4 Issues with Conventional Coffee and How We’re Working to Change Them

We recently teamed up with the Ethical Writers Co. to take a deeper dive into the stories behind your coffee and see what they had to think of our new compostable pods.




Blog by Alden Wicker, Editor in Chief, of EcoCult.

Alden has become the voice of New Yorkers eager to break the stereotypes about eco-friendly living and prove that living consciously can be beautiful, fun, and desirable. 



I’m super careful about my coffee consumption. I don’t want to become one of those women who waste the first three days of any yoga retreat complaining about their caffeine withdrawal. I save it for emergencies, so when I need it, it actually works.

Because I only drink it a couple times a week, I never thoroughly investigated it. Turns out, coffee comes with some additional layers of concern on top of the issues of, say, strawberries. Conventional coffee is ripened using a toxic combination of rainforest destruction, pollution, exploitation, wasteful packaging, and carbon emissions. How can you avoid being complicit in this? Well, you could quit drinking coffee. (HAHAHAHAHA.) Or, you could get your coffee from Ethical Bean, which was founded to address all of these concerns.

Ethical Bean Coffee is Canada’s second largest roaster of 100% Fairtrade certified, organic coffee. (No worries, Americans; you can buy it online!) It’s a Certified B Corporation, and even has an iPhone app that lets you can track and learn about how your coffee was grown. They’re diligently pursuing a more perfectly sustainable and ethical cup of coffee in four areas:

1. Environmental Destruction

The problem: Coffee is grown in some of the most delicate and diverse places on the planet: rainforests. Traditionally, it was grown in the shade under the rainforest canopy. But to increase yield, many farmers have been encouraged to move to sun-grown coffee, clearcutting the rainforest and using pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers and fungicides. Because coffee plantations are located at high elevations, these unshaded fields lead to erosion, and agrochemicals run off into the watershed, poisoning both marine life and people living downstream.

The solution: Ethical Bean is a Certified Organic Food Processor. In addition to buying and roasting only certified organic coffee – free from pesticides and herbicides – all their manufacturing, packaging, cleaning and maintenance meet the standards of the Canadian Organic Regime. Their plant is physically inspected annually by certifier QAI Organic, to ensure that they follow best practices for organic food processing. (By the way, Starbucks says its coffee is 99% ethically sourced, but it’s not organic. My derision for women who blindly gulp flavored Starbucks coffees is well documented, anyway.)

2. Exploitation of Farmers

The problem: It’s 2016, and people in slavelike conditions may still be harvesting your product. According to a 2016 study, coffee giants Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts admitted that they may sell coffee from plantations where working conditions resembled slavery. Debt bondage, child labor, wage theft, and unsafe use of pesticides are common. Coffee is a top industry for using child slaves for production, especially in Guatemala and Colombia. Forty percent of agricultural workers in Brazil’s biggest agricultural city are estimated to earn less than the minimum wage of about $190 per month, which is less than a quarter of what Brazil’s Federal Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (DIEESE) says a family of four needs to cover basic expenses.

The solution: Fairtrade Certified coffee ensures that producers receive a minimum price that is based on the costs of production, not the volatile market price. An additional Fairtrade premium allots money to coffee cooperatives for investing back into their community as they see fit. Participating coffee farms and organizations must follow Fairtrade regulations and be organized into a democratically run organization or cooperative. Plus, producers must follow labour, environmental, and quality standards. Forced and child labor is prohibited. Fairtrade International (aka FLO) is the international umbrella organization that sets international Fairtrade standards. In Canada, this organization is Fairtrade Canada, and it is the only independent, third-party certifier of Fairtrade products in the country.

Continue reading here…

4 Responses:
  • In the environmental concerns section, you mention that one of the largest problems of growing coffee is the clear cutting of rain-forests. I understand your position on being organic but that does not solve the original problem of deforestation. How are you trying to solve this problem?

  • Hi Viktor,

    Great question. I do want to note that this blog is written by Alden Wicker, link to her site below, but we’re happy to help shed some light.

    We’re committed to purchasing 100% Fair Trade and Organic certified coffee. Each of these certifications has elements that helps prevents clear cutting and deforestation.

    For coffee to be organically grown, it needs to grow in a biodiverse landscape, which would mean other trees and plants are part of the landscape. We source shade-grown coffee, although as there is no certifying body for shade-grown coffee so we can’t make any real claims around it. In this case it’s important to look for the Organic certification.

    Secondly, as Fair Trade producers are small groups of farmers and families that have small plots, there isn’t the issue of clear cutting with the model. Fairtrade Standards also require sustainable farming techniques.

    This article has some helpful info as well. http://www.nature.org/greenliving/gogreen/everydayenvironmentalist/buy-sustainable-coffee.xml

    So what can you do as a consumer? Be sure to look for Organic and Fair Trade certified coffee!

    Happy to chat further if you have any more questions.



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