I love coffee, I drink two cups of coffee everyday (most often decaf these days). Coffee is one of the most popular beverages on the globe, roughly 75 million cups are consumed everyday. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, behind only oil.
So why you might ask is this destroying the planet? There are two primary ways coffee is grown, sun grown and shade grown. If you are buying sun grown coffee which is about 75% of the coffee sold in stores in the United States, than you really are destroying the planet with each cup you drink. Sun grown coffee is grown on plantations rather than the traditional and somewhat more difficult method which is in the shade under a canopy of trees.
Sun Grown Coffee
Sun grown coffee is produced on plantations where forestry is cleared so that coffee can grow with no canopy. Farmers are being encouraged to forgo traditional methods for the higher yielding sun grown method. 2.5 million acres of forest have been cleared in Central America alone to make way for this type of farming, not to mention sun grown coffee also requires the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Besides massive deforestation, there are many other effects to the environment such as soil erosion, habitat loss and water contamination.
Shade Grown Coffee
Shade grown coffee is an environmentally friendly alternative to sun cultivated coffee. In this method, coffee is planted underneath forest trees the same way coffee would grow naturally in these regions. This method of farming also eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, instead using the foliage and mulch the shrubs produce as natural fertilizer. Even better this method protects the soil as well as maintains habitat for local migratory birds.
Is buying fair trade coffee enough? Buying fair trade coffee is a great way to support brands who are sourcing their coffee from farms that operate honestly and treat their workers fairly. There are however major issues that the fair trade certification does not address, it does not require that the coffee be high quality and more importantly it does not include any regulation around environmental issues.
There is another certification that ensures the coffee you are drinking is not destroying the planet. The bird friendly certification was created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which is part of the National Zoo located in Washington DC. Bird Friendly is the strictest of the third party environmental standards.
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center requires that producers meet the requirements for organic certification first, and then meet additional criteria to ensure they are maintaning the forest cover that provides habitat for birds and other wildlife. As a result, Bird Friendly coffee offers all the environmental benefits of organic coffee.
The additional standards, however, require a minimum of 40 percent shade coverage and also make recommendations for the diversity and size of trees that make up the forest canopy. These standards ensure a variety of habitats that supports a wealth of wildlife. Surveys by biologists have found that a shade coffee plantation is home to almost as much biodiversity as untouched forest.
So if you want to ensure that you are not destroying the planet with each cup of coffee you drink, look for this seal on your next bag.