Green Living: Coffee

Feature photo by the_rev

Dr. Peter Martin, who runs the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University, claims half of us drink coffee everyday. Dr. Jim Lane, a researcher at the Duke University Medical School, gets more specific stating that, “Half of the adult population in this country are regular coffee drinkers … drinking an average of three to four cups of coffee a day.” If you do the math, that means American could be consuming a staggering 400 million cups of coffee per day! For those paying attention, International Business Times reports that this makes coffee the second highest traded commodity right after crude oil. This is A LOT of coffee.

Below are several steps that you can take to make your daily cup of joe more eco-friendly.

Organic Coffee that bears organic certification is more eco-friendly because they are grown and processed without toxic chemicals, are cultivated and harvested in ways that protect sensitive ecosystems, and spare workers and your brew from exposure to harmful pesticides and herbicides. Shade grown coffee is another important category that preserves habitats for migratory birds on coffee farms, also letting beans mature more slowly and creating richer flavors.

Fair Trade Not only does certified fair trade coffee help ensure living wages and safe working conditions for farmers, but TransFair and Rainforest Alliance both include rigorous environmental standards in their certification criteria.

Local Brew Seek out coffee that has traveled the least distance and aim to support your local coffee shops, cafés and small, independent farms.

Stay Away From Corporate Coffee – Increasingly, myriad coffee giants are cutting down forest and converting them into large agricultural coffee plantations. The deforestation is not only horrible for the environment, it produces inferior quality coffee. These coffee farmers can barely make a living working in these massive corporate coffee farms.

Reusable Mug or Travel Cup Invest in a good quality reusable mug or travel cup to replace an enormous amount of disposable cups, java jackets, plastic sippy tops and other disposable paraphenalia. Your reusable mug will be incredibly less toxic than a bleached paper coffee cup, styrofoam and plastic top.

Home Brew The local café is great. It’s got your friends, good food and free wireless. Although, consider making your coffee at home. According to reps at, when you do it at home you know where the beans are coming from and also where they go when they’re spent. Additionally, you won’t forget your mug, you can choose organic milk, and you won’t have to toss out another paper sugar packet. Do some quick math on the cost savings of making your morning cup-o-joe at home.

Milk and Sugar Most people put one thing or another in their hot beverage of choice. Don’t make your organic, fair trade, bird friendly, solar roasted brew toxic with chemical and hormone-laden milk and sugar from a little paper packet. If you don’t consume cow’s milk, look for organic rice, soy, or almond milk. In the US, TransFair also certifies sugar, so even your sugar can be fair trade. And, consider other sweetener options such as stevia, 100% pure maple syrup and agave nectar.

Compost the roast Coffee grounds make incredibly rich compost. Coffee’s high nitrogen content has made it an amazing fertilizer. Composting grounds helps keep organic waste out of landfills, makes great soil, and lessens your amount of garbage. If you don’t have a composter, just spread coffee grounds on the top of your plants’ soil or add it to acid loving plants, such as azaleas, hydrangeas and blueberries. Actually, in small amounts, coffee grounds could literally be added to whatever plant you have.

Convert your Coffeehouse If your local, favorite coffee shop does not offer organic, fair trade coffee, consider requesting it. Additionally, you could request that they use compostable containers made out of sugar cane or corn fibers. A small, local shop is more apt to listen and put into action your requests.

We have a responsibility to our precious planet to put into action the simple steps outlined above. Coffee will most likely always be consumed in large amounts thus making it a highly traded commodity. That puts us in a powerful position to choose the ethical, sustainable route to “vote with our dollars” about what we want. We can collectively help Mother Earth, the small scale farmer who has chosen to grow his/her coffee using Fair Trade, Organic and Shade Grown methods, the local brewing company and the local coffee shop who has taken the above measures by choosing their products over the large scale operations that have made coffee farmers dirt poor, have ruined the sensitive ecosystems and have made conventional coffee incredibly toxic with pesticides and herbicides. Choose green!