For many of us, coffee is an important part of our lives. From our morning pick-me-up to our afternoon coffee catch-up, those wondrous little beans bring us warmth, energy, and comfort. There are many social and environmental challenges facing the coffee industry today. Unfair labour conditions, habitat loss, deforestation, pollution, unsustainable farming, and disposable coffee cups are very real and prevalent issues. That's why it's so important to brew ethical and sustainable coffee. When we all strive to make our cup of coffee sustainable, we take a step towards a healthier planet. So, how can we ensure we're investing in ethical and sustainable coffee? We break down 5 steps for a more sustainable coffee below.
Why is Ethical and Sustainable Coffee Important?
Unfortunately, the coffee industry has a well-documented history of unethical, unsustainable labour and environmental practices. Coffee ethics and sustainability is centred around two key issues: the exploitation of farmers and communities growing the beans, and, often as a consequence of the former issue, the unethical misuse of the land and pesticides to increase yield. As demand grows (and the statistics show us
demand certainly is growing), it's even more important to protect farmers, local communities, and the environment from unsafe and unsustainable practices. The good news is that the demand for ethical and sustainable coffee is growing
too. In recent years, speciality sustainable coffee roasters have emerged to evaluate industry standards and set up programs that educate the wide community on the importance of ethical coffee. Fair Trade and Direct Trade are two programs leading the way in this space. When coffee is labelled Fair Trade or Direct Trade, this means the coffee has been sourced following a strict set of rules. These rules guarantee the products improve the working conditions of farmers and ensure products are produced sustainably. When we choose ethically grown coffee, farmers and roasters are given greater control over the quality and social sustainability of the beans. So, we get better quality coffee, and the environment and farmers are protected. Everyone wins!
5 Steps for a Sustainable Coffee
With a bit of theory under your belt, let's at how to ensure you're making a sustainable cup of coffee every time.
1. Choose Sustainable Coffee Roasters
The most important step is to opt for ethical ground coffee beans
. Sustainable coffee roasters ensure their beans are produced with minimal impact on the environment and the farmers sourcing the beans are working in fair conditions. A scientific evaluation
studied the environmental merit of different coffee-making methods and showed that the coffee itself “had a much stronger effect on the environmental friendliness” of a brew than whatever packaging it came in. This is because the way coffee is grown can have massive impacts on the environment. To make room for coffee plantations, deforestation takes place. This releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and destroys natural habitats. Sun-tolerant coffee plants don't rely on shade from native plants, so these plants are cleared too
How to Find Ethically sourced coffee: Australia
So, how can you make sure your beans were sourced ethically? As mentioned, Fair Trade or Direct Trade Certified coffee products will always
be ethically sourced. These programs allow farmers and roasters to work together, which in turn ensures farmers are paid properly and high-quality product is produced. If you're purchasing coffee to make a cup at home, the Podstar Organic Fairtrade Capsule Grind Coffee
is a great option. It's Fair Trade and Organic Certified, Australian-owned, and the beans are estate-grown, meaning all beans are grown on the same farm. These plastic-free ground coffee beans are a more sustainable alternative to disposable plastic coffee pods. Additionally, you can look for certifications such as the Rainforest Alliance and Australian Certified Organic. These certifications ensure coffee farming is more eco-friendly. The Rainforest Alliance even requires a certain amount of native plants on each farm, while the ACO actively protect habitats, water, and the use of fewer chemicals. It should be noted that your favourite blend may follow environmental practices but can't afford certification. You can contact the roasters to clarify. When looking at products, you can also look for ground coffee that is picked by hand and grown in the shade. These practices indicate high-quality beans, and high-quality coffee is almost always sourced ethically. High-grade Arabica coffee and Burundi coffee are other great examples of ethically sourced beans.
