Coffee

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 56 brands of ground coffee, coffee beans, pods and instant coffee

We also look at certification schemes, coffee pod packaging, shine a spotlight on the ethics of Cafe Libertad and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

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What to buy

What to look for when buying coffee:

  • Is it fairly traded? 125 million farmers around the world depend on coffee for an income and so fair wages are important. Buy Fairtrade or directly traded coffee to ensure that the growers receive a fair wage and seek out value-added models which process the coffee in the country of production.

  • Is it organic? Synthetic pesticides and herbicides threaten insect populations, contaminate water sources and can have ecosystem-wide knock-on effects. Look for organic certification to avoid ingredients grown with these chemicals, and to support farming methods that are more in tune with nature.

  • Is it shade grown? Sun-grown coffee plants may provide higher yields, but these plantations can be linked to deforestation, soil erosion and reduced biodiversity. Seek out shade-grown coffee and Bird-Friendly Certification to ensure coffee is grown under a mix of larger canopy trees – providing better bird habitat, soil protection, erosion control and carbon sequestration.

Best Buys

Best Buys are the double certified+ brands:

Recommended buys

Pods are best avoided. However, if you really can’t resist, go for Cafédirect and Revolver’s certified coffee pods. Revolver also sells coffee pods that are biodegradable and made from GM-free corn starch.

Find out more about our best buy label.

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying coffee:

  • Is it in a pod? Coffee pods use unnecessary resources and produce waste (unless biodegradable). If made from plastic, they add to the vast amounts of plastic damaging ecosystems around the world. The plastic in our oceans could already circle the planet 400 times, so avoid adding to it by staying well away from plastic coffee pods.

  • Is it grown using pesticides? For agricultural workers and the communities surrounding farms, the health impacts of extensive agrochemical use are numerous, not to mention the environmental issues. Opt for organic coffee.

  • Is it sun grown? Sun-grown coffee plants may provide higher yields, but these plantations can be linked to deforestation, soil erosion and reduced biodiversity. Seek out shade-grown coffee and Bird-Friendly Certification to ensure coffee is grown under a mix of larger canopy trees – providing better bird habitat, soil protection, erosion control and carbon sequestration.

Companies to avoid

Starbucks’ own-brand coffee. Not only does Starbucks receive one of the lowest scores in our table, but it has also been criticised for its tax avoidance and its treatment of workers in its UK coffee shops.

Nestlé is the focus of an ongoing boycott by Baby Milk Action and has recently been accused of failing to ensure that its coffee is sourced from Brazilian farms that are free from forced labour. Nestle and Starbucks have made an agreement that Nestle will sell Starbucks-branded coffee outside of Starbucks coffee shops. So a bag of Starbucks coffee from a Starbucks coffee shop will score 2, whilst a bag from any other shop will now score 0, due to Nestlé’s involvement

Coca-Cola has now bought Costa Coffee. Coca-Cola is also being boycotted following claims that it had been involved in the murders of union leaders at its factories in South America, and in other instances of violence, intimidation and workers' rights abuses. This means that the Costa coffee score, which used to be 6, has now plummeted to 1 and Costa now comes at the bottom of our coffee shops score table.

  • Starbucks
  • Nestle

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Bird & Wild bean & ground coffee [F,O,S]

Company Profile: Bird & Wild Coffee
18

Revolver ground & beans & pods[F,O]

Company Profile: Revolver World Cooperative Coffee
17

Cafe Rebelde Zapatista ground & beans [F,O]

Company Profile: Cafe Libertad Kollektiv eG
16.5

Equal Exchange coffee bean & ground[F,O]

Company Profile: EE Wholesale UK
16.5

Source Climate Change ground & beans [O,S]

Company Profile: Source Sustainable Supply Chains Ltd
16.5

Cafedirect Fairtrade & organic coffee [F,O,]

Company Profile: Cafédirect
16

Revolver ground & beans & pods [F]

