The Fight for a Decent, Fair Cup of Coffee

By Susan Lutz

One week coffee gets a bad wrap, the next a good one. Which is it? Is coffee good for us? Killing us? Destroying the environment? Causing cancer? Delightfully tasty? Or all of the above? From the deep grind of espresso to the convenient, light fair of the K-Cup, we love it. However, are we taking care of the earth and the growers as we sip down our brew and satiate that morning, afternoon, and even evening desire?

One day with a few minutes to spare on an errand run, I stopped in Dunkin’ Donuts. When I was growing up, the brand stood for doughnuts – lots of them. It was a sinful, delightful treat and soon became a sign of too much. Yet, Dunkin’s found a way to turn the focus more on coffee and a bit less on the doughnut part. In part, getting a sugary latte-something will replace a hole a doughnut is waiting to fill. When I approached the door, I saw a Fair Trade sticker on a poster advertising that Dunkin’ Donuts buys Fair Trade beans for espresso. I was thrilled to get my double espresso over ice knowing it was Fair Trade. The joy goes down a notch when I’m handed the disposable cup – a glitch in all take-out facilities. The cup I received wasn’t Styrofoam, though I know Dunkin’ was famous for those white cups. NYC banned Styrofoam take-out containers. Dunkin’ says it’s working on phasing out the material all together.

On the other side of the block, Starbucks takes on the same issues: the material of the take-out cups, the origin of the coffee, and the treatment of the people who grow and pick the beans. Starbucks purchases from Fairtrade International and other sources, including the company’s own Coffee and Farmer Equity Program called Ethically Sourcing. Starbucks claims 95% of their coffee is ethically sourced:

The cornerstone of our approach is Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices, one of the coffee industry’s first set of sustainability standards, verified by third-party experts. Developed in collaboration with Conservation International (CI), C.A.F.E. Practices has helped us create a long-term supply of high-quality coffee and positively impact the lives and livelihoods of coffee farmers and their communities.

On the other side of taste and quality comes the K-Cup. Sales tripled just a few years ago. The convenient one-cup brewer tripled, making an increase of over 200% and over 31 billion in sales in 2011. Perhaps campaigns to kill the small plastic cups with just a one-time use put a dent in sales.

Today, the outlook looks a bit bleaker for the convent cup. Holiday sales reported a sixth straight quarter loss in sales by Keurig. The sale of the little cups is down too. Consumers are heading back to the barista and other traditional ways to make coffee. The first time I saw one of these machines, a natural “yuck” look came across my face like I’d just sucked on a lemon. Instinctively, I imagined that all that plastic making one little watery cup of coffee was just a bad idea. Today, I notice the machines pushed further back into the corners of offices, the dying K-Cup tossed asunder, forgotten, and ignored. Keurig’s slow response to changing the plastic cups into something recyclable by 2020 must not have sat well with coffee drinkers. Really? 2020? (Read my article on The Many Shades of Green for more information). The consumer has spoken.

This year, the Dietary Guidelines for the U.S. looked at coffee and health. They concluded that coffee was part of a “healthy lifestyle.” Not just one or two cups of coffee but up to five.

“Strong and consistent evidence shows that consumption of coffee within the moderate range…is not associated with increased risk of major chronic diseases.”

Eating five celery sticks is healthy; five glasses of water is great, but five cups of coffee? Studies like this succumb to our coffee desires. We will continue to get reports about the good and the bad of coffee. I’m waiting for more studies to look at the high level of pesticides used to grow the crop and the effect this has on workers and consumers.

Though sales go up and down, the desire grows and the consumers of coffee get younger. I watch kids order from coffee houses with ease and authority. They sit at tables with a steamy cup of joe. Coffee hooks us with the smooth image of connection. At the coffee house, neighborhood store, coffee machine in the corner, we’re drawn towards getting along for that sweet amount of time it takes to brew a cup of coffee.

mapCommodities inherently demand we get along on a global scale. We can’t drink, eat, and wear things when we have no idea where they came from. We can’t ignore the people planting and picking the crop. A simple map quickly shows who wants the coffee and who grows it.

