Coffee is the third most consumed beverage around the world, only after water and tea. In fact, the world sips up over 2.25 billion cups of coffee each day, with Americans drinking 400 million of those cups. Drinking coffee is also important in many cultures for the friendly conversations and familial connections it inspires; think of how many times you may have met your friends or co-workers for a cup of coffee. This International Coffee Day, we can celebrate the drink that both lends people energy and is a cultural symbol worldwide, but we also want to take this opportunity to give some thoughts about how to make our coffee habits more sustainable.
Sustainability in coffee considers people, planet, and profit. These three fields heavily overlap.
One of the biggest obstacles that the coffee industry faces nowadays is that farmers are earning less money than they were several decades ago, which threatens their livelihood and their families. This year, farmers are facing the added burden of climate adverse conditions; for instance, frosts in Brazil have made the success of the next coffee crop uncertain. High freight costs associated with COVID-19 restrictions are also limiting trade, and in August 2021, coffee prices increased for the tenth consecutive month. Because of the hardships associated with coffee farming, many people are leaving their family businesses to seek opportunities elsewhere.
In light of this, the International Coffee Organization (ICO) is celebrating the 2021 International Coffee Day by promoting their “Coffee’s Next Generation Campaign.” According to the ICO, “Investing in youth will generate both innovative and sustainable solutions for the coffee sector.” To fulfill their campaign’s mission, they are providing youth with the skills and networking they need to take part in the coffee industry. You can join the conversation and stay updated on the movement here.
In line with the concerning conditions of farmers overall, there is still much to improve regarding to gender balance. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “if the playing field were made level, women could increase their farm yields by 20-30%,” helping increase the production of coffee by an extra 30 billion cups per year. In Latin America, one in five farmworkers is a woman, and in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, half of all agricultural laborers are women. However, they often have less access to financial resources, training, and information than their male counterparts, resulting in lower crop yields. Several programs have now been founded to support women in the coffee industry specifically.
Another pressing issue is the environmental impact of processing coffee. One aspect of this issue is that to remove the fruit covering of the seeds/beans, a technique known as the “wet method” needs to be applied, requiring specific equipment and substantial quantities of water. This process can pollute water, which then enters local waterways and can cause disease or death in plants, animals, and humans.
As we hinted at earlier, climate change is creating all kinds of distortions like higher temperatures, unpredictable precipitations, and drought, causing multiple damages such as flooding, fires, etc. In 2017, a study revealed that the increase of deforestation is making it harder to grow coffee, especially in areas such as Ethiopia, which is known for the Arabica bean (this bean represents around 60-70% of coffee beans in the world). Furthermore, the warming of the planet also has a direct impact on the quality of the crop.
While the industry as a whole adjusts to new realities of the environment and works toward improving its production methods, we as consumers can contribute to the protection of coffee.
- When buying coffee, look for labels like Fair Trade, Organic, and Rainforest Alliance. This will help ensure both people and the environment are treated with respect.
- Disposable cups and single-use coffee pods are difficult to recycle and create waste with every cup. Opt for reusable cups and brewing your coffee at home.
- Advocate for change by sharing this article and initiating conversations with friends and family.