With weather upon us that beckons even the grumpiest hibernating Torontonian outside, I found myself replacing my bulky winter boots for cute ballet flats and hitting the sidewalk to enjoy some much needed sun and double digit (on the plus side) temperatures. On one of my journeys I found myself in Liberty Village and intrigued by the quaint cafe called Balzac’s, which boasted Fair Trade Organic Coffee.
Sitting at one of their marble topped tables with a cup of their Farmer’s Blend (smooth and mild by the way, great for a mid-morning perk up that does not give you gut rot), I got to thinking and asking 2 questions: Does “fair trade” make my coffee purchase a greener choice? What is the greenest cup of coffee you can have?
Like many adjectives used to describe products in the green world, understanding the definition is key to making a decision to pass or purchase. In this case let’s breakdown the adjectives jumping in front of my favorite and constantly necessary caffeine-filled beverage.
Starting with ‘organic’, the term denotes farming techniques which do not include the use of fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Organic was the new black several years ago and now seems to be a standard variety of every product. If you are not organic you are not on the guest, I mean, grocery list.
What about fair trade? Fair trade certified products are just over a $4 billion industry worldwide. All fair trade products are monitored by two independent organizations: FLO-CERT and FLO International. The long and short of who does what is this: FLO International develops the fair trade standards and helps producers gain certification; FLO-CERT ensures producers and traders uphold the standards and that benefits are invested as per the standards.
Though there are many arguments for and against the concept of fair trade for commodities like coffee and cocoa beans, here is a simple definition: In a commodity market like coffee, prices fluctuate due to unregulated competition. The result is the market price of the commodity also fluctuates, and the trend for the past 20 years has seen the market price falling. This leaves smaller independent (normally poor and located in the third world) farmers left to either increase their production to make the same amount of money they did the year before or if they are unable to do this, they lose their income. In this case, the market price does not reflect the work and labour that goes into producing the crop. Fair trade looks to set a price floor, normally above market price, that does reflect the work that goes into producing the commodity and ensures the poor independent farmer is paid fairly as the market price reflects the work they are putting into producing it. As part of the Fairtrade label farmers also agree to invest the extra money they gain from the floor amount over the market price in programs within their community, from health to education to processing facilities.
So, though not necessarily a “greener” choice, fair trade products are a good choice and one they may align with your personal values. Look for these logos when shopping for some of your groceries like bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, honey, rice and sugar:
Both Starbucks and Balzac’s coffee carry fair trade coffee in-store.
Now, 2010 is the year of biodiversity, an attribute we are fighting to maintain in our environment due to its much wanted positive effects on our quality of life. With that said, a way that you can make your coffee as green as it can be, is to look for beans or coffee houses that proudly boast “shade-grown” coffee. This refers to coffee grown under the natural canopy of trees.
Coffee trees burn in the sun, and as a result engineers genetically modified the plant to not only tolerate the sun but produce three times the amount of beans. However, the new trees have quite a negative effect on the environment. They require chemical support to optimally grow (yup, pesticides, herbicides.. SO not organic!). Shade-grown coffee farms use the original coffee plant and also allow for the natural environment to grow around the plants to shade them from the sun. A shade-grown coffee farm resembles a forest as it consists of several layers of trees, including fruit and hardwood trees and other bushes and plants – they can support up to 40 species of trees and plants and give habitat to all types of birds and animals. This type of farming is also known as “bird-friendly” farming. Look for these symbol when shopping for your next bag of beans:
Another certification to look out for which will give you a green light for eco-coffee purchases is the Rainforest Alliance Certification. This independent seal of approval ensures that goods are produced in compliance with strict guidelines protecting the environment, wildlife, workers and local communities – kind of like the Shade Grown seal and Fairtrade seal all in one! Here is what to look for:
What brand is here in Canada? Check out Birds & Beans coffee. They have an online store and can be found throughout Canada!
As Balzac once said “Coffee is a great power in my life.” Make it more powerful by turning it green!