This post is part of the 21 Days to a Manlier Green series
I love coffee. I remember when my mom first let me try coffee as a child. I was young, it was just a sip, but I was hooked. That was the start of my love affair with the those magic beans. While they won’t lead me to a giant’s home in the sky and a golden-egg-laying goose, coffee is the fuel that gets me through the day.
As an environmentalist, however, I want to make sure that my coffee drinking habits (read: mild addiction) aren’t causing a nasty environmental impact elsewhere on the globe.
I’ll take my coffee black, hold the deforestation.
What to Look for When Buying Coffee Beans
As I write this post, I have a fresh cup of coffee seated next to me. Today’s brew is an organic, Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance coffee bean prepared in a french press. But, what do the certifications and labels actual mean?
USDA Organic – This certification, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, indicates that the coffee was grown without the use of many damaging chemicals. Organic does not mean that zero chemicals were used, but rather that the chemicals that were used are minimally invasive and used with the local biodiversity in mind.
In the U.S., there are three levels of organic foods. 100% Organic products are made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods. Organic products contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Both 100% Organic and Organic products can display the “USDA Organic” seal. The last category, “made with organic ingredients,” contains at least 70% organic ingredients but is not able to carry the USDA Organic seal.
Fair Trade – This certification ensures that coffee farmers receive fair prices, work in safe labor conditions, and adhere to a set of minimal agrochemical and GMO standards. The Fair Trade label is not administered by a central governing body but by several recognized Fair Trade certifiers working under a definition of fair trade developed by FINE, an association of four international fair trade networks – Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, World Fair Trade Organization (formerly the International Fair Trade Association), Network of European Worldshops and European Fair Trade Association.
Rainforest Alliance – The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. The Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal appears only on coffee that meets the crop standards of Rainforest Alliance. The various crop standards of the Rainforest Alliance include ecosystem conservation programs, wild animal protection, local waterway protection, agrochemical use guidelines, and the prohibition of transgenic crops
Coffee beans are produced on trees that thrive in tropical environments, the same environment as tropical rain forests. Traditionally, coffee was grown among the native trees but as the demand for coffee grew around the world, farmers sought to maximize their land and grow more coffee per acre. This led to deforestation, removing the native forest to leave the land open for only coffee trees.
Rainforest Alliance coffee, however, ensure that coffee grows in harmony with nature, in the forest, under the shade of other tropical trees. Shade grown coffee keeps the biological integrity of the local environment intact while also allowing the local community to use the land to grow a crop that is backbone of a $100 billion industry.
Bird-Friendly certification – In 1998, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center developed the Bird-Friendly certification program, in order to foster management practices at coffee farms that are good for birds. Coffee grown under the program is certified as both shade grown and organic. Purchasing Bird-Friendly certified coffee supports the conservation of migratory birds.
How to Brew a Cup of Coffee
There are many ways to make a good cup of coffee. The single serving machines that have appeared on the market, however, are the absolutely worse way you can choose to make your morning and mid-day pick-me-up.
The single-serving coffee maker was a great idea for our single-serving, individualistic, and convenience demanding society. You get to pick your coffee, pop it in, hit a button, and a minute later you have your hot, fresh coffee.
I remember when I first saw a Keurig and it was apparent to me from the start that they were going to be horrible for the environment. Like much of what is sold in stores, it wasn’t designed to be recycled or reused. K-cups were designed to make an above average cup of coffee and then be tossed in the trash.
But did you know, once tossed in the trash, things just don’t disappear! That little plastic cup will be on this planet much longer than you or me.
Better options: a french press or one of the numerous other ways that has worked for the past 100 years!
In addition to the method of making coffee, here are a few other things to consider: