eco, ethical, coffee

Day 155 / 365

I've never much thought of the Greenwashing behind coffee, nor considered that certifications who say they trade fairly, might not. I've never asked the cafe's I frequent where their coffee comes from, figuring since coffee comes from the earth, it couldn't be so bad. So I arrive wherever I'm passing, demanding (politely) and reminding (repeatedly) whomever is making the coffee to put it in my Keep Cup, because that's what I've decided conscious people do, then I awkwardly make conversation with the random people sitting at the coffee bar while I wait - usually about where I come using my routinal French phrases - before swiping my hot cup 'o' jo to go. 

At home these days, we only buy fairtrade and organic, figuring (and as you'll see below, figuring wrong) those two certifications should cover us cradle-to-grave. In all honesty, though, it wasn't so long ago (to be exact, 6 months back) that instant from Nescafe was what met my cup, with no certifications whatsoever and zero consideration or question of such things crossing my mind. 

As it turns out, coffee is the world's second most tradable commodity after oil. It makes a lot of money for those who sell it, not a lot of money for those who grow it, and it's turning into a beast for the environment. 


morning cup ‘o’ jo carcinogens  

With the rise in coffee consumption came a rise in cheap processes for production which have moved coffee from its natural cultivation situation - where it burgeoned from a seed to bean under the canopy of the rainforest – to growing in direct sunlight situations for the sole purpose of increasing revenue, resulting in more than 2.5 million acres of forest in Central America being cleared away for coffee farming.  

Though greed alone is sin enough, and deforestation deplorable, there are other issues. Growing in direct sunlight means you loose the natural insect-killing birds and bats by applying pesticides, and you loose the trees’ soil-fertilizing leaves and roots, which means you have to apply chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers and fungicides instead, transforming your morning cup ‘o’ jo to a cup of chemical crap instead

With coffee grown in the shade of trees, the native wildlife which naturally thrives around it supports soil health, fights erosion, provides fruit and firewood to farmers, and habitats to the various species who support that ecosystem.

The best part of waking up is indentured servitude in your cup!

It’s no secret that slavelike conditions are a societal norm for just about anything the western world wants. We want it now, we want it cheap, and we want a sh*t tonne of it. That’s simply how we roll. The coffee industry is ariff with human rights violations including debt bondage, illegal child labour, unsafe use of pesticides, and other forms of labour exploitation.

Coffee farmers are paid by the bag and receive about 2 percent of the eventual retail price you pay in high street coffee chains like Tim Horton’s. Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Pret-A-Manger, or eventual retail price of Nespresso, Tassimo, Maxwell House, Coffee Mate, Jacobs, Folgers ect …, who hoard the lion's share. (Don’t think for a second your hipster roasts are exempt either, there are haters at the top of that food chain as well).

Workers on coffee bean farms are working every sun filled hour of the day and earning less than $2,280 yearly, a significantly lower wage to that of Howard Schultz, chairman and chief executive officer at STARBUCKS CORP who makes $20,091,353 in compensation each year (and probably works significantly less hours than those who pick the beans he profits from).


Currently, ALL of the big coffee brands have convoluted supply chains, which means it is impossible for them to have a clue what the h-e double hockey sticks is going on down the supply chain. They just take what they can get at the cheapest price, and they’re aware what that low price means, a fact that makes claims of ethical and sustainable practices a shameful game of Greenwashing and greed.

Just like in fashion, you’re not going to find solutions in the names you necessarily know, you’re going to have to look a little further and dig a little deeper, but I’ve made the hunt easier with a few tips.  

There are TONS of certifications and badges that appear on coffee packaging, the majority of them are purely marketing – there is no legal or regulatory system behind it. So, unless you see a combination of the certifications listed below, they basically mean nothing.!

The only way to ensure that your coffee is good for the planet is to buy beans that have been certified by BIRD-FRIENDLY CERTIFIED which comes from the SMITHSONIAN MIGRATORY BIRD CENTER and has extremely strict guidelines for shade-grown coffee, it’s also organic, meaning you save two birds with one click.

RAINFOREST ALLIANCE, is a decent certification too and they’re doing some great things, but there are some faults in their systems, and they don’t have strict adherence guidelines, for example, they only 30 percent of the coffee in a package needs to have passed their requirements for the package to be legally labeled Certified.

ORGANIC is great too, but it doesn’t specifically account for shade cover or biodiversity like BIRD-FRIENDLY CERTIFIED does.

In order for your coffee to actually be fair trade it has to have the badge reading a badge reading FAIRTRADE INTERNATIONAL or FAIR TRADE USA. If it just says  “fair trade ”, or reads anything other than those three certifications, then it means nothing. FAIRTRADE INTERNATIONAL and FAIR TRADE USA split up into two groups; FAIRTRADE INTERNATIONAL is made up of cooperatives of small producers. FAIR TRADE USA is open to cooperatives and single farms. These three (or rather two) certifications require a minimum price per pound allotted to the farmer, which is $1.40 for non-organic, and $1.70 for organic, plus a $0.20 cent community-development premium for each. If the market price dips, FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED growers are ensured the minimum regardless.

You might find yourself disappointed like I was to see such a limited list, but this is just the list of those bird-friendly certified and fairtrade certified, so the best in the world if you're concerned about sustainability and ethics. That said, there are tons of brands to choose from if these guys don't suit you, just try to make sure that at the very least, they're fairtrade certified AND rainforest alliance certified / organic to ensure you're doing the best you can do (which is the best I can do as none of these brands are available in France!)

Bird-Friendly Certified AND Fairtrade Certified
Barrie House Coffe Co., Inc *their single capsules not compostable

SOURCES: 123456789, 10, 11, 12, 13