The Conscious Consumer’s Guide to Coffee
Coffee is one of the most widely produced and consumed crops in the world. People are passionate about coffee, and have gone great lengths to be able to drink it. Coffee is yet another popular food whose cultivation, trade and consumption has caused much suffering to humans, animals and ecosystems. Exploitation of workers, low wages, child labor, and exposure to dangerous pesticides are some of the issues facing many people who work on coffee plantations worldwide. Global demand for coffee caused the price of beans to plummet; and coffee farmers and farm workers are the hardest hit. Traditional coffee plantations grow coffee in the shade of the forest. Many of the big coffee companies now operate sun-grown coffee plantations, which can produce beans faster, but at the expense of precious ecosystems. Deforestation contributes to an increase in greenhouse gasses and to the deaths of many animal and insect species by losing their habitats when the forests are cut down. There has been a 90 percent drop in migratory birds found on sun-grown coffee plantations, as compared with traditional shade-growing ones. Then of course, there are also negative effects for the water, soil and air when toxic pesticides and herbicides are used.
In response to these pressing issues, a more sustainable coffee market is starting to emerge. Fair trade, and other certifications that are meant to attest to their product’s sustainability, are popping up on coffee bags all over. Here are some guidelines to help you as a consumer suss out the truly green from the green-washing, and help you choose ethically produced coffee.
- Choose shade grown coffees, and help preserve our precious forests.
- Choose organic to reduce the use of toxic agri-chemicals.
- Many coffees are “triple-certified” meaning they are shade grown, organic and fair trade. These are great choices.
- Growers’ cooperatives protect workers rights and keep more of the profits than their conventional counterparts.
- Choose single origin over blends.
- Fair trade coffee seller’s who work with growers’ collectives often have information about who they source their coffee from. The more information the sellers provide about who they are sourcing their coffee from, the better chance you have that the farmers that grew it will get a fair price.
- Some of the certifications found on coffee packaging have come under criticism for corruption and false representation of actual farmer earnings or environmental impact. For example, the Rainforest Alliance, which is partnered with Kraft foods, Chiquita and McDonald’s, has been criticized for being a cheap avenue for big companies to appear eco-conscious and concerned with worker’s rights when in fact they are neither.
- Support local coffee shops in your area. A great place to get organic, shade-grown and fair trade coffee is The Hub Coffee Roasters in Reno. Blind Dog Coffee is another local source for organic coffee beans. Great Basin community Co-op also carries several sustainable options.
- Bring your own reusable cup to coffee shops with you to reduce trash.
- Using a French press is a wonderful way to reduce trash at home. They do not require paper filters.
- If you want to reduce your electricity usage, you can opt for a hand-crank coffee grinder.
- Opt out of instant coffees and coffee pods, which draw heavily on our natural resources through multiple steps of processing, transport and packaging.
You don’t even want to hear me get started on the ingredients in some of those powdered mixes…
In the end, choosing to support high quality sustainable coffee rewards you with a better tasting cup of Joe.