FAQs: Sustainable coffee

If you simply can't start your day without a cup of coffee, you're not alone. According to recent research from Roy Morgan, adults in Australia consume 9.2 cups of coffee every week. There's a lot to be said for drinking coffee. It's been reported to decrease your risk for diabetes (so long as you take it without sugar, of course) and prolong your life. Plus, well, it tastes good.

However, if you're environmentally conscious, you may want to give some thought to your coffee. There are a variety of social and environmental issues related to current production methods. Consider these frequently asked questions when making your coffee purchases.

What environmental problems are associated with coffee?

Coffee is currently grown all around the world, most commonly in regions of South and Central America, Africa, Brazil, and South and Southeast Asia. In many of these areas, coffee production was once naturally symbiotic with native ecosystem. According to the Rainforest Alliance, coffee beans grow in the shade, which means that tree canopies could remain intact even as local populations farmed the land.

However, due to economic conditions in the developing world as well as modern agricultural techniques, this is no longer the case. Farmers are paid unfairly for their beans, which has led to stripping the land in order to grow as many beans as possible. Hybrid plants have also led to an increase in the use of chemicals. Water contamination is therefore also an issue, according to the International Coffee Association.

This combination of deforestation, water contamination and unlivable wages combine to make coffee a precarious product for ethically minded consumers.

What is Fairtrade coffee?

According to Oxfam Australia, a nonprofit aimed at combating poverty in developing nations, Fairtrade-certified coffee beans must be audited regularly to ensure ethical standards are met. Coffee beans with a Fairtrade label have been shown to be sold for fair prices, meaning that farmers can support their families. This, in turn, discourages environmental degradation.

Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee is another option that promises workers have been paid fair wages. This organisation also certifies farms that employ sustainable production methods.

What I do to help?

Purchasing coffee from beans that are organic, Fairtrade-certified or Rainforest Alliance-certified is one way to show your support for ethically and sustainably produced products. It's also worth noting that the method in which you drink your coffee can contribute to its sustainability factor. Invest in a reusable coffee cup rather than using disposable takeaway products.