Company Profile: Revolver World Cooperative Coffee
16

Traidcraft organic coffee bean & ground [F,O]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc
16

Cafedirect Fairtrade ground, instant & pods [F]

Company Profile: Cafédirect
15

Cafeology Fairtrade Organic coffee beans & ground[F,O]

Company Profile: Cafeology
15

Cafeology triple certified beans [F,O,S]

Company Profile: Cafeology
15

Suma ground & beans [F,O]

Company Profile: Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd
15

Traidcraft coffee bean & ground & instant [F]

Company Profile: Traidcraft plc
15

Union Hand Roasted ground & beans [DT,O]

Company Profile: Union Hand Roasted Coffee
15

Percol instant & ground [O,F]

Company Profile: AB Anders Löfberg
14.5

Cafeology ground coffee [F]

Company Profile: Cafeology
14

Union Hand Roasted [O]

Company Profile: Union Hand Roasted Coffee
14

Union Hand Roasted ground & beans [DT]

Company Profile: Union Hand Roasted Coffee
14

Cafeology beans & ground coffee [S]

Company Profile: Cafeology
13.5

Percol ground &bean coffee [F]

Company Profile: AB Anders Löfberg
13.5

Percol instant, ground & capsules [O]

Company Profile: AB Anders Löfberg
13.5

Percol - instant & pods [S]

Company Profile: AB Anders Löfberg
13

Solino ground & beans [S]

Company Profile: Lenox GmbH
13

Union Hand Roasted ground & beans

Company Profile: Union Hand Roasted Coffee
13

Lavazza capsule [O,S]

Company Profile: Luigi Lavazza SpA
12.5

Percol instant coffee

Company Profile: AB Anders Löfberg
12.5

Rombouts bean, ground & pod [F,O]

Company Profile: Rombouts Coffee Great Britain Ltd
12.5

Red Mountain instant coffee

Company Profile: Typhoo Tea Ltd
12

Carte Noire instant& ground & capsules

Company Profile: Luigi Lavazza SpA
11.5

Lavazza ground & beans & capsules

Company Profile: Luigi Lavazza SpA
11.5

Clipper Fairtrade Organic instant & ground coffee [F,O]

Company Profile: Kallo Foods Limited
10.5

Grumpy Mule ground coffee [F,O]

Company Profile: Bewley's Limited
10.5

Rombouts beans, ground & pods

Company Profile: Rombouts Coffee Great Britain Ltd
10.5

Taylors of Harrogate ground coffee [F]

Company Profile: Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd
10.5

Orang Utan coffee beans [S]

Company Profile: UCC Coffee UK Limited
10

Taylors of Harrogate ground & beans [S]

Company Profile: Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate Ltd
10

Bewley's coffee capsules [F]

Company Profile: Bewley's Limited
9.5

Illy ground & beans & capsules

Company Profile: Gruppo Illy spa
9.5

Lyons beans & ground coffee bags

Company Profile: UCC Coffee UK Limited
9.5

Grumpy Mule ground coffee [S]

Company Profile: Bewley's Limited
9

Grumpy Mule coffee beans

Company Profile: Bewley's Limited
8.5

Caffe Nero coffee beans & ground

Company Profile: Caffe Nero Group Ltd
5

L'Or espresso pods [S]

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
5

Whittard ground & beans

Company Profile: Whittard Trading Ltd
5

Costa coffee beans & ground [S]

Company Profile: Costa
4.5

Douwe Egberts ground, beans & instant

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

Kenco ground, beans & instant

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

L'Or instant coffee

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

Senseo coffee pods

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

Tassimo coffee pods

Company Profile: Jacobs Douwe Egberts
4.5

Starbucks Fair Trade (from a Starbucks shop) [F]

Company Profile: Starbucks Corporation
3

Twinings ground coffee

Company Profile: R Twining & Co Ltd
2.5

Starbucks (from a Starbucks shop)

Company Profile: Starbucks Corporation
2

Nespresso [F]

Company Profile: Nestlé SA
1.5

Nescafe instant coffee

Company Profile: Nestlé SA
0.5

Nespresso capsule

Company Profile: Nestlé SA
0.5

Starbucks (from a non-Starbucks shop)

Company Profile: Starbucks Corporation
0

What is most important to you?

