Choosing Earth Friendly Coffee

August 9, 2010 View all articles in General

The United States is the number-one-coffee-consuming nation in the world, with nearly 52 percent of the over-eighteen population drinking four hundred million cups every day. It isn't surprising to learn, therefore, that coffee is the second most heavily traded legal commodity in the world after oil, and costs more per gallon retail than gasoline. It isn't necessarily the consumption of coffee that's worrying, although your doctor may say differently: it's the irresponsible farming that's contributing to global climate change.

Around six hundred US companies now sell Fair Trade Certified products in nearly 40,000 retail locations nationwide, making it the fastest-growing segment of the $11 billion specialty coffee market. If just one household switched to certified coffee for a year, they would protect 9,200 square feet of rainforest. Become informed about the negative environmental effects of sun-grown coffee and purchase a certified brand the next time you're at the grocery store.


Sun-grown coffee is raised on “technified” estates that raze rain forests to make room for coffee varieties that require pesticides and chemical fertilizers. This is irresponsible coffee farming that poses a serious threat to rainforest ecosystems and contributes to global climate change through deforestation. When land is cleared and coffee trees are planted, pesticides and fertilizers are required to support the increasing demand. In fact, Costa Rica 's government encourages its sun coffee producers to apply thirty kilograms of nitrogen per hectare each year. And when they can afford them, Colombian farmers apply more than 400,000 metric tons of chemical fertilizers annually. Nearly half of Latin America has abandoned the shade method in favor of full sun techniques because sun coffee plants produce more beans.


Some organizations combat the detriment of full sun techniques by encouraging shade-grown coffee. Shade-grown coffee farmers plant trees either within existing forests or near other plants, such as fruit trees, to protect plants from direct sun and rain and to maintain soil quality. This method generates fewer weeds and provides homes for birds that feed on insects; it also eliminates and reduces the need for pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. When the natural forest is left intact, migratory birds and other native species are impacted less. In fact, studies have found up to 97 fewer bird species on sun coffee farms than on shady ones.


When you buy organic, shade-grown, or fair trade coffee you're sending a message to the brands that still employ conventional growers and methods (Nestlé, Maxwell House, Folgers, and Hills Bros. Coffee), persuading them to convert to more eco-friendly production. While triple-certified coffee (organic, shade grown, and fairly traded) is the best and greenest choice, a brand bearing an organic, Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, or Rainforest Alliance certification label will still be an impactful, responsible purchase. You can also write to the aforementioned companies and urge them to become triple-certified as soon as possible.


Fair Trade Certified: Sponsored by TransFair USA , this label indicates that the coffee was grown by adults instead of children. It also means the farmers were paid a premium for their beans, which they invest in health care, education, and other benefits for their families and communities.

Certified Organic: This label means the coffee meets USDA organic standards by being grown free of harmful pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. Additionally, organic coffee is often grown in the shade.

Shade Grown/ Bird Friendly: Coffees bearing one or both of these labels are organically grown in the shade, under rain forest canopies and conditions deemed ecologically sound for migratory birds.

Rainforest Alliance Certified: This label guarantees the coffee was grown using few or no pesticides. It also indicates that the farmers are required to maintain the variety of animals and trees on the land for biodiversity. To gain Rainforest Alliance certification, workers must be treated in accordance with International Labor Organization standards that ensure fair treatment and good living conditions.

Are you a coffee drinker?  Find out ways you can re-use your coffee grounds.


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