NPR Uncovers The Truth Behind Sustainable Coffee


This morning Dan Charles from NPR did a great 8-minute piece called Coffee For A Cause: What Do Those Feel-Good Labels Deliver?

In his show he starts with the state of coffee production today:

Much of our coffee comes from places where the environment is endangered and workers earn very little — sometimes, just a few dollars for a whole day’s work. Coffee farmers have helped cut down tropical forests, and most of them use pesticides.

He goes on to say:

It doesn’t take much effort, though, to find bags of coffee with labels that promise social and environmental improvements. Among the best-known are Fair Trade or Rain Forest Alliance Certified .

The primary driver? Charles points to ECOM Trading, the second-biggest coffee trader in the world:

ECOM buys beans from farmers and sells them to big companies like Starbucks or of ECOM’s big customers is changing. , a coffee business owned by Nestle, has decided that it wants most of its coffee to carry a particular label: Rainforest Alliance Certified…And Rainforest Alliance, the environmental group behind this label, has a whole set of rules for farmers…ECOM took on the job of getting farmers onboard.

Charles then goes on to do a great job deciphering what’s in the most common coffee third-party certifications. He gets to the bottom of the differences between Organic, Fair Trade International, Rainforest Alliance, Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ‘Bird Friendly’ (one I’ve never heard of), and Starbucks ‘CAFE’.

So, if you’re interested in what’s behind the coffee you’re drinking, I would listen to the download.

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About the Author

is a former marketing consultant who decided, at the age of fifty, to turn her hand to creative non-fiction. Jennifer continues to write about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - follow her on and .
  • Nothing is sustainable forever. We need to learn to use our existing farmland more efficiently and introduce better varieties of coffee to get better yeilds.