2. Use a Sustainable Coffee Maker
A fully-automatic machine has a greater environmental footprint than a capsule-based system, whereas filters, espresso machines, and instant coffee are the most eco-friendly methods. Although capsule coffee still supports the plastic industry, there is a way you can safely recycle the leftover pods. Our TerraCycle Coffee Bin
can recycle tea and coffee capsules – simply purchase the bin, fill it with pods, and ship it back to TerraCycle for recycling. If you're making a cold brew coffee at home, the Kilner Cold Brew Set allows you to steep coffee grounds in water, ditching machines and filters. Alternatively, a plunger coffee jug will make hot coffee quicker than the brew kit, without any waste. This Pod Star Stainless Steel Manual Coffee Grinde
r is compatible with the beans mentioned above. It will convert your beans into the perfect number 2 grind required for all Pod Star reusable capsules and pods.
3. Use a Cane Sugar Alternative
Many of us prefer to sweeten bitter coffee with sugar. But sugarcane farming poses an environmental threat in Australia. In Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef lagoon is being polluted with pesticide and sediment runoff, mainly from cane farming. Cane sugar also contributes to habitat loss, resource loss through increased water use, and fertilizer runoff into vulnerable ecosystems
. Concerning habitat loss
, “Approximately 5-6 million hectares of soil is lost every year due to intensive sugar cultivation and land degradation” worldwide. So, what about cane sugar alternatives? Agave syrup
is not commonly farmed sustainably. The plant takes ages to grow and is killed when harvested, so it doesn't renew quickly. It's also commonly farmed on large plantations with chemical fertiliser, herbicides and pesticides
. Date Sugar
is made from dehydrated dates and is minimally processed. Although dates require a lot of water to grow, this is sugar you can make yourself, meaning fewer chemicals. Honey
is sustainable depending on where it's bought. It can be bought from commercial apiaries, where bees may be stressed or treated with antibiotics, or it can be bought from local producers that practice sustainable beekeeping methods. Buying local honey also supports local plant pollination. Maple Syrup
can be sourced from trees that have been tapped for years, utilising a sustainable resource. As long as it's certified organic, maple syrup also has a low environmental impact. As with all these alternatives, where they come from and their organic status will affect their carbon footprint, chemical and pollution level.
4. Opt for Plant-Based Milk
Even if you're not vegan, opting for fewer animal products can help the planet battle climate change. Animal agriculture uses a lot of energy and resources – not just to feed and rear livestock, but in transporting and harvest meat and animal products like milk. In 2009, a study titled “Livestock and Climate Change” found that livestock and their byproducts accounted for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions
every year. In 2010, a UN report put agricultural global emissions at 14%. Although there's differences in these figures, the scientific community are in consensus that animal agriculture does have a substantial impact on climate change. For coffee, this means not using as much cow's milk, and opting for plant-based milk instead. For plant milk, it's a matter of personal taste. Almond, coconut, soy and rice milk are all good options. You can also use nut milk, which has a lot of protein and you can make it yourself. Our Nut Milk Bag
is essential to crafting your own nut milk, or our Nut Mylk Base
can be blended with water to make fresh, creamy milk in an instant.
5. Bring a Reusable Coffee Cup,
If you do opt for coffee brewed by the local barista, bringing a reusable coffee cup is essential. If you go to a Responsible Cafe
for your takeaway brew, you will even get a discount for using your own cup – more money in the bank for you and you're supporting a cafe that's helping the environment! Looking for a reusable coffee cup
? We've got you covered.
Make Your Coffee Cup Ethical and Sustainable
Opting for ethical and sustainable coffee beans and practices is an easy way to contribute to the health of our environment and coffee-growing communities. Start by purchasing some ethical ground coffee beans for your home brew, and add an alternative to sugar cane for extra sweetness. Love milk in your coffee? Go for plant-based milk instead! If you are heading out to a coffee shop for a cup, bring along your reusable coffee cup. While these steps may take some preparation, once you have them conquered, you can enjoy a sustainable coffee all day, every day. Now that's a real pick-me-up!