Sustainable coffee and ethical coffee are buzz words in the worldwide coffee culture. But what exactly do these words mean? Sustainable coffee doesn't refer to coffee that stays fresh for a long time. And ethical coffee doesn't mean your coffee beans are especially moral. Are they just marketing ploys or is there real value, meaning, and purpose behind them? In this article, we seek to answer those questions.
What does Ethical Sourcing and Sustainability Mean?
If ethical sourcing and sustainability is new to you, you're not alone. Let me explain why it's so important and how you can help support it.
According to Wikipedia, sustainable coffee is a coffee that's grown and sold for its sustainability. I was never big on definitions that include the actual word in question. Basically, sustainable coffee is coffee that's grown, harvested, processed in a manner that considers economic, social, and environmental standards.
Sustainable coffee includes classifications such as:
- Fair Trade Certified
- USDA organic
- Rain Forest Alliance
- Bio-degradable or compostable (relevant to K-Cups and Coffee Pods)
One major characteristic of sustainable coffee is that it will be traceable. By this I mean there will be information about the lifespan of the coffee bean as it's planted, grown, harvested, and dried. This kind of transparency ensures everyone involved in the supply chain is doing what they're supposed to and being paid fairly for it. Sustainable coffee companies are often very forthcoming about this information since its a selling point.
Sustainable coffee and ethical coffee are produced when companies address the things that affect the big picture of the coffee industry such as fair wages and environmental footprints. Coffee companies know that consumers are sometimes willing to pay a slightly higher price if they are getting sustainable coffee produced from ethical sourcing. This means higher wages for the workers; working the land in a responsible way that can be maintained in the future and isn’t stripping the land currently being worked; and it considers fair pricing of the coffee as well.
How has the Coffee Industry Approached Sustainability in the Past?
Unfortunately, sustainability and ethical sourcing have not always been a priority for most of the coffee industry. When you have an industry as big as coffee is, it's not uncommon for the big players to cut corners to save costs. These cost-saving strategies may be good for the company's bottom line, but have rippling effects on the actual coffee communities.
Imagine a coffee company that moves into an area, depletes the local resources to produce coffee, and then moves on leaving behind a community with minimal resources that just lost its primary source of income. You can imagine the social and environmental fallout from this. And unfortunately, this type of situation is all too common. This has led to some companies completely stripping the land in one area and then moving to the next. This is not only bad for the environment as a whole, but devastates the economy for the communities that come to rely on that production for their income. Many of the countries where coffee is produced live in extreme poverty, leaving them to be very dependent on the coffee industry. When ethical sourcing isn’t considered the workers are paid too little, and the prosperity of a given community simply can’t last or be “sustained.”
Positive Corporate Pressure
Even though the phrase “sustainable coffee” was introduced back in 1998, it didn't become popular until the arrival of the Third Wave Coffee movement. The sustainable coffee trend has already begun and in my opinion, will be here to stay for many decades to come. More and more companies are now participating in ethical sourcing which is a very good thing. When you buy sustainable coffee it's recommended that you do your research. Buying coffees with sustainable coffee designations will be more expensive. But when you consider the long term impact it will have on communities and the coffee industry as a whole, I think it's more than worth it.
When you buys sustainable coffee and sustainable coffee cups, you can help fuel the momentum towards a more sustainable and ethical coffee industry for generations to come.