If you could change the world one cup of coffee at a time, would you?
The popularity of coffee has grown astronomically over the past two decades, making it the second largest international commodity. As a result of the incredible demand for coffee from the Western World, many suppliers rely on beans sourced unethically and unsustainably from Latin America, Asia and Africa.
While we might not be paying much money for our cup of coffee, the environment, and people harvesting the beans are. Many farmers do not use sustainable farming methods - by clear cutting entire forests to create fields, polluting the air, soil and waterways by using pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers, all the while harming the animals, vegetation and people, that are native to the land.
From an ethical standpoint, the coffee bean industry is no better. Many plantations do not provide proper education, training, protection or compensation to their harvesters. As such, these people are unaware of the dangers and the health risks they are facing every day, all the while being underpaid, if at all.
The industry is dominated by Nestle (Nescafe, Nespresso, Coffee Mate, etc) and Jacobs Douwe Egberts (Tassimo, Jacobs, Gevalia, etc), who have both admitted that beans harvested using slave labour on Brazilian plantations could have ended up in their coffee.
Learning about these practices makes us wonder, and question how this could be happening. The answer is simple, and reason is ignorance. Ignorance from the companies, who said that they didn't know the names of the plantations where their beans were sourced, and from us, the consumers, for not caring to ask.
We are the reason behind this demand, and as such, have a role to play in this equation. Fortunately, we can consume for the better just as we did for the worse. Beyond using re-suable mugs, our daily coffee fix can contribute to making the world cleaner, more safe and fair, everywhere.
Rethinking our beans
World-changing cups of coffee start with world-changing beans. In becoming more conscious coffee drinkers, we want, and need to know more about 'em. Where are they coming from, how and by whom are they harvested? Certifications help us find out which health, ethical, and environmental standards are being upheld. To dive into conscious coffee drinking, certifications are a practical place to start.
It means that the people harvesting and sourcing the beans will be paid a fair wage for their work. Fairtrade has a high standard of human rights, prohibits child labour and security standards.
Fairtrade provides stability for farmers with a Fairtrade Minimum Price, regardless if the global price of coffee dives under that mark. This means that, even though coffee prices can rise and fall rapidly, the wage of the workers will not. When the price rises, so can their salary.
For coffee drinkers who: Care about humans rights, and people being compensated for their work in every country.
It is a seal of approval for organic beans that are harvested under the canopy of trees in the rainforest, and that meet the requirements for amount of shade and appropriate type of forest in which beans are grown. This means that our rainforests aren't being thinned out or completely cut down, and since the beans are organic, the soil, waterways and air aren't being contaminated by pesticides, herbicides or fertilizer.
For coffee drinkers who: Care about the environment (rainforests, waterways, air & soil quality), wildlife (native to the rainforests, and migratory), the health of those harvesting the beans, and their own personal well-being.
Similar to Bird Friendly, however not as strict for amount of shade coverage. Rainforest Alliance sets out to preserve forests and waterways, make sure that the way beans are harvested is appropriate for the native forest, and strives to protect the farmers and communities' whose livelihoods depend on coffee bean farming.
For coffee drinkers who: Care about the environment (rainforests, waterways, air & soil quality), wildlife (native to the rainforests, and migratory), the health of those harvesting coffee, and their own personal well-being.
For coffee beans, Certified Organic essentially means that the beans were farmed without the use of synthetic fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides, with emphasis on renewable resources and the conservation of land, soil and waterways. Typically, Organic farming is considered more sustainable than non-organic farming because it supports biodiversity and prevents toxic chemicals from affecting the soil, waterways and air, thereby limiting its impact on vegetation, animals and harvesters.
For coffee drinkers who: Care about the health of our planet, rainforests, the harvesters and themselves.
*With that said, if I were to choose one over another, I would choose Bird Friendly or Rainforest Alliance before Certified Organic because there are strict requirements for not only the chemicals used to harvest the beans, but also how and where they are being farmed. A bean might've been farmed without using chemicals that pollute the soil, air and waterways, but we had to clear cut a forest for that field. That might be a certifiably organic practice, but it is not sustainable.
When in doubt: Go Local, Support Independent
Going to cafes and shops in our cities helps support the local economy, and allows for us to talk to the people behind the business. The coffee might not be labelled as Certified Organic, Fairtrade or Bird Friendly, but, we can easily find out why.
In addition to that, many local cafes and shops roast their coffee nearby, or in-house. Because it travelled less, or not at all, between its roast and consumption time, the coffee is more flavourful, and fresh. Win, win.
For more information, and in-depth explanations on coffee certifications, harvesting methods, the impact of pesticides, and much more, fall down these rabbit holes.
Quick guide to coffee certifications
Making Sense of Coffee Labels
14 Fair Trade Coffees Worth Waking Up For