Green News

Wake Up and Smell the Sustainable Coffee

As I drink my morning coffee, I have never before considered the environmental impact of this action. This morning I woke up to the thought that my cup of sustenance may not be sustainably grown.

Today I made a pot of Maxwell House coffee. This is a popular brand made by Kraft. I make the presumption that a large company like Kraft is concerned with profit margins and that its coffee bean buying practices reflect this. I take a look at my coffee tin label. It states that the coffee is 100% Arabica. Is this a sustainably grown bean? According to a November 2004 article in The Guardian it seems to be. Maxwell House coffee is no longer made with Robusta beans, and Kraft receives the stamp of approval from the Rainforest Alliance, an independent, not-for-profit organization concerned with sustainable agriculture. The article, however, points out that Maxwell House beans may be sustainably grown, but they are not fair trade. Kraft explains their current coffee bean buying trend in the coffee sustainability section of their website.

So what makes Arabica coffee more environmentally friendly than Robusta? In a nut shell, Arabica is shade grown and Robusta is not. The growing of Robusta beans is a departure from traditional coffee farming in which coffee is grown under the canopy of native rainforest trees. In the 1970s a new farm system was promoted which saw forests cleared and coffee bushes packed in dense rows. These short term monoculture farms produced more beans, but at a cost to the environment with soil depletion, accelerated erosion and pollution of streams. Bill Nye explains this impact on the environment in a video clip of Stuff Happens.

At this time, the four big coffee companies (Nestlé, Proctor and Gamble, Kraft [Phillip Morris/Altria Group], and Sara Lee [now Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA]) are all offering sustainable coffee brands.

If you are concerned about making good ethical choices with regards to the coffee you drink, then check the packaging label. Look for an indication that the coffee is shade grown, fair trade, or organic.


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