Actually, it’s pretty hard to tell.
There’s fair trade and organic coffee, shade-grown, and even bird-friendly.
You can drink it in a recycled cup with organic soy milk and sugar from plants that haven’t been genetically altered.
And there’s the carbon impact.
By the time the beans have been grown, harvested, processed, roasted, shipped, ground, and brewed, your morning cup of coffee has left a pretty big footprint on the planet. About 3 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere for every pound of coffee that is produced using environmentally responsible practices. More when it has been factory-farmed.
You can buy carbon neutral coffee.
Carbon-neutral means that the sum of the world-wide activities that produced your coffee did not contribute to the carbon in the environment. To accomplish this, a grower or roaster conducts an audit of their energy usage and emissions, and then plants trees (which are naturally carbon-sequestering) to mitigate the impact. Carbon offsets are purchased in an amount to make up the difference.
We know what ‘carbon neutral’ means, and there are private companies that provide audits and certifications, but there’s no national standard or official certification, and no regulations or protocol for the FTC to enforce. Until we get some standardization and clarity, here are a few things you can do to green your coffee-drinking habit:
- Minimize your footprint by shopping locally. Unless you live in the tropical band around the equator, you can’t buy locally grown coffee, but you can reduce the number of miles that your coffee has to travel to reach you by finding a roaster close to you to cut down on the trip and the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by your coffee delivery. Coffee Habitat will tell you where you can find roasters in your area that have demonstrated social responsibility in both their bean imports and their own business practices.
- Consider the source. Shade-grown, bird-friendly, and fair trade are not mere marketing ploys to ease a guilty conscience. They are all designations and certifications that have real, enforceable teeth that guarantee ethical and environmentally sound growing practices.
- Use a permanent filter in your coffee maker. The little paper filter might seem like a small thing, but disposable coffee filters are a strain on the environment both at the start of their life and at the end. They use paper, which is made from a consumable resource that is slow to be replaced. Toxic chemicals are employed when the paper is processed, and after they’re used, they end up in a land fill for decades. Worst of all are the snowy white filters that were bleached to get that way.