Introduction to Sustainable Coffee
The unfortunate part about the brown beans we love so much is that they do not always make for a very environmentally-friendly or sustainable coffee. So the joy of experiencing that oh-so-lovely sip quickly turns into the guilt of harming our already fragile planet.
1. The scale of this problem
For the unfamiliar, here’s a number to put things into context—according to a research study by the Water Footprint Network, a single 4oz cup of coffee has an average water footprint of over 37 gallons. Yes, GALLONS! To put this staggering number into perspective, that’s equivalent to filling the average car’s fuel tank up to the brim three times over!
And that’s just the start of it. Water wastage aside, a coffee’s lifecycle can include an unfathomable amount of things that put pressure on the ecosystem. It gets worse when you consider the scale of the coffee operation—the USFDA forecasts the global coffee production in 2022-23 at a mind-bending 174,950,000 bags of 132lbs each, which equals to nearly 23 billion pounds!
But what if we told you there’s a way that will let you have your coffee and drink it too?
Sustainable coffee is the answer.
2. What counts as sustainable coffee?
Authentic sustainable coffee doesn’t just involve slapping on an eco-friendly sticker on the packaging and calling it a day. There is a lot that goes behind making sure that every single bean has been cultivated, harvested, processed, and transported in the most environmentally-safe way possible.
This can include specific crop management techniques, smarter use of water, reforestation, sustainable fertilizers, pheromone boxes instead of pesticides, and a whole lot more. We must also consider the impact of coffee production on farmers, workers and local communities. It is serious business!
So how can you be sure that the coffee you’re buying follows all the right processes? Surely there’s a better solution than physically visiting coffee farms, right?
To be assured that we are consuming authentic sustainable coffee, we can look for one (or more) of the following three labels:
3. Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance is considered to be one of the most comprehensive certifications for sustainable coffee. They consider a host of factors while evaluating coffee plantations and update their criteria often (the last update was in June 2020).
Sustainable coffees that are “shade-grown” or “bird-friendly” are cultivated using traditional methods that, among other benefits, promote biodiversity and prevent soil erosion. This is different from the less sustainable methods out there because it ensures that the habitats of migratory birds and other wildlife is undisturbed, unlike more “modern” methods.
While Rainforest Alliance certified and shade-grown coffees are ideal, if coffee producers near you do not have those certifications, opting for USDA Organic coffee is the next best option. This type of sustainable coffee prohibits farmers from using synthetic pesticides and products and also requires cultivation techniques that reduce soil erosion.
You might be a little shocked after learning about the economic impact of coffee, but the good news is that there are ways to reduce the harm and even have a positive impact.
There are a lot of sustainable coffee options to choose from so you shouldn’t find it too difficult to find a coffee that suits you well. And the best part is you won’t feel the guilt after every sip!