Ethically sourced coffee: How green is your cup of Joe?

Ethical consumerism can start with the first thing a lot of people do each day - drink a cup of coffee. Ah, where would the world be without coffee? Will it be half as productive? Will there be as many first dates? Coffee is a billion dollar market and the thirst for this beverage is ever increasing. Coffee is the economic background to many countries and the world's second most traded commodity after oil. It supports over 25 million people in the tropics and is farmed on about 12 million hectares worldwide.

Your morning cuppa whether you prepare it at home, get it at a cafe or the office has traveled a long way to reach you. So what can you do to make it greener? First of all, you can practice ethical consumerism and choose what kind of coffee to buy which makes a huge impact. Avoid mass-produced brands which means chucking out your Nescafe, Folgars, Maxwell House etc. Nestle is one of the biggest buyers of coffee and controls a large  portion of the ground coffee market and have invested in GM coffee technology.  By continuous paying for cheaper coffee you are doing so without knowing the true cost of it. When coffee farming chooses to be less profitable, the fields are cleared and replaced with other forms of less eco-friendly crop. Coffee in most places is grown under the shade of native trees and it is grown with respect for the natural eco-system with less chemicals as possible.

Starbucks has famously set the tone for ethical consumerism and has become one of the largest buyers of fair-trade coffee in spite of various speculations. Costa Coffee offers the choice of fair-trade when you buy your coffee. Peet's Coffee "go beyond certification" and ensure that they source from family-owned sustainably managed farms and the farmers are paid above Fairtrade standards and roast their coffees in LEED gold certified buildings. Gloria Jean's and CCD, two coffee chains operating in India have excellent sustainability profiles. Kraft recently announced that Kenco Pure range of coffee will come from 100% Rainforest Alliance certified beans. McDonalds' has recently teamed up with Kraft to serve Kenco coffee in their restaurants in the UK. The Green Mountain Coffee Roasters offer over 100 different coffee selections, including certified organic, Fair Trade Certified, estate, signature blends and flavored coffees. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters offers one of the largest selections of double-certified Fair Trade organic coffees in the US.

Next know your varieties and countries. Coffee majorly falls under two kinds - Robusta and Arabica. Robusta is commonly grown in mono-culture, mass-produced and grown on deforested land with many chemicals. Arabica is usually shade grown and more sustainable. Look for '100% Arabica' labels. Countries that grow their coffee under shade include Mexico, India, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Bolivia, Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia. Countries that grow sun coffee include Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam - unless they are Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certified, it is best to avoid them.

Now learn your labels - Smithsonian Bird-Friendly, USDA organic, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade etc. All of these have different criteria and price of course is a good indicator of quality and true cost. You can also get your coffee from an independent roaster. A good roaster will have developed a relationship with the co-ops or farms they buy their coffee from and you can get first-hand information about your coffee from the roaster. Alternatively, if you frequent your local coffee-shop, speak to the barista about where they source their coffee from and enquire about its eco-credentials.

So now you know can incorporate living green into your cup of black. Drink up me hearties.