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Eco-Friendly Coffee – Not Just Fair Trade December 4, 2008

How to Choose Between Eco-Friendly Coffee Certifications

If you find yourself overwhelmed with the competing eco-friendly labels on coffee at the local coffee retailer or grocery store, you might benefit from some background on the meaning behind various labels, and the benefits of each. Below is a list of some of the labels to look for when purchasing coffee.

USDA-Certified Organic

The USDA monitors this certification of coffee beans, guaranteeing that theycoffee_2 are grown without chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. Organic farming practices protect not only the local ecosystem, but also the farmers and workers who would otherwise be exposed to harmful chemicals. Choosing organic benefits the environment, the farm workers, and your own health.

Fair Trade Certified

Another essential certification to look for is the “Fair Trade Certified” logo from TransFair, or the International Fairtrade Certification Mark from FLO International. The “Fair Trade Certified” logo indicates that importers pay farmers a living wage of at least $1.26 per pound. Evidence has shown that there is a connection between sustainable wages and environmental conservation. When farmers are paid fair wages for their beans, they are not forced by low prices to implement unsustainable farming practices, like cutting down trees to increase crop yield through harmful sun cultivation. In addition, many fair trade organizations offer assistance to their farmers in implementing environmentally sustainable growing practices.

Shade Grown
This is an important factor to look for if you are concerned about rainforest conservation, species preservation, deforestation, and pollution. Modern coffee growers cut down existing forest to grow beans in direct sunlight, destroying much needed habitat for migratory birds and other native species. The loss of forest canopy creates another problem as well: the biodiversity under a forest canopy helps naturally protect coffee crops from pests and coffee_beansinvasive species, which means that without it, the need for fertilizers and pesticides increases. Shade-grown coffee leaves the original forest canopy intact while producing quality beans for your coffee.

However, be careful when selecting coffee that is simply labeled “Shade Grown” without an official certification seal, since no official internationally-agreed upon certification process exists to monitor the labeling of shade-grown coffee. Therefore, some coffee that is labeled “Shade Grown” may not truly be 100% shade-grown even if it says so on the package. The best solution is to look for a certification that covers shade-growing practices, like the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) “Bird Friendly®” seal, or the Rainforest Alliance label (described below.)

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Bird-Friendly Coffee
Under a program established by the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center to protect the habitat of songbirds in rapidly-deforested coffee-growing regions, “Bird Friendly®” coffee is shade grown as well as organic. In fact, according to their website, it is the only 100% organic shade-grown coffee certification available.

Rainforest Alliance Certified
This is another great all-encompassing eco-friendly certification. Coffee that is certified by the Rainforest Alliance must be shade-grown, produced with low or zero pesticides, and grown by workers who are treated in accordance with International Labor Organization standards. Farms must also maintain a minimum diversity of species and meet a number of other requirements to verify sustainable and responsible practices.

Always remember to bring your own reusable travel mug when you get coffee on the road, and seek out certified organic fair-trade, shade-grown coffee in the store and at the coffee shop whenever possible!

Learn More

Coop America has additional information on coffee and the environment. Also check out this article on the Nature Conservancy site.


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