We thought this was timely as our friends over at GreenEdge are screening the film Black Gold on Saturday. Learn more about the screening.
While chemicals and clear-cutting in the coffee farming process directly impact the environment, the larger issue of humane treatment of farmers looms large over your cup of Joe. When selecting a green coffee, GY recommends seeking overall sustainability: Look for Fair Trade coffee first, which ensures that farmers are paid a living wage for their product and work in safe conditions. (Small farmers usually employ environmentally friendly farming methods.) Next, seek out Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, which protects both farmer and environmental health. If these coffees are not available, then seek out the individual certifications of organic or shade-grown coffee.
Choose Fair Trade Certified coffee
Choosing Fair Trade Certified coffee helps you go green because...
It promotes ecologically sound, small-scale farming practices.
It supports the economic and social welfare of small producers in developing agricultural communities that do not have the financial means to afford chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Coffee-based drinks are the most widely consumed beverages in the world alongside water. In the United States alone, 400 million cups are drunk by an estimated 56 percent of the adult population on a daily basis. This high demand makes the crop itself one of the world's most valuable commodities, second only to petroleum, and supports an industry that employs 25 million people around the globe. Coffee—which is made from the roasted seeds or beans of the coffee tree—is produced both organically and conventionally in 53 countries, with Brazil and Colombia being the most active producers. When grown conventionally, coffee is treated with more chemicals in the farming process than any other product farmed for human use, except tobacco.
The coffee crisis
Coffee production is currently in a state of crisis—an imbalance of supply and demand has been created due to a rapid increase in production, especially in Indonesia and Vietnam during the 1990s, that has failed to match the slower increase in consumption. Not only has this affected both farmers and natural ecosystems as more land is cleared for production, but the price of coffee now hovers near historic lows. Since the late 1980s when coffee-exporting nations generated approximately $10 to $12 billion from the crop annually, revenue has dropped to around $5 billion, according to the International Coffee Organization. In countries that rely on coffee exportation as a central source of revenue, the total losses exceed monetary aid. This has led to social unrest, rural unemployment, and illegal immigration.
What is Fair Trade?
The practice of fair trade helps to alleviate the worldwide coffee crisis by ensuring that coffee farmers receive a living wage for their product——a minimum of $1.26/pound. In this way, fair trade is designed to foster an economically stable relationship between North American consumers and farmers in Asian, Latin American, and African countries, while also promoting safe, humane labor conditions. In the United States, Fair Trade Certified coffee is marketed under strict guidelines set forth by TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization that monitors fair trade practices in developing agricultural communities under the umbrella association Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO). These guidelines, based on the seven principles of
Fair Trade established by the Fair Trade Federation, are:
Fair wages: Coffee farmers receive a minimum price for their crop and an extra price premium if their coffee is certified organic, guaranteeing that they make a living wage.
Fair labor conditions: Safe working conditions and no forced child labor are key.
Direct trade: Importers buy the cocoa from Fair Trade producer co-ops as much as possible to allow farmers to develop business acumen and to cut out middlemen who take part of the profits.
Democratic and transparent organizations: Decisions about how to invest revenues are made democratically by the farmers and farm workers.
Community development: Money is invested in social and business development projects that farmers and workers decide upon such as scholarship programs, organic agriculture training or building health clinics.
Environmental sustainbility: Protection of the environment is an integral part of farm management, with restricted use of fertilizers and pesticides and no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Farmers are encouraged to work toward organic certification, but are not required to do so. When coffee is both Fair Trade Certified and Certified Organic, it will display two separate labels signifying this. Because fair trade coffee producers are commonly small holders who are unable to invest in environmentally damaging practices, such as synthetic pesticides and clear-cutting, many agree to grow certified organic products and direct premiums toward concerns such as health care, education, and housing.
Choose Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee
Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee is good for the environment—it's grown under natural shade cover with minimal to no chemicals—and ensures the fair treatment of farmers.
Choose organic coffee
Conventional coffee crops are treated with environmentally hazardous chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic coffee is the chemical-free alternative, safer for you and the Earth.
OUR PERSONAL FAVORITE…Buy a reusable mug
Kick the disposable tea or coffee cup habit and reach for a reusable mug for your next to-go beverage. We’ve got stainless steel coffee mugs, tea infuser mugs, and more.
Choose shade-grown coffee
Coffee grown in natural shade discourages forest clear-cutting, which preserves the habitat of native bird species, and the overuse of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Choose reusable or recycled coffee filters
When brewing your own coffee, opt for reusable or recycled coffee filters to cut back on paper waste.
Recycle your coffee grounds
In lieu of adding to landfills by throwing nutrient-rich coffee grounds in the trash, use them as an effective, organic lawn and garden fertilizer and composting element.
Buy bulk food to reduce packaging waste
Grande-size your coffee purchasing by buying your beans from bulk bins. This will save on packaging (especially if you bring your own bag), which is key given that many coffee containers are not recyclable.
Choose eco-friendly packaging
Many grocery stores and coffee shops will allow you to bring your own container to be re-filled with coffee—a great way to green your coffee.