While not as rigorous or all-encompassing as a B Corp certification, many coffee corporations seek to promote sustainable coffee economies to help growers prosper.
To become sustainable, coffee growers need fair economies that alleviate poverty and healthy environments that, at the minimum, maintain and, at the maximum, increase coffee yields.
Many coffee corporations will sell Fair Trade Certified and Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees to promote sustainable coffee growers in developing nations.
It is common for coffee growers to be paid unfair wages and work under inhumane conditions. Plus, coffee bushes can suffer from unexpected disease and climate changes. These unknown variables subject the coffee economy to unpredictable shifts in the market and the global price of coffee.
Fair Trade Certified coffees mainly seek to better the coffee economy and the livelihood of the farmers themselves. By establishing a Fair Trade minimum price (currently $1.40 per pound), coffee growers are no longer subject to extremely negative global price drops. In addition, coffee growers receive an additional 20 cents per pound for conventional coffee, 30 cents per pound if the coffee is organically produced and a minimum of 5 cents is dedicated to improving coffee production and quality.
Fair Trade Certified coffees allow growers to operate in a more sustainable economy. A more stable coffee economy betters the livelihood of farmers in developing nations and provides them with the necessary resources to improve working conditions and the quality of the coffee produced.
However, research is skeptical that Fair Trade always has a lasting positive effect on coffee growers. For example:
- The Price of Fair Trade Certification is Expensive
Depending on the fluctuations of the world coffee economy, the cost of certifications, about $0.03 per pound, exceeds the price benefits that are gained by coffee growers who participate in fair trade.
- Fair Trade Can Incentivize Lower Quality Beans
According to an article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, if high quality coffee is selling for more than $1.40 on the open market and low quality coffee is worth less than $1.40 on the open market, the grower is incentivized to get the biggest bang for his buck by selling his low quality coffee at the guaranteed Fair Trade price ($1.40) and selling his high quality coffee at the open market price.
- Ineffective Transfer of Money from the Consumer to the Grower
A Fair Trade coffee consumers’ money does not always provide significant assistance to impoverished coffee growers. According to a Huffington Post article, if a consumer pays 50 cents for a cup of fair-trade coffee, the grower will receive “one third of a cent,” even if world coffee prices are extremely low.
Coffee yields and, therefore, economies rely heavily on the climate. Even slight changes in weather and temperature can drastically decrease yields or destroy an entire crop.
To combat climate change and promote a more sustainable coffee economy, coffee corporations will purchase and sell Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees.
To become Rainforest Alliance Certified, coffee farmers must meet social, economic and environmental standards that promote sustainable agriculture.
Some of their standards for sustainable farming include: biodiversity conservation, improved livelihoods and human well-being, natural resource conservation and effective planning and farm management systems.
Combined, both Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified coffees strive to ensure coffee growers around the world are provided with a sustainable economy, environment and livelihood.
Some of the notable coffee companies that purchase either Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance certified coffees, include: Melitta Coffee Pods, Green Mountain K-Cups, Baronet Coffee Pods, Wolfgang Puck Pods and Reunion Island Pods.
USDA Approved Organically Grown Coffee
Coffee companies can protect the environmental and human health by purchasing and selling certified organic coffee that was grown in compliance with USDA standards.
"Organic" labels indicate that a minimum of 95% of coffee beans were grown under organic conditions, the coffee beans passed USDA inspection and a given coffee farm had been using organic farming techniques for a minimum of three years.
What are the required organic conditions?
Organic standards are generally met when coffee beans are grown without the use of most synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
From an environmental perspective, the absence of these harmful chemicals maintains partial forest canopies and reduces soil erosion. In addition, many organic farms use fewer non-renewable resources and leave a smaller carbon footprint.