Have you ever given your good old cup o' joe much thought? Ever considered how far it had to travel or what resources went into your morning's pick me upper? Choosing more sustainable habits with your everyday cup of coffee is a perfect example of how simple, daily changes add up to huge impacts over a lifetime.
Let's start by getting the basics out of the way.
If you've been roped into the latest single-serve, single-use coffee pod fad, step away from the K-Cup! Seriously, put your love for convenience aside for a hot second and think about how much waste your personal coffee intake is producing. According to a JavaPresse blog, in 2015 Green Mountain Coffee Co (Keurig) produced 10 billion (10,000,000,000) K-Cups, and if you set them next to each other in a straight line, they would wrap around the globe... wait for it... 10.5 times. Do you still think your small, daily habits don't add up to a huge impact?
In one year, one single coffee pod manufacturer created enough waste to wrap the world 10.5 times.
So again we say, walk away from the coffee pod.
How was your coffee grown?
With the obvious out of the way, now let's talk about what's actually in your cup and how it got there. Unfortunately like many other large industries, coffee farming is not always done sustainably and it's one of the biggest causes of clear cutting and deforestation. Farmers cut trees down, plant coffee for a few years until the soil's nutrients are depleted, and then move on to another location and start all over again. We won't go into the details of why this is so environmentally devastating (here's a link to learn more about slash and burn farming), but as a consumer you can indirectly limit deforestation and other harmful practices by making the choice to only buy coffee that is grown in a responsible manner.
We've found that the best way to get information about where your coffee is from and how it's grown is by chatting with your local coffee roaster or coffee shop. Good roasters will know their farmers personally and will be able to tell you about their sustainable practices and get you all the info you need to make an informed purchasing decision. In turn, local coffee shops typically partner with local roasters and can either give you information on the coffee farms themselves or point you in the right direction.
However if you're like most of us and are buying coffee from a grocery store, first of all try to buy it from bulk dispensers and eliminate the packaging waste. You also want to keep an eye out for a few coffee certifications that tell you whether or not the farmers are meeting environmental and wage standards and are operating sustainably.
Certified organic: coffee farmers must employ agricultural practices that produce food in a way that supports biodiversity and enhances soil health by using only approved substances and organic farming methods.
Fair Trade Certified: guarantees that the coffee was grown according to high social, environmental, and economic standards. The certification "ensures that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities."
Rainforest Alliance Certified: "certification seal indicates that a farm, forest, or tourism enterprise has been audited to meet standards that require environmental, social, and economic sustainability. "
UTZ Certified: another benchmark for the sustainable production of coffee, tea and cocoa. This certification is part of the Rainforest Alliance.
Smithsonian Bird Friendly Certified: "the seal of approval ensures tropical 'agroforests' are preserved and migratory birds find a healthy haven when they travel from your backyard to those faraway farms producing the beans you so enjoy every morning."
Where was your coffee grown?
Did you know that coffee isn't grown anywhere in the continental United States? As you can see in the image below, coffee is grown in areas around the equator and the closest growing regions to us are Mexico and The Caribbean. So when you go to a farmers market and you see a sign for "local coffee" now you know that it's just roasted locally; there's no way if you live in the continental United States that your coffee beans would be grown locally. Each batch of coffee you buy had to travel long distances and most likely around the world to get to you, so whenever you're looking for your new favorite coffee blend, keep this in mind and try to find one that was grown a little closer to you.
You're now armed with a wealth of knowledge to start making more conscious decisions when it comes to your morning cup of coffee! And if you ever doubt if your small changes are making a difference, just picture all those K-Cups wrapped around the earth and remind yourself that it all adds up; global shifts start with each one of us making those small changes.