Sustainability Initiatives in the Coffee Industry
Sustainability is one of the most frequently heard terms when talking about our world’s future development, from governments, society, businesses to the environment itself.
What is it all about? Sustainability talks about meeting the needs of society without compromising for future generations. It talks of responsibility, long-term goals, governmental initiatives, corporate laws and much more. But did you know that even the coffee industry around the world is similarly dedicated to ensuring a sustainable supply chain?
Here’s why it's important.
A lack of environmental sustainability is one of the most pressing issues the world is facing today. Agriculture drives 80% of tropical deforestation and coffee farming requires huge amounts of resources. For instance, the Water Footprint Network finds that the global average water footprint of a 125 ml cup of coffee is 140 liters. Wastewater in processing coffee can also contaminate nearby rivers and streams, affecting connected communities around. With water scarcity being a serious problem in various countries around the world, it is pertinent that coffee farming looks to more sustainable practices to prop up the industry.
More than just being transparent with your customers about the source of your coffee beans, more attention needs to be paid to social and environmental damages during stages of production – including farming practices, farm waste management and environmental impacts of the entire supply chain. It doesn’t just end here. Roasters need to look into how their coffee is packaged, and cafés must consider how their coffee is sold.
All this might sound like a lot, but good news – there are already several sustainable initiatives in the coffee industry today!
Sustainable Coffee Challenge
The Sustainable Coffee Challenge aims to transition the coffee sector to be fully sustainable, in collaboration with companies, governments, NGOs, research institutions and other partners. As part of the challenge, partners combine efforts to increase transparency, align around a common vision for sustainability and collaborate to accelerate progress toward those goals.
Conceived by Conservation International and Starbucks and launched during the 2015 Paris climate meetings with 18 founding partners dedicated to coffee sustainability, the movement has since grown to more than 155 international partners – including roasters such as illy and Nespresso, and retailers such as Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.
With better sustainability practices in the coffee industry, productivity on existing coffee farms can increase significantly to sustain supply. This enables the coffee sector to meet the growing demand for coffee, in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Good practices also prevent the clearing of high conservation-value forests or depleting other natural resources for enhanced coffee production.
Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee
The Rainforest Alliance has been working to protect the world’s forests for more than 30 years. It connects coffee farmers with responsible markets, and provides training for climate-smart, regenerative growing practices that boost farmer yields and incomes.
As one of the most comprehensive labels, the Rainforest Alliance has been working with coffee farmers since 1995 for its certification. The organization audits farms based on several criteria, including biodiversity, protecting the health of soil and water, waste management, and carbon sequestering. Their certification program also promotes innovations in digital record-keeping, investment in sustainable coffee production, and a continuous improvement model that incentivizes farmers to move forward along the path of sustainability.
The Rainforest Alliance works with more than 400,000 certified coffee producers in Latin America, East Africa, and Asia, many of which are smallholders – covering an estimated 1 million hectares of land.
One prime example is the 1,000-hectare Aquiares Estate Coffee in Costa Rica, which sits between the country’s largest protected area and a volcanic mountain range. As the largest Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee farm in Costa Rica, Aquiares has been a pioneer in sustainability, planting more than 50,000 trees and effectively connecting two important wildlife corridors. The coffee farm now hosts 76 different native tree species and 140 bird species—103 of which were not seen before Aquiares began working with the Rainforest Alliance.
Muser Coffee Hill Shade-Grown Coffee
Muser Coffee Hill was formed in 2008 with a mission to improve the livelihood of local farmers and promote forest conservation through purchasing, processing and selling shade-grown coffee. Home to a network of 3,000 hill tribe farmers, it provides new farmers with training and guidance on conversion to shade-grown coffee cultivation.
Shade-grown coffee is a traditional method of coffee farming that is often more organic and sustainable, offering a promising alternative to many modern-day coffee plantations that are detrimental to wildlife population numbers. Quite literally, shade-grown coffee refers to the coffee crop produced by coffee plants that are grown under a canopy of trees.
Coffee plantations which are heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers often suffer from soil depletion and increased erosion. In addition, such plantations often mean that surrounding rainforests are also often stripped bare to provide fresh growing ground.
What is so special about shade-grown coffee, is that it requires little or no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, minimizing chemical damage to our ecosystem. The shade trees enhance the soil and provide habitat for birds, which in turn provide natural insect control with their constant foraging. With shade-grown coffee, the canopy of trees can filter carbon dioxide that causes global warming, and aid in soil moisture retention which minimizes erosion and environmental loss.
What Can I Do?
You might be thinking that all these initiatives sound like steps too large for you to take as an individual. Hold that thought! There are ways that you can contribute to the building of a sustainable coffee industry too.
To begin, opt for sustainably sourced coffee products – consider the packaging, the sourcing of the beans, and the company’s production practices.
No Harm Done is a sustainable coffee capsule option for individuals to take your first step in protecting our environment. 100% plastic free, our capsules are compostable, and our packaging is recyclable as well. Apart from that, we source ethically, so everyone in our supply chain benefits from your morning brew. Find out more about our coffee capsules here.