Anti-Greenwash Q & A: Bird and Wild — Bird Friendly Coffee

As part of our anti-greenwash series, we spoke to Guy Wilmot from Bird and Wild, a coffee company with a difference. Bird and Wild have been awarded our Best Buy label for their bird-friendly products. 

Because 'greenwashing' is now rampant across so many industries, it can be hard to know who's really meeting the ethical mark. Luckily, nothing gets by our screening process. Our Best Buys can be trusted to do right.

Sophie: When did you start Bird and Wild and why?

Guy Wilmot: As someone who's worked in coffee importing and roasting for over 10 years, I started Bird & Wild in the Autumn of 2017 because I'd always wanted to promote Bird Friendly and Shade Grown coffee since I'd visited a coffee trade show in the USA where these kind of certifications are more well known.

S: What makes you different from other players in the coffee industry?

G: I would say, first up, the % of sales we donate to the RSPB Charity -  6% of all sales. I think we probably give more back than any other coffee company. 

We're also honest about what we give back. There are a number of food and drink brands that donate a percentage of profits, but that's very unclear and can often result in next to nothing being donated to good causes.

Second, of course, is that we're the only coffee brand in Europe that's exclusively Shade Grown and Bird-Friendly - and we're Fairtrade and Organic certified too.

S: Why is it important to buy coffee that is bird-friendly?

G: Sadly, most coffee grown commercially is farmed as a monoculture, is sun-grown, and is fertiliser and pesticides dependent. How does that affect migrating bird populations? Migrating birds may return to winter in South and Central America to the same spot that they've nested in for millennia to find coffee bushes exclusively planted there and netted over. 

With the insecticides and pesticides used on these sun-grown plantations, there are no insects for them to feed on and no trees for them to nest in. Weak after their journey, many migrating birds sadly die and are gone forever - as witnessed by migrating bird stats.

Bird Friendly coffee plantations, on the other hand, are very traditional and old fashioned. They're how most coffee was grown until the 1970s. 

The smallholding farmers grow other crops and trees along with coffee underneath - all organically - and actually welcome the birds, because the migrating birds are a natural insecticide. Scientists estimate that birds eat 500 million tonnes of insects every year. That's a lot of insects. So, it's a win-win. Migrating birds can settle on coffee growing plantations, and farmers can continue to sell their coffee.

There's so much more to this though. The shade-grown side is also crucial. It protects the soil by reducing soil erosion as well as stabilizing steep, mountainous slopes. Typically, soil moisture is 42% lower in unshaded plantations than in shaded plantations, and there is significantly less runoff of surface water in shaded plantations than in unshaded plantations. 

It also acts as a carbon sink. Just like natural forests, the carbon sequestered in a shade‐grown coffee farm’s shade trees will be stored in the tree trunks, limbs, leaves, and roots of the foliage, as opposed to being in the atmosphere and adding to global warming.

Typically, the soil of sun-grown coffee plantations has a shelf life. Sun-grown coffee is incredibly productive and often can produce 2 harvests in one year, but this wrecks the soil and eventually, planters move to more fertile lands to do the same there. Shade-grown coffee, on the other hand, can be farmed for generations.

S: What has been your biggest challenge running Bird and Wild?

G: Undoubtedly, the big coffee players who dominate coffee in the UK. There's a lot of competition and the bigger companies have deep pockets to maintain market share. We're satisfied with our growth, and excuse the pun, but we're growing organically through word of mouth and events.

We would really like to supply more offices and cafes though. It's really nice that they're starting to get in touch with us now.

S: Your website states that you make your payments to suppliers in advance to make sure that they can fulfil orders. What would you say to other companies that are sceptical about doing this?

G: It's all about partnerships and thinking long term. It's a marathon and you need to be in for the long haul. As such, it's all about planning ahead.

S: What are Bird and Wild’s plans for the future?

G: More offices and cafes in the pipeline we hope! And changing to more eco-friendly packaging. This is a problem that all coffee companies are grappling with. It's not simple at all.

Coffee is a fresh product and needs to be kept fresh in a non-porous environment, along with a one-way valve to keep freshness. As such, it's very difficult to recycle. The real problem has been with the companies that manufacture the packaging itself, but finally, they are waking up to it and we are testing some new technology at the moment.

We hope to launch a fully recyclable or plastic-free product from mid-2020. 

Bird and Wild has donated £11,846 to the RSPB since 2017. You can keep track of the amount raised here, and find out more about shade-grown coffee in our guide to coffee.

We would like to thank Guy for taking the time to talk to Ethical Consumer. For more information about Bird and Wild, visit the Bird and Wild website.

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