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Product sustainability

Our Analysis

In the UK we drink around 95 million cups of coffee a day – coffee grown and transported from some of the 125 million farmers around the world who depend on it for an income. However, these livelihoods currently hang in the balance when faced by inaction around climate change, volatile coffee prices, ongoing workers’ rights issues and poor pay.

The coffee industry follows the familiar food story of monopoly. Despite 25 million smallholder farms producing 80% of the world’s coffee, three companies – ECOM, Neumann and Volcafe – control approximately 50% of the global coffee trade, and ten roasters, including Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE), process about 40% of the coffee drunk worldwide. In the UK, Nestlé holds a 53% share of the instant coffee market by value of sales, followed by JDE (23%) and Carte Noire (4%).

Image: coffee beans

The speciality coffee sector offers a higher quality (and generally more expensive) alternative to ‘commodity’ coffee, with companies getting more involved in the whole coffee supply chain from bean to brew. Direct trade relationships are developed; single-source coffee emphasised and micro-roasteries established. It begs the question: should we drink less coffee, treat it as a luxury and make sure its sustainable?

Sheena Shah, Executive Director, Permaculture Research Institute, Kenya commented:

“Most consumers traditionally drink more instant coffee which does not quite trace back to the producers and is often mixed and blended and of course lower grade. I believe consumers should be encouraged to opt for single estate/micro lot coffee and speciality coffee worldwide. We can outdo the bigger franchises if we can support micro lot farmers and at least trace back to the origin, giving them a premium price to continue producing even better quality coffee with precision, taking care of the earth if using shade grown and permaculture principles to accelerate yield and health of the coffee trees”. 

Table highlights

Coffee in a changing climate

The global area suitable for coffee production is predicted to decline by 50% by 2050 as global warming makes it increasingly hard to find the specific growing conditions loved by coffee. “Rising temperatures, increasing weather volatility, increased prevalence of pests and disease associated with climate change all contribute to lower yields and lower quality [coffee], with a damaging effect on farmers’ livelihoods”.

This long-term threat is one key topic of discussion in the CSR reports of companies covered in this guide. It may have spurred some positive steps, such as support for shade grown coffee production, however approaches to environmental management are generally still poor – as highlighted by the many worst ratings in the Environmental Reporting column.

Cafeology, Source Climate Change, Bird & Wild, and Revolver buck this trend, with all four of these small companies seen as offering environmental alternatives to the mainstream coffee market.

As Nestlé produced a good environmental report, it also received our best rating.

Have workers’ rights improved?

Workers’ rights within the coffee industry leave much to be desired, with the supply chain management policies of the larger coffee brands being inadequate. 

The importance of having adequate supply chain procedures in place is highlighted by a recent report that accused Nestlé, Starbucks, Illy and Jacobs Douwe Egberts of failing to ensure that their coffee is sourced from Brazilian farms that are free from forced labour. Both child and forced labour are still prevalent in some coffee plantations.

A number of companies also sell own-brand coffee machines without publishing a conflict minerals policy. These include Lavazza, Illy Lucky Coffee Machines (owned by UCC Holdings) and Rombouts. As electronic devices, coffee machines are likely to contain the minerals tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold (collectively referred to as ‘conflict minerals’ or 3TG), connected to human rights abuses and environmental damage in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Read our feature on conflict minerals

Demand for Ethical Coffee

Demand for ‘sustainable’ coffee appears to be increasing, with it becoming common to find a coffee packet displaying at least one certification mark. Fairtrade and Organic certification is common across most brands, followed by Rainforest Alliance and Utz. Find a discussion about these schemes in our feature on certification

Fairtrade and Organic certification is Ethical Consumer’s recommended certification combination. 

