-quality coffee. When you buy coffee from here, you can rest assured that all their products are Fair Trade, Organic, Shade-Grown, and Kosher. Along with this, you can now buy fully recyclable, BPA-free K-cups from them. The company is based in North Carolina and is dedicated to being eco-friendly with their offices. They practice what they preach with solar water-heated flooring, rainwater collection for restrooms, veggie-oil fuel for delivery, and company-wide composting. They work with a range of carefully selected small farms and currently source from around sixteen countries worldwide.
Café Mam joined a range of coffee startups during the industry boom in the 1990s to establish a more sustainable coffee business model. All the coffee sold by this company is fair trade, organic, ands-grown. They source their coffee beans from a range of local coffee cooperatives including native Mayan coffee growers from Chiapas, Mexico. Currently, they offer twelve different types of coffee that all come in recyclable and compostable packaging. The Swiss Water process, which is an organic certified process, is used to prepare decaf blends, and decaf versions are offered for all their coffees. The beans are Fair Trade Certified and Small Producers Symbol certified, a certification from an international network of ecological small-producer organizations around the world. Two percent of all their sales are donated to environmental and social justice causes. They work with farmers who practice sustainable methods such as composting, terracing, and regenerative pruning.
Conscious Coffee is a sustainable coffee business that has been in business since the early 1990s. In 2017, it was purchased by businessman and coffee connoisseur Craig Lamberty, who was determined to continue and expand on the ethical approach of the business’s founders. Since 2015, Conscious Coffees have been recognized by B Corp as Best for the World and were Best for the World honoree in 2018. They earned a community impact score in the top ten percent of all international Certified B Corporations, which means that they are doing a lot of great things for the environment, the community, and workers.
Similar to other businesses on this list such as Larry’s Coffee, Conscious Coffees is a founding member of Cooperative Coffees. They have been importing coffee beans directly from farmers since 2003 and source beans from the same producer partners each year, allowing them to maintain a high level of quality and ensure that coffee farmers have a reliable source of income. All their coffee is certified organic, and they offer eleven different coffee selections along with a decaf option. It is a small, family-owned business and all coffee is roasted fresh to order. They offer individual bags or a sustainable coffee subscription.
Cafedirect is one of the original Fairtrade coffee companies and has long been one of the best sustainable coffee brands on the market. They are highly committed to fair trade, the environment, and producing the best quality coffee. They purchase coffee, tea, and cocoa that is 100% Fairtrade, and were one of the first coffee companies to get this certification back in 1994.
The company is partnered with Producers Direct, an award-winning charity that is owned and led by small hold farmers. They have a long history of reinvesting their profits back into the coffee-producing communities and farms, with up to 50% of their profits going towards supporting farmers to improve the quality of not just their crops, but also their livelihoods. Around 40% of their coffees are certified organic, and they have won over thirty Great Taste Awards in the past decade.
While coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, it’s becoming more and more important to think about the sustainability of the coffee that you buy.