Looking to make the switch to eco friendly coffee? Clever you. One of the smartest things you can do when you first go green is to replace the things that you use most. For me, one of them was coffee since I drink around 2 to 3 cups a day.
Sounds like a lot but mmmm, coffee – who doesn’t love the wonderful, rich flavor, health benefits, and energizing effects of one of the world’s most popular beverages?
But what about the ethical responsibilities surrounding coffee, such as the health of the earth and social responsibilities to the countries where coffee is grown? In other words, is your coffee habit endangering the welfare of the planet?
Well, there are a host of labels and certifications on coffee packaging, such as Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, Shade Grown, and USDA Certified Organic – although what do they all mean? And what if the wrong ones are chosen–will you be doing disservice to the very cause you are trying to help if a certification isn’t what you thought it would be?
To help you better understand just what to look for in your quest for the most eco friendly coffee, here are some simple explanations of what to look for, and just what all those labels on your coffee packaging mean.
One of the most common certifications, Fair Trade ensures that people, planet and trade ethics come first. By looking for coffee (and other products) which are marked Fair Trade, you can do your part to see that growers receive a minimum base price for their goods, and that no one is forced to skip on doing the right thing in the interest of earning enough money to survive on.
This keeps the environment healthy by not forcing farmers to use harmful chemicals, clear cut forests, or deplete natural resources for future generations.
However, the Fair Trade co-op has been criticized for what some feel is offering charity for farmers to stay locked into remaining small and unmechanized.
There is also criticism due to the minimum price causing market over-supply. And, by only offering fair trade benefits to small farms of 12-acres or less which cannot have any full-time employees, it is felt that they are discouraging the stability of full-time employment in impoverished countries.
Other criticisms, such as discouraging mechanization, reducing economy of scale, and discouraging modern farming techniques such as the use of pesticides are moot, since that is what keeps the environment in good shape, and natural resources around for future generations.
Another label commonly seen on more than just coffee, organic certification ensures that no pesticides, herbicides, or other harmful chemicals have been used in the growing process.
It also excludes any GMO (Genetically Modified) products, and farmers must use natural fertilizers and pest control to maintain biodiversity and healthy, nutritious soil.
While there are obvious benefits to avoiding toxic chemical residue in your coffee, some feel that due to the EPA’s approval of levels of chemicals in conventionally grown coffee, it is just fine and safe.
However, even if this is true, there is also the question of safety for the growers and those living in coffee farming areas, since conventional coffee is one of the most chemically treated crops there are–right behind tobacco and cotton.
Some also question the bacterial content of soil which has been fertilized with animal droppings. However, this has little relevance, since coffee making typically involves boiling-hot water which kills bacteria, although some may still feel that there is danger of contamination from the handling of the raw product. Still, buy organic. It’s a good thing!
While the coffee plant naturally prefers the protection of shaded areas, the farming of coffee can be performed on a larger scale if trees are removed and the forest destroyed.
This is made possible through the development of coffee hybrids which do well in sunny areas, which gives growers the opportunity to more efficiently increase the scale of their operations, while at the same time making it easier for workers to tend and harvest the crop.
True, this may create an economy of scale which brings the cost of coffee down, but at what cost to the environment? With over 50,000 square miles of rainforest being lost each year, it is more than we can afford. Some may criticize the adherence to shade grown coffee, due to the lower yield associated with growing in naturally forested areas.
However, when we consider that rainforests are responsible for about 20% of the world’s oxygen, the price of continuing to destroy the diverse ecosystems which are the forests becomes much steeper, and less affordable than paying marginally more for our morning joe. Plus, shade grown coffee tastes better!
The destruction of rainforests to grow coffee not only reduces an important source of oxygen, it also reduces habitat for many bird (and other) species.
By looking for coffee which is designated as being “bird friendly,” you can not only help in further reducing the number of trees cut down to make room for more farming, but ensure that your coffee is organically grown, chemical pollution is reduced, and that companies selling coffee with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) seal of approval have contributed pennies on the pound to the SMBC to ensure their effectiveness.
As with other practices which discourage the destruction of the environment and the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, some feel that the reduction in output per farm is not worth worrying about bird, plant, animal, and indigenous human life.
However, when we consider that species of plants and animals are currently going extinct at between 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate of extinction – something which has not happened since the loss of dinosaurs 65-million years ago, and the first mass-extinction attributed to a single species (human) – it becomes a little easier to understand the value of such a program as the SMBC.
Short for Utz Kapeh, which means “good coffee” in Mayan K’iche, UTZ certification ensures that your coffee has been sourced in a sustainable manner from ground to shelf.
They do this by providing online traceability of products, which include more than just coffee. And, by ensuring transparency throughout the growing, processing and distributing of coffee, they can better reassure us that crops have been grown and sold according to their standards.
As with other certifications which discourage the destruction of forests and the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, there is criticism over the effects it has on pricing and availability, although again, the price of ignoring our current rate of ecological destruction is considerably much higher.
Picked the greenest coffee of them all? Awesome – now let’s get to greenifying that coffee habit.