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How Sustainable is Your Morning Coffee?

December 7th 2022

Tagged: Environment, Food, Sustainable Travel

Many of us would find it hard to get started without that freshly brewed coffee on a Monday morning or Sunday lunchtime stroll to your local barista. And with the rise of at-home brewing, we’re also seeing a massive uptake in the type of coffee we’re buying for our homes. 

So it’s no surprise that we Brits are the nation that spent the most on imported coffee in 2020 according to the International Coffee Organization. During 2019, the total number of coffee shops in the UK (that’s branded, independent and non-specialist) reached a staggering 25,892. Oh, and if you’re wondering what our favourite high-street barista is? It’s Costa Coffee. So it’s safe to say we’re a nation of coffee lovers. 

Coffee at Risk 

Now for the serious stuff. How often have you thought about where that convenient bag of coffee is coming from? Many of us take it at face value when our favourite big-chain brewers promise it’s sustainable. But surprise, there are many dangers facing the future of coffee farming – not least the climate crisis. 

Scientists over at Kew’s Royal Botanical Gardens discovered that up to 60% of wild coffee species used to make your morning brew are at risk of extinction. Culprits have been identified as deforestation, climate change and fungal pathogens and pests. 

But it’s not just these significant threats facing the world of coffee farming, there’s also another challenge. We’re seeing a huge uptake in young farmers leaving the industry over fears of climate change and instability. With an uncertain future, family coffee farms are at risk of closing their doors for good. 

Family volunteering EcuadorVolunteer Ecuador | WorkingAbroad

The Good Work Happening 

With a multi-billion dollar industry at risk, how are coffee producers making change happen? 

While we’ve seen several smaller brewers achieve their B Corp status (thankfully a seemingly growing trend), there are still the big players to answer for. We urgently need to see more transparency around greenwashing. As consumers, we care about the origin of our purchases more so than ever before. And this facade of climate activism is casting a dark veil over the excellent work truly happening in communities. 

All hope is not lost, there are positive projects happening. Organisations such as the United Nations and The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia are working hard on the eradication of poverty, the reduction of inequalities and the support of coffee-growing communities in coffee hotspots like Columbia. 

But it’s not just these big names, smaller coffee makers like Bristol-based True Start are doing their part too. Amongst other initiatives, the company invests in four carbon removal and carbon avoidance projects in the countries their coffee comes from – benefiting farmers and communities. And one more for luck, another B Corp! Union is not shy about sharing its impact strategy – in fact, you can read it all online. And part of that is around the preservation of Wild Forest Coffee in Ethiopia and Partnering with World Coffee Research to secure the future of speciality coffee. 

Supporting Sustainability 

Unfortunately, this type of work is not just needed in the coffee industry. Sustainable farming is a much wider challenge facing the world’s creators and help is always valued and needed. This can be making a conscious choice around the items you purchase, recognising where they come from and the work going into supporting their creators. But, it can also stretch to volunteering projects across the globe, to help those that need more physical support. 

If you’re looking for ways to get involved in sustainable agriculture, forestry and sustainable community work, take a look at our projects on Deep Ecology in Costa Rica, Forest Maintenance in Ecuador (where coffee is sustainably farmed) and Community projects in Nepal and Peru. 

By WorkingAbroad writer, Lucy Gordon 

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