We can no longer take for granted whether or not a product is good for us, environmentally sound, and treats the farms well just because it’s packaged well or the latest scientific study says it’s healthy. We’re smarter than that. We have the power to demand more from the giants who sell us our daily grind.

There is Still Time

There-is-still-time-Peter-Seidel-The-Many-Shades-of-Green-promoMy guest this week is Peter Seidel and we discuss his new book, There is Still Time: To Look at the Big Picture and Act. The book delves into how our modern habits, which are intertwined with evolutionary psychology, are causing a disconnect with nature. What is causing this dilemma, and how can we become more emotionally connected to create a more sustainable planet? Tune in to find out why we need to take action to bring forth positive solutions to environmental problems. There Is Still Time is available on amazon.com and peterseidelbooks.com.

 

#1603: Beyond Global Warming

My guest this week is Victor Provenzano, eco-consultant and author, who has written articles for clean tech websites. His article for Clean Technics, entitled The Intermittence of Wind and Solar, has been well received, and has been widely circulated. In addition, Victor is currently working on a new book, Beyond Global Warming, which will emphasize that solutions to current ecological problems are being developed, and will hopefully be put into place within the next decade. You can also check out Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions For The New Energy Era, by Amory Lovins, to get more detailed data, analysis and modeling regarding the future of energy. For more info go to Rocky Mountain Institute: rmi.org

1602: Slick Water

slick-water-andrew-nikifourkIt is no secret that mainstream media coverage of environmental issues is slow-moving, and many stories go un-reported in the press. Climate change deniers spout their ideology with reckless abandon. Enter my guest this week, Andrew Nikiforuk, an award winning environmental writer based in Calgary, Canada, who has written a new book about the hydraulic fracturing industry entitled Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry. The book traces the saga of Jessica Ernst, and the path she takes to hold Encana Oil and Canada’s environmental government agencies, responsible for secretly fracking hundreds of gas wells around her home, in a rural area northeast of Calgary. A cover-up ensues, which leads Ms. Ernst to take legal action against the various parties for their role in contaminating land, water and air in her community. For more information andrewnikiforuk.com and to amazon.com to check out his new and older works.

#1541: Annihilation of Nature

Ehrlich2_300-stanford-tmsogOur guest this week is Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University, whose famous book, The Population Bomb, remains controversial to this day. His current work is titled ANNIHILATION OF NATURE: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals, which discusses the loss of species due to human activity, and the importance of biodiversity and empathy in helping solve problems of habitat loss, and the effects of climate change as it relates to all Earthlings. We are in the Sixth Extinction, and it is time for humans to use their emotional cues to protect Mother Earth. For more information go to ccb.stanford.edu (Center for Conservation Biology) and his book is available via amazon.com. You can send him a tweet @PaulREhrlich

#1534: The End of Plenty

bourneCan we feed the world without wrecking it? Are we farming ourselves out of food? My guest, Joel K. Bourne Jr. and I delve into those questions on this week’s show. Joel’s new book, THE END OF PLENTY: The Race to Feed a Crowded World, discusses the world food crisis, as it relates to population increase and environmental concerns. Farm land is becoming decimated, as water shortages are spreading globally, thus reducing growth of crops needed to feed the populace. Political unrest and revolutions have occurred in various hot spots around the world, as wheat crops have failed, which has lead to tightening grain supplies. Lives are lost as fights break out over bread. Will 3D printing of food save us? Probably not, but there is hope, as farmers are using innovations in food irrigation, as well as conservation methods to solve some of the problems. A new land ethic must be put into place to feed the world. For more information go to joelkbournejr.com and amazon.com for his book, THE END OF PLENTY.

#1525: The End of Plenty by The Many Shades Of Green on Mixcloud

#1532: The Green Living Guy

Seth-LeitmanDo the electric slide into an EV (electric vehicle), and plug into a greener way to travel. My guest this week, Seth Leitman, a/k/a Green Living Guy, brings his expertise on vehicles that are electrifying the roadways. From Ford Fusion to Mitsubishi to Tesla, we learn about how the car industry is heading towards a more electric future. Seth’s Green Guru Guides and soon to be videos, are great tools to help you become a more sustainable Earthling. For more information go to greenlivingguy.com

#1532: The Green Living Guy by The Many Shades Of Green on Mixcloud