Eco-Friendly Coffee Guide

How to Enjoy a Low-Impact Latte

Why you should switch to sustainable coffee

I’m not gonna lie to you guys, coffee is a major vice of mine.

Give up meat? Pretty easy.

Bring reusable bags? No problem.

Turn down coffee if you don’t know its origins? …I’ll have to get back to you on that one. 

When I do try it sounds a bit like this:

Hi, yes I’d like an oat milk latte with double shot of espresso. Oh, wait, is your espresso fair trade? No? Uh.. ok just the oat milk then. Oh, it’s Oatly? F*ck. I guess I’ll just take a cup of water. Your cups aren’t recyclable? Jesus Christ.

It’s incredibly difficult to control all of the variables when you go out for a cup of joe. Even if you bring your own reusable mug, you often have no idea what environmental impact was created getting that sweet, sweet bean water into your cup. And often, the human and environmental impact is much greater than you’d assume.

The cost of conventional coffee:

  • Researchers found that over 3/4’s of the coffee farmland in Vietnam and Brazil (the 2 largest coffee-producing nations) are grown in full sun.
  • Each cup of coffee uses about 140 liters of water to produce.
  • The margin of profit for large coffee-producing conglomerates like Nestle and Lavazza continues to rise as they slash the prices they pay growers in developing nations, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

This last point is an issue close to my heart as I’ve spent time in Madagascar actually living with small scale coffee farmers and researching the incredibly disconnected supply chain.

Here are some photos from that time:

This is me holding unprocessed coffee beans.
Coffee beans drying in the sun on plastic sheet (plus a cute little butterfly).
Coffee farmer explaining different types of coffee beans to us during a research survey.
Malagasy village I was living in at the time – mostly comprised of subsistence vanilla, coffee, and rice farmers.

Get Your Caffeine Fix & Fix the System

Consumers have incredible power to vote for the future they’d like to see with every single dollar they spend.

So I’m not going to tell you to stop drinking coffee.

I would never do that to you guys for two very important reasons:

  1. I want the environmentalist movement to be as caffeinated, vigilant, and energetic as possible.

So here are a few things you can do instead:

Look for Sustainable Certifications

When you’re faced with an entire wall of coffee options at the grocery store these are a few things to look out for that’ll help you narrow down your selection:

Rainforest Alliance

Rainforest Alliance certified products are always great to pick up because they don’t just focus on conservation, they also put emphasis on community development and the improvement of farming livelihoods.

USDA Organic

Organic cultivation is vital for ecological (and human) health. To obtain this certification farmers can’t use any pesticides or herbicides. This is incredibly important because synthetic chemicals can enter waterways, kill wildlife, and are toxic to humans. I have an entire article on the topic here if you’d like to brush up on your organic farming knowledge.

Fair Trade / Direct Trade

These trade certifications ensure a more direct link between farmers and buyers. As I found in my study, many small scale coffee farmers in rural villages take part in a wildly convoluted trade network involving numerous intermediary dealers. Essentially, every additional middleman will end up reducing the farmer’s pay. By dealing more directly with farmers, buyers are able to pay a higher, more stable wage.

Smithsonian Bird Friendly

This certification ensures 100% organic and shade-grown coffee. We’ve already covered why organic is important but shade-grown is also great to look out for. As the certification’s name implies, when coffee is grown in the understory of forests (as it’s supposed to) coffee production can actually support overall biodiversity, especially for bird species. However, the majority of producers have now opted to clear cut land in order to grow coffee in full sun so that the trees grow more quickly. This needlessly destroys natural habitats and establishes a monoculture that depletes soil of necessary nutrients.

Make Your Eco-Friendly Coffee at Home

Not just a money-saving hack!

In your own kitchen, you have the power to make all the eco-friendly choices your heart desires. Along with sourcing a great bag of coffee with a few of the above certifications, here are a few more home-brewed options to enhance your low-waste latte:

Choose a Sustainable Brewing Method

I don’t know if anyone reading this right now needs to hear this… but Keurigs are an environmental nightmare. Avoid at all costs.

The basic rule of thumb when looking for an eco-brew method is trying to reduce as many disposable parts as possible.

My go-to is a French Press because it’s cost-effective, easy to clean, zero waste, and can be used for loose leaf tea as well!

My personal one is all glass (because I like watching the tea leaves swirl around – it’s the simple things) but my family swears by double insulated presses for all-day hot coffee.

Here are a few options (click image for details):

 

If you already have a standard electric coffee maker you love, I’d simply recommend switching to a reusable coffee filter – same goes if you like the pour-over method!

Here’s what those can look like (click image for details):

Embrace the “Coffee Snob” Identity

Ok.. you don’t have to bore your friends with your analysis of the fruity versus chocolatey notes in your cup. But, one thing I’ve really enjoyed doing is supporting my local coffee shops that are striving for sustainability whenever possible.

When friends want to go grab a coffee try suggesting someplace that roasts locally, has taken steps to reduce single-use plastic, or offers vegan food.

Patronize small businesses that are socially and environmentally aware rather than throwing more money at chains.

Not only will you be doing better by the earth and your community, you’ll also get major cool points with your friends. Oh, and don’t forget your reusable mug!

Now You Know Exactly How to Fill Your Cup the Eco-Friendly Way

What you do with your sustainable brew from there is up to you…

But listen, I understand that sometimes you’re on a road trip and the only options are a Starbucks or Dunkin’ – I totally get it, and I’d so much rather you get your caffeine fix than drive decaf.

These are all simply suggestions that I hope you’re able to work into your life wherever you can. I’ll still be enjoying the occasional Starbucks cold brew. Remember, balance is key to avoid burn-out.. as is caffeine.

Caffeinate responsibly, my eco friends.

Your sustainable lifestyle coach,

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