This post is sponsored by Ethical Bean. As always, EcoCult only partners with advertisers that are doing good things. Support EcoCult by supporting them!
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.
(Also! Three ways to have a stress-free morning, when you're not a morning person.)
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.
You can meet Ethical Bean's famers on their travel blog. Every year a portion of the proceeds from Ethical Bean Coffee sales go to support two nonprofit organizations: Child Aid and Project Somos. Child-Aid’s FUNDIT (recently renamed the Ethical Bean Coffee Scholarship Fund) program provides helps Guatemalan children with school registration fees, uniforms, school supplies, shoes, and textbooks, and when needed, transportation costs and health care. Project Somos is an eco-sustainable village with family homes for Guatemalan orphaned and abandoned children and at-risk women.
(Learn more about why Ethical Bean chose Fair Trade, in their interview with Let's Be Fair.)
3. Wasteful Packaging
The problem: An estimated 10 billion single-serve plastic coffee pods are thrown into North American landfills every year. We have no idea when these pods, made from oil, will break down. Any pods that don't make it into the landfill break into tiny pieces, which are eaten by animals and marine life, poisoning them.
The solution: Ethical Bean now has 100% compostable pods made from coffee bean chaff and other renewable materials, It can be thrown directly into your green bin and will completely break down in a municipal composter in less than 84 days. You can purchase them on Amazon.
Ethical Bean is still searching for a viable alternative to foil-lined bags – compostable bags and cardboard boxes don't keep the beans fresh. In the meantime, for every 12 empty bags of Ethical Bean Coffee you return, they’ll give you a free 340g bag of freshly roasted coffee in return. Pop them in the mail with your name, email address, and twitter handle (optional) and they'll send you a coupon code to redeem on their online store. A percentage of the returned bags are upcycled into tote bags, some are donated to schools as arts and crafts materials, and some gardeners use them as seeding pots.
The problem: Coffee isn't something you can find at your farmer's market – it's grown at high elevations in warm climates. But coffee consumption is growing, with half of millennials consuming it daily. All that coffee being shipped up north and roasted takes carbon.
The solution: Ethical Bean has been Carbon Neutral since 2007 and in 2010, they partnered with Climate Smart to further track and measure their greenhouse gas emissions. Their Vancouver roasting facility and Roastery Café was built to LEED Gold Standard. Their new energy-efficient Loring Smart Roaster allowed them to roast 11% more coffee in 2015 than in 2014, while reducing natural gas usage by 70%, equivalent to planting 942 pine trees or taking 30 cars off the road for a year. They purchase enough renewable natural gas (methane captured from a landfill) from Bullfrog Power to match the energy usage of their roasting facility, head office, and café. The remaining 6.88 tonnes of CO2 emissions remaining (mainly from staff travel) they offset with credit from Atmosfair, an international organization with projects based throughout the world. Those credit dollars were applied to a wind power project in Nicaragua which is Gold Standard Certified, an offset standard widely considered to be the highest in the world for carbon offsets.