7 Tips to make your next Cup of Coffee More Sustainable

January 13, 2016


Who doesn’t like to start off their day with a steaming hot, freshly brewed cup of coffee? Drinking coffee while getting ready, driving to work or having breakfast is a part of many people’s daily routine all over the world.

On average, Americans consume more than three cups of coffee per day – which makes us the biggest coffee consumer in the world. We spend a whopping 40 billion dollars on coffee each year as reported by Harvard School of Public Health.
Did you know that you can help the environment by making the right choices when it comes to your favorite drink? This post will break down some of the most important factors to consider when it comes to coffee and its impact on the environment.

1. Buy organic

Chemical pesticides are a big issue when it comes to coffee beans. Organic, non-treated plants are better for your health (who wants to drink pesticides?) and for the health of the people who grow it, as they are exposed to the harmful chemicals on a daily basis. Organic beans are also cultivated and harvested in ways that protect eco systems. Coffee farms or groups of smallholder farmers can earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal if they meet the sustainable standards set by the Alliance.

2. Look for shade grown and bird-friendly

Have you ever heard of shade grown coffee? Most of the time large parts of the forest are cut down in order to grow coffee fast and cheap. Shade grown coffee is cultivated underneath trees and preserves habitats for migratory birds on coffee farms, also letting beans mature more slowly and creating richer flavors.
Some shade-growers even attempt to earn the Bird Friendly® seal of approval. It plays a key role in the conservation of our global environment and of migratory birds that find sanctuary in their forest-like environments. Soil, water and natural wildlife habits are conserved.
In Colorado, Solar Roast Coffee has the world’s only commercial, solar powered coffee roaster. Since they use solar power, their roasting process is a gentle heat resulting in a lower temperature roast.

3. Buy fair trade

So in addition to consider if your coffee is organic and shade grown why should you care about it being fair trade?
Fair Trade USA defines Fair Trade for consumers as: “a powerful way to reduce poverty through their everyday shopping.” For farmers and workers in developing countries, Fair Trade offers better prices, improved terms of trade, and the business skills necessary to produce high-quality products that can compete in the global marketplace. Organizations such as TransFair and Rainforest Alliance both include rigorous environmental standards in their certification criteria.
See if you can find double certified coffee. According to Treehugger, about 80% of the fair trade certified coffee coming into the US is also organic.
You might even look for triple-certification, like Caffe Ibis in Utah (organic, fair trade, and shade grown), but those are rather hard to find.

4. Bring a reusable mug

In order to make your coffee break more green consider using a reusable cup. Not only will you save the paper cup from going into the trash but also the plastic lid and the cardboard cozy. Big stores often even offer a discount if you bring your own mug or tumbler. Starbucks has rewarded their customers with a discount when they bring in personal tumblers since 1985.
The following infographic by MyEnergy offers a great summary of the benefits of the reusable cup.

While you’re at it try to avoid individually wrapped packaged coffee shots, creamers, throwaway stirrers and sugars.

5. Make your own home brew

Your own kitchen is full of resources to save you money, energy and the environment. Try a new coffee maker that doesn’t require electricity such as a French Press or a Chemex. There is a surprising amount of ways to make your own perfect cup of coffee

If you choose to make your coffee at home every morning, you’ll be able to use your own reusable mug and choose your own additives for your coffee such as organic milk or fair trade sugar (In the US, TransFair also certifies sugar).

6. Recycle coffee grounds


Coffee Grounds don’t just have to go into the garbage. Use them as fertilizer for your plants (it gives them a nitrogen boost), absorb household and stale cigarette odors or use them as an eco-friendly kitchen cleaner to scrub off grease from pots and pans. The possibilities are endless!Also, ditch your coffee filters. Use a reusable filter and replace a large amount of paper filters.

Finally, you may have heard by now that Keurig Cups are very bad for the environment. Even the inventor of K-Cups regrets that he ever invented them because they are disposable and not recyclable. If you do use a Keurig machine replace the one time brewing cups and switch to a reusable K- cup.

7. Support local brewers and coffee shops

Are any of these Top 10 North Carolina Coffee Shops close to you? Support small businesses in your community and keep your dollars local. Also, make sure to check out some of our local favorites below:

Bean Werks Coffee Company in Asheville
Carrboro Coffee in Chapel Hill
Counter Culture Coffee in Durham
Beansboro in Greensboro
Larry’s Coffee in Raleigh
Island Roast Coffee in Wilmington

Ultimately, there is no “perfect” cup of coffee. Organic, fair trade, coffee shop or home brew, milk and sugar – enjoy your coffee as eco-friendly as you’d like.
Just remember, life is too short for bad coffee. Stay caffeinated.