The U.S. is the world's leading consumer of coffee, with Americans drinking some 400 million cups of coffee each day. But, drinking coffee can be detrimental to people and the planet, and the industry says it will cost $4 billion and take decades to make the entire sector sustainable.
But if you still want enjoy your cup of joe and be conscious of your impact on the Earth, here's a list of the 10 most sustainable coffee roasters in the U.S.
The list compiled by coffee writer Jimmy Sherfey comprises "10 U.S. roasters and retailers that are overcoming obstacles to curb carbon emissions, offset energy use, cut down on waste and help farmers mitigate the existing damages associated with climate change." They range from the nationally-distributed Peet's Coffee, which roasts all of its coffee in the first LEED Gold certified roasting facility in the U.S., to smaller producers such as Larry's Coffee in Raleigh, North Carolina. Founder Larry Larson is a Seattle expat who converted a school bus, used for deliveries, to run on used vegetable oil.
Coffee plants naturally prefer shade, as they evolved in the understory of the African jungle. But more and more, coffee is being grown in direct sun on monoculture plantations that resemble cornfields. Shade-grown coffee slipped from 43 percent of the world's farms in 1996 to just 24 percent in 2010. Three-fourths of the coffee farmland in Brazil and Vietnam has no shade tree cover at all. Much of their production is cheaper, robusta beans that are generally used for instant coffee and low-price supermarket brands.
The coffee you choose may be harmful to your health, to the environment or to the growers themselves. Much coffee is grown using pesticides, which has been shown to be detrimental to coffee farmers. Also, pesticides used to combat the coffee cherry borer and coffee rust can remain in the environment.
On large coffee plantations, workers often toil in harsh conditions for subsistence wages. Children as young as six or eight work the fields, and just 13 percent of coffee workers in Guatemala have completed primary education. In contrast to these big plantations, small farmers generally cultivate less than seven acres of land and often struggle to earn more than the cost of production. Fair Trade coffee may or may not help: only the label "Fair Trade Certified" ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their coffee.
Shade grown coffee in NicaraguaFlickr
So shade-grown, organically grown and Fair Trade Certified coffees are the way to go —if you can find them. In a recent trip to my local supermarket, however, I could find no coffee with the Fair Trade Certified label.
In order to research this story, I went to my local coffee shop and asked for a cup of sustainable coffee. The clerk wasn't taken aback by my requests. He told me that their coffee is supplied by Wicked Joe, which it turns out uses organic, Fair Trade Certified, shade grown beans. Their coffee is also bird-friendly. It meets the rigorous Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center criteria for shade tree farms, which includes 100 percent certified organic beans and the use of native shade trees for cover.
Many of these smaller roasters sell locally and online. But what about the ubiquitous Starbucks? On its website, the coffee giant states, "We're committed to ethically sourcing and roasting the highest-quality arabica coffee in the world."
[email protected] Blasts @Starbucks for Supporting #Monsanto and #GMOs in Rock Anthem http://t.co/5QOBABLMO2 @dhlovelife ⊕http://t.co/UC4AuwqZkr— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1433263699.0
Last year, they announced that 99 percent of their coffee had been ethically produced. Working with Conservation International, they've developed their own set of standards related to farmers' working conditions, reduced agrochemical use and improved economic transparency. But although the company states that it is one of the largest buyers of Fair Trade Certified coffee, you might have to specifically ask your barista for it. A search for "fair trade coffee" on the Starbucks website yields just two results, one for a whole bean Italian roast and one for portion packs.
McDonald's announced last week that it committed to purchasing all of its coffee from sustainable sources by 2020. The fast food retailer is also partnering with Conservation International. McDonald's buys arabica coffee from Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru and El Salvador, along with some espresso beans from Indonesia.
11 Unexpected #Health Benefits of Drinking Your Morning Joe https://t.co/YdODzw8Tf5 #tips #coffee https://t.co/qiPLse85tE— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1462395614.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.