Coffee is the third most consumed beverage in the world behind only tea and water. With the growing need to keep consumers satisfied, there also comes great pressure on the ecosystems supporting the coffee industry. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 250 million children working as slaves to produce items like coffee and sugar. A few tips and tricks when shopping for your cup of joe can have a large impact on both the human communities and the ecosystems that provide this popular drink.
Making eco-friendly choices when choosing coffee begins with understanding the variety of labels already found on product packaging. Here is a quick explanation of the labels that have the most rigorous environmental standards.
1. UTZ. The UTZ organization sits at the forefront of sustainability, setting the standards for coffee, tea, cocoa, and hazelnuts. UTZ has separate certification standards for farmers, companies and individual products. There are rigorous studies supported by UTZ to ensure best practices with the environment, suppliers, and farmers all in mind.
2. Rainforest Alliance. The Rainforest Alliance’s mission is to “conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods,” and to earn this iconic frog label a product must include the use of alternatives instead of chemicals and pesticides, planting and harvesting practices that involve erosion control and avoid deforestation, water use is restricted and must have ecosystem management in mind, farm management includes strategies to improve the livelihoods of its workers and the local economy, and bird-friendly.
3. USDA Organic. To be certified organic in the US, farming practices must comply with USDA Organic regulations. Similar to the Rainforest Alliance requirements, farms must show their land management plan includes methods for avoiding soil erosion. Farms must skip the synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. They must also show that no pesticides were used for at least three years prior – meaning the path to organic certification is a process that involves dedication and time.
4. Fair Trade. The Fair Trade and USDA Organic labels are vital when considering the practices of international coffee growers where the rights of laborers are not protected. Fair Trade is dedicated to ensuring workers on coffee farms are paid fairly. Discrimination, forced labor, and child labor are all prohibited. Earning a higher price provides farms with an alternative to price leveraging from large coffee buyers. When coffee is certified as both Fair Trade and Organic, producers receive a premium price boost for every pound. This has a significant impact on both the local economy and environment.
When picking your morning cup of coffee, look for Fair Trade or responsibly grown labels discussed above.
Don’t forget the tea. Tea still holds on tight to the second spot when it comes to worldwide consumption. Many people prefer tea over coffee, especially as a drink in the evenings or when they want to relax. By following the same guidelines as above, it is easy to switch your tea to something more sustainable.
Also, wine. Most people believe wine is a natural product that comes simply from grapes grown naturally with sunshine, soil, water, and human attention; then crushed, fermented and bottled. In fact, wine growing is big business. A very industrialized process that is tough on environment and workers. It is a major global industry subject to the same cost constraints, desired profit margins and investor expectations as other industries, which affect the decision to adopt good environmental practices.
According to VineBalance, a guide created in New York for sustainable viticulture (the process of growing wine grapes, and winemaking) practices, sustainable viticulture is an attempt to minimize environmental impacts and ensure economic viability and a safe healthy workplace through the use of environmentally and economically sound production practices. Growers make a multitude of choices regarding the practices they use to manage vine growth, weeds, diseases, insects, and soil fertility. The level of sustainability is the sum of these decisions that growers make in the course of producing their crop.
As the world becomes more aware and concerned over the environmental impact of the production of wine, more vineyards are adjusting their methods to lessen the strain caused on the surrounding environment.
For those of you who love a good glass of wine in the evening, pick organic varietals grown by small wineries in order to support small businesses.