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Consumer Activism Driving Sustainability in Specialty Coffee

Every now and again, a sobering reminder of the environmental impact of mass-produced coffee may be in order.

coffee plantation

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Jessica Percifield recently wrote a short piece for the independent news network IVN, in which she reminds us that sun grown coffee has had a tremendous negative effect on the ecosystems in many coffee producing areas, where fertile soil is being used up 10 times faster than it can be regenerated. She writes:

Aside from extensive environmental degradation and grave losses in biodiversity, the larger concern is top soil depletion. U.S. farming practices that favor conventional monoculture farming currently deplete topsoil at 1% per year. And According to the National Academy of Sciences, cropland in the U.S. is being eroded at least 10 times faster than it can be replaced. The highest percentage of degradation is occurring in Central America although every country is facing this crisis. The Earth’s natural systems simply cannot replace the lost soil fast enough, and this is why local movements for organically grown or sustainably grown foods have taken off.

The good news? Percifield argues that the specialty coffee industry is especially driven by consumer activism, a kind of bottom-up approach to global sustainability. She underscores the concept that consumers, as well as smaller buyers and roasters of beans, can make in important statement to the rest of the industry:

While visible chains like Starbucks make up 30% of the Coffee Industry, Independent Coffee Roasters and Cafes still make up the other 70%. Many of these local coffee alternatives already buy sustainably grown coffee. Wherever you see labels, such as Organic, Shade Grown, Fair Trade, Direct Trade, or Farmer’s CoOps, you can be sure that the Cafe Owner or Roaster considered the environmental, social and economic impact of buying these coffee beans. Could creating subsidies, or legislative bills that continue to motivate businesses in this direction be helpful, sure, but the rationality and desire are pre-existing, so it may not be necessary. Café Virtuoso, just one such Coffee Roaster, prides itself on choosing organically grown fairly traded beans and defines sustainability as, “A process that can go on indefinitely; environmentally, socially and economically.”

The full story: IVN

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