UK-available coffee brands also take a number of other approaches to improving their environmental and social impacts, including direct trading, value adding at source, and through using agroforestry systems.

Direct trading

This model sees roasters sourcing coffee directly from producers, cutting out the middle people, and in general, developing longer-term relationships with farmers.

Direct trading is practised by several companies in this guide, including Cafédirect, Illy Group, Solino, Café Libertad Kollektiv, Cafeology, and Union Hand Roasted. All take slightly different approaches, with some seeking certification in addition to direct trade relationships, and others, such as Union Hand Roasted, not.

Image: Teikei Coffee
Coffee plants at Teikei Coffee in Mexico

Although each should be judged on a case-by-case basis, all claim to pay a higher amount for green coffee than the market rate and all appear to work with producers to improve sustainable production practices. However, transparency around each coffee product, the coffee producer, the production method used and methods for agreeing price is key information needed in order to determine whether a coffee is ‘ethical’ or not. 

Cafe Rebelde Zapatista and Cafédirect are recommended Best Buys with great direct trading models.

Revolver takes a different stance on direct trading, preferring to buy products from local co-operatives rather than directly from farmers. It is critical of the direct trading model, stating that one individual benefits, as opposed to the benefits being spread across the community (as with a cooperative), and there is greater risk of corruption. It also considers working with a co-operative of farmers better for ensuring continuity of supply.

Value adding at source

As the name suggests, this model encourages the processing of raw materials in the country of production; adding value and creating jobs. Solino practices this model and is also part of Proudly Made in Africa – a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates and promotes ethical trading of African goods by acting as a trade facilitator between “producers of African shelf-ready products and international retailers”.

Solino claims to be one of the first fully made-in-Ethiopia coffee products to reach Europe, with the growing, harvesting, processing, roasting, packaging and branding being entirely done in Ethiopia; adding 60% more value for Ethiopians compared to selling green raw coffee. However, it does not discuss its production methods ...

Shade grown

Several companies in this guide support shade-grown coffee production – an agroforestry system that grows coffee plants under a mix of larger, hopefully native, canopy trees. Shade-grown coffee was traditionally practised around the world’s tropical zones until the 1980s/90s when farmers were encouraged (by governments and international aid organisations) to clear cut forest in order to grow coffee in full sun.

Although higher coffee yields tend to be produced from sun-grown coffee, shade-grown coffee trees can live longer, and the agroforestry systems used for shade-grown coffee provide better bird habitat, soil protection, erosion control and carbon sequestration. The greater biodiversity of shade-grown coffee farms can also provide farmers with more diverse yields: coffee, firewood, building materials, other fruit and medicinal plants for example. 

Bird-Friendly Certification is the most stringent way to guarantee shade-grown coffee; ensuring that 100% of the product’s coffee is organic certified and grown under at least 40% shade cover. This certification scheme was developed by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in the United States, with the specific aim of protecting tropical ‘agroforest’ habitats for migratory birds. Bird and Wild’s coffee is Bird Friendly certified and 6% of sales are donated to the RSPB.
 

Coffee waste

Sadly, most coffee packaging is not recyclable because of the complex nature of coffee bag laminate that enables a one year+ shelf life. Instant glass jars may be preferred (which are recyclable), or look out for paper packaged coffee.

Let’s talk about pods

The original idea behind pod systems was that each coffee company would brand a machine that only worked with the company’s own specific pod type, each of which was sold at a premium price. Thankfully this is no longer the case, with many coffee pods being compatible with the Nespresso® system.

Pod materials

Each pod or capsule is made from plastic or aluminium, or both, although some pods are starting to appear that are made from biodegradable materials. Revolver states that its pods are made from non-GMO corn starch, suggesting that GMO corn starch could be used ... (watch this space).

Image: capsules

After use, some pods may be recycled or composted, but many presumably end up in landfill (pod recycling figures are not available). Not only does this create a problem for future generations, but the coffee grounds themselves are wasted, which are a valuable source of organic matter.

