“But first, coffee.”
Everyone has seen this phrase on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and Instagram posts. In one sentence fragment, it perfectly sums up the global obsession with coffee.
How big is the coffee industry? Market research projects that the U.S. coffee market alone will reach $143.4 by 2025. And on a per-capita basis, the U.S. doesn’t even make the top 20 list for coffee consumption.
Unfortunately, the coffee industry has a dark side. It’s no secret that the planet has suffered from human interactions with nature and industrialization, and the coffee industry certainly contributes to the problem.
For example, large swatches of tropical rainforests have been destroyed in order to grow coffee under direct sunlight. On top of that, the pesticides and fertilizers used on coffee farms can poison the environment and contaminate the water supply. Sadly, many coffee plantations also exploit workers.
At a societal level, the mass consumption of coffee breeds environmental degradation and social injustices. However, you can make a difference at the consumer level while still enjoying the pick-me-up and the delicious taste of coffee. By switching over to clean ground coffee, you can contribute to sustainable coffee harvesting and help shift the market in this direction.
What Makes Coffee Clean?
You’ve probably heard the term “sustainability” tossed around as a buzzword, but what does coffee have to do with sustainability?
Though climate change and fair coffee prices are the main sustainability-related topics being discussed currently, the push for sustainable coffee production goes as far back as 1962 when coffee-producing countries formed the First International Coffee Agreement.
Presently, sustainability in the coffee world addresses a wide array of environmental and social issues. For example:
- Unfair trade practices
- Coffee farmers earning less than they did decades ago and not being able to make a living
- Gender inequality as a result of female coffee farmers having less access to resources
- The use of children as cherry pickers
- Agriculture has driven 80% of tropical deforestation
To address this issue, consumers can support companies that practice “clean” coffee production practices. Clean coffee is produced with the local economies around farms and the environment in mind; by meeting set sustainability standards, clean coffee makers minimize the footprint of their operations
1. Enjoy a High-Quality, Toxin-Free Product
Clean coffee beans are carefully handpicked based on their quality. Next, they undergo sustainable washing and drying procedures. Buying clean ground coffee, you can rest assured that your coffee meets quality standards and does not contain high levels of mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are often found in minute amounts in various foods. The best coffee farmers use wet processing to reduce the number of mycotoxins present in their products.
2. Have a Positive Environmental Impact
In coffee-producing countries, wet coffee milling on streams and other drinking water sources results in water pollution, causing diseases in plants, animals, and humans.
As aforementioned, the demand for coffee and, in turn, large coffee plantations, has significantly contributed to deforestation. This is a direct effect of consumer demand; in the past, coffee was grown in the shade, but sun-cultivation practices are faster and can be managed on a larger scale. Clean coffee only comes from farms that limit deforestation, support biodiversity, and practice healthy water management.
3. Practice Social Responsibility
High demand and unfair trade practices within the coffee industry have led to low income and poor work conditions for many coffee farmers. Even though coffee-producing communities feed a global market, many of these communities don’t see the reward of their contribution.
Programs such as Rainforest Alliance promote sustainability and the production of clean coffee by helping the communities working and living around some of the last remaining wild coffee forests with training, technical assistance, and market access for the coffee beans they produce.
Is Your Favorite Coffee Brand Clean?
You can find out whether a coffee brand follows clean production practices by deciphering the outside certifications or labels. For example, certifications include:
- USDA Organic– This label tells you that the coffee wasn’t grown with synthetic fertilizers or harmful pesticides, wasn’t treated with sewage sludge, and doesn’t contain genetically modified crops.
- Smithsonian Bird Friendly– Also referred to as “shade-grown,” this certification program by the Smithsonian Bird Institute certifies coffee farms that don’t eliminate the habitat for birds.
- Fairtrade International– Though fair trade doesn’t mean the coffee was organically grown, it indicates that the farmers receive fair pay.
- Rainforest Alliance– This label has the most robust certification qualifications. The Rainforest Alliance ensures that farms meet a wide array of criteria, including social, environmental, and economic issues. The group takes into consideration soil quality, water use, fair wages, wildlife protection, deforestation controls, child labor, climate adaptation, pesticide use, and the use of personal protective equipment.
The Gold Standard For Sustainable Coffee
To imagine all of these changes within the coffee industry may seem overwhelming. However, the impact of personal consumer decisions should not be underestimated. So, the next time you buy your ground coffee, consider its origin, the farming methods used to produce it, and the social impact you can have by opting for clean alternatives.