Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee every day. Chances are it’s how you started yours. But have you ever stopped and thought about where your coffee is coming from? Or whether there are environmental impacts associated with it?
It is important to educate yourself about where the coffee you brew each day is grown and under what conditions. Is it from a sustainable source? More likely than not the coffee you drank this morning came from a highly intensified mono culture plantation seen in the image below.
There are two different types of coffee plants which produce variations in beans. The robusta plant can grow at high temperatures under full sun exposure and is considered very tolerant with high producing yields. This is the type of coffee that is grown to make instant coffee or for brands such as Folgers. The arabica plant is better suited in slightly cooler temperatures and exhibits an improved quality as far as taste goes. Typical methods of production requires planting of the trees in conjunction with existing vegetation under moderate to heavy shade.
The sun cultivation process for coffee begins with the clearing of once forested land to create rows of crops in order to maximize yield. There are many reasons why sun cultivation is harmful to the environment.
- Biodiversity loss
- Degradation of land through soil and water contamination
- Heavy chemical usage
Shade Grown Coffee
In contrast, shade grown coffee provides many benefits to the environment.
- Provides habitat to biodiversity
- Reduced impact on the environment
- Ecosystem services
- Allows native vegetation to exist
- Little to no chemical use
- Beneficial for curbing environmental shifts from climate change
Not only do shade grown farms help improve the land’s quality, but shying away from purchasing sun grown coffee helps work toward the goal of eliminating unjust and inequitable wage and labor conditions associated with sun cultivation coffee production.
So why should you buy shade grown coffee? Not only does it taste better, but also so that you can sit back and enjoy your cup, or two, knowing that your coffee was produced within a sustainable food system.
Now you might be wondering how to determine what defines a coffee as sustainable. An easy way to know if you’re buying from a sustainable source is to search for a certification label. Certification labels are useful when shopping for green products because the seal ensures that a variety of environmental, social, and economic criteria were met in the production process, all the way from the bean to bag.
Common coffee certifications include FairTrade, Rainforest Alliance, Smithsonian Bird Friendly, and the 4C Association.
To learn more about specific certifications click here to see what you can do to be a more conscious coffee consumer.