sustainableme (sustainableme) wrote,

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Caffeinate Responsibly

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am a coffee fiend, nonfunctional until I've had a cup, and extremely cranky when I don't have any.  Therefore, one of my first green changes was to switch to a more earth-friendly and socially responsible brand of coffee.  I read somewhere recently (can't recall where, but I'll edit when I find it) that coffee is the 2nd largest import into the US after oil, so if you partake, it definitely makes a difference who you buy from.  Luckily, there are lots of good options for responsible roasters, some of which might even be local to you.


I looked at quite a few different company websites before settling primarily on Grounds For Change, which is in the Seattle area.  Although this isn't very local to Chicago, I went with them because not only is their coffee is all organic and fair trade certified, but most of it is also shade-grown, which preserves wildlife habitat, and Grounds For Change is a certified carbon-neutral company committed to using renewable energy.  They're also a member of 1% For The Planet and Co-op America.  They don't do flavored coffees, but they have a very wide range of single-origin coffees and blends, and all the ones I've tried so far have been excellent. And when you order from them, you can choose between whole bean, french press grind (which is what I usually get), metal filter grind, paper filter grind, or espresso grind, which I think is pretty cool.

My second choice is Intelligentsia Coffee, a Chicago roaster with a really good reputation in the coffee world.  They aren't fair trade certified, but this is because they operate on what they call a direct trade system.  Fair trade basically means that the coffee farmers work in safe conditions and are paid a fair living wage for their labor, guaranteed knowledge of which is passed on to the consumer via certification from organizations such as TransFair USA, whereas under Intelligentsia's direct trade system, they choose to bypass the certification middleman and use the money they would be paying for certification to pay their coffee growers at a rate even higher than the fair trade wage.  I actually think their system is slightly better than that of Grounds For Change and other fair trade coffee roasters, but it was the crop-to-cup carbon-neutral certification of Grounds For Change that trumped the local and direct trade of Intelligentsia for me, plus the fact that not 100% of Intelligentsia's coffee falls under their direct trade classification (yet).  However, because I believe they're doing a lot of good and I also like to support local and independent businesses, I'll buy the occasional pound of beans from Intelligentsia - it probably accounts for about 1/4 to 1/3 of my coffee purchases.

A lot of the time, fair trade coffee will also be certified organic, and even if it's not, often a company that cares about its growers' welfare also cares about the environment as well and will have other environmental initiatives in place.  Even though certified fair trade isn't the same as certified organic, buying fair trade coffee is still better for the environment than your regular grocery store brands - since dousing a crop with chemicals is neither safe for the coffee growers nor conducive to preserving the ecosystem for future crops, chemical usage on fair trade coffee (and other tropical crops like tea and chocolate) is much lower than it is on conventionally grown crops.

If you're wondering what other companies are out there, Catholic Relief Services has a nifty map of fair trade coffee companies in the US.  This list doesn't cover everything, but it's a good place to start, and it provides summaries and links to each company's website.  (If you have strong feelings regarding religion, I'm pretty sure the companies listed have no affiliation with the Catholic church, or vice versa.)  Green Mountain Coffee is a pretty ubiquitous brand that I've seen in regular grocery stores if you don't like to order online - they have a lot of social and environmental initiatives going on, such as being fair trade certified, and they also have a collaboration with Newman's Own Organics (which is news to me).  I'm sure there's a lot of other options as well - maybe even a roaster in your own hometown.

And now I'm off to brew some more coffee, seeing as I'm up far earlier than I'd like.
Tags: coffee, fair trade, organic, shopping
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