Is there an ethical pod?

We recommend you avoid recyclable pods. Although you may be able to recycle aluminium pods, this is energy intensive due to the mixed materials used. Illy runs a capsule recycling programme that suggests the plastic is recycled and the coffee inside used for composting. However, the pods still use finite raw materials (such as aluminium) or fossil fuels to make plastic. 

A number of certified coffee pods are now available which are made from biodegradable materials. These include: Revolver Fairtrade and Organic pods (made from non-GMO corn starch); Percol Organic and Rainforest Alliance pods (made from sugar beet and sugarcane), Fairtrade and Organic Rombouts and Bewley’s Fairtrade pods (both made from undisclosed biodegradable materials). 

Source Climate Change is also going to be launching a non-GMO, biodegradable, organic coffee pod later this year. Check with the companies to see if they can be home composted.

Although this solves the disposable issue, it still seems an unnecessary use of resources and energy to make biodegradable pods in the first place.

Refillable pods and cups are available for Nespresso, Dolce Gusto and Senseo machines, and they are relatively easy to buy online from companies such as Coffeeduck and Sealpod. These refillable pods use snap-on tops or disposable stick-on lids.

Refillable pods, therefore, solve the disposable pod issue and allow for a much wider range of ethical coffees to be used. However, it’s still difficult to see what was so wrong with cafetières, conventional espresso machines, stove-top percolators and drip filters, to name a few. To requote John Sylvan, inventor of the best-selling American Keurig machine, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it. They’re kind of expensive to use ... plus it’s not like drip coffee is tough to make.”

Coffee grounds: from ‘waste’ to resource

Once brewed, spent coffee grounds are a great organic resource – full of nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, potassium and other trace minerals. They also have a near-neutral PH – contrary to common belief.

Rather than going to landfill, they can be added to your compost heap and treated as a ‘green’ material. (Remember to balance greens (generally fresh, high-nitrogen materials such as grass clippings) and browns (high-carbon and generally dry materials such as leaves and twigs) when making compost).

Image: Grocycle, oyster mushrooms
Oysters mushrooms, ready to harvest just 7 days after starting to grow out of a bag of coffee grounds waste.

Spent coffee grounds can also be mixed with other organic matter such as compost or leaf mould before using it as a mulch around nitrogen-loving (mature) plants. Or you could spread it thinly (to avoid clumping) on the soil surface around mature plants. (Beware of using coffee grounds on their own and in thick layers as caffeine can inhibit seedling and root growth).

Worms are also said to like coffee. If you have a wormery you could add a little spent coffee (up to 25% of a feed) every now and then, ensuring that it is spread thinly.

And if you are feeling up for a challenge, you could have a go at growing oyster mushrooms using your spent coffee grounds, after which you can add it to your compost! See grocycle.com for details on how to do this.

Sustainable Coffee Supply Chains

The following coffee case studies (not yet found in the UK) highlight a range of approaches to developing coffee supply chains that support sustainable livelihoods. A lot can be learnt from these, in addition to the Best Buy companies for coffee, when working towards more regenerative coffee supply chains.

Teikei Coffee, Germany

Teikei Coffee takes a ‘community-supported agriculture approach’ to coffee- its community of consumers in Germany pays for its coffee one year in advance, providing the entire production chain with security and sharing the risk. If the harvest is bad, each community member receives a little bit less coffee. If the harvest is good, every member gets a little bit more coffee.

“Teikei” is a Japanese term which means ‘working together’ and is also the name given to community-supported agriculture in Japan.

Teikei’s prices are set through dialogue, not through market prices, with the aim of setting the true cost of coffee – providing fair prices for every part of the Teikei value chain.

Teikei’s coffee is grown in Veracruz, Mexico. It works with three different smallholder farms, which are trained in biodynamic and agroforestry techniques by partners and friends – El Equimite – in Mexico. Its partners from the Timbercoast then sail the coffee to Germany with the power of the wind, almost without emissions of CO2 and without noise pollution.

Teikei thinks solidarity until the very end, commenting: “one cannot act in solidarity when disturbing and destroying natural resources”. It calls the supply chain an “organism” because it sees it as being alive. Every part must be connected to all the others in order to work properly, and each part must take care of the rest.

Image: Teikei Coffee, Mexico
Teikei Coffee, Mexico

Bwindi Forest Farm, Uganda

Bwindi Forest Farm started as a demonstration site; showing local farmers a way of minimising conflict with wild animals emerging from the nearby park (Bwindi Forest National Park) to raid fields.

Now, it is a whole system – native tree species are mixed in with the coffee to provide habitat for insects, fungi, lichens – increasing the biodiversity of agricultural land. This makes the plantation almost an extension of the natural forest.

Bwindi never uses chemicals, industrially produced fertilisers, or machinery. It keeps sheep and pigs to provide manure. The sheep also help keep grass and herbs low, and the pigs help with weeding as they plough the soil with their noses looking for tubers and worms.

Training in permaculture and organic farming methods is offered to local farmers, to support them in growing their other crops more efficiently and sustainably. They then share their knowledge with neighbours and friends.

18 local people are employed on the farm, 10 of which are women, and all receive a living wage. As the coffee is exported, they get double for the coffee compared to selling locally. Post handling hulling, sorting and packing is done first at a local mill, then taken to a bigger export plant in Tororo where they ship with another Danish coffee business.

Image: Bwindi Forest Farm
Bwindi Forest Farm

Rongo Coffee, Kenya 

Rongo aims to adopt permaculture and regenerative farming practices to enhance coffee production that has been damaged due to sugarcane farming.

It was founded by a Rongo resident – Caleb Odondi Omolo – in 2015, with help from the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) Kenya, and others.

A demonstration coffee food forest has been built – a layered agroforestry system that provides organic coffee as well as food crops, other cash crops such as honey, and species that provide essential ecosystem services – such as nitrogen-fixing trees. An organic coffee tree nursery and simple processing and storage site were also established. 

After just two years of practising permaculture, farmers saw soils come back to life. By growing avocado trees next to coffee trees, the shade provided from the avocado improved the yield of the coffee cherries by an estimated 1.5-fold, according to farmers, and the cherries were bigger and brighter than those grown in open fields.

Training in organic production and permaculture is provided alongside business skills training. Local micro-roasters process the coffee which is then distributed locally in Kenya. (Most of Kenya’s coffee is exported, not giving Kenyans an opportunity to actually taste their very own good-quality coffee).

Image: Rongo
Rongo Coffee, Kenya

Supporting regenerative agro-ecological coffee

By Anna Canning Communications Manager for Fair World Project, a U.S.-based non-profit. 

Sustainable coffee: you’ve probably seen the phrase. You might have even bought some. The truth is, it’s not enough. “Sustainable” suggests that if we preserve what we have, we’ll be alright.

Unfortunately, as study after study has shown over the past few years, we’re on track to lose as much as 2/3 of productive coffee land on some continents by the year 2100.

Coffee requires very specific growing conditions and global climate change is rendering those places inhospitable. Add to that, historically low coffee prices on commodity markets in recent months, and ongoing consolidation in the marketplace—small-scale farmers are getting squeezed from every side.

While business as usual is most definitely not working, here’s what is: small-scale farmer-led agroecology projects, farmers practicing regenerative agricultural techniques, and agroforestry. Before we discuss what it would look like to grow regenerative coffee, coffee that supports farmers and communities, not just sustains a broken status quo, a little background on coffee.

Coffee is naturally a shade-loving understory plant. Traditionally, it is grown under a canopy of trees, some of the original agroforestry systems. It was only within the last 50 years that what one might call sun-grown coffee developed. An innovation of the Green Revolution, plantations cleared trees to pack in more coffee bushes. Yet these new “technified” farms also require lots of chemical fertilizers to feed the stressed plants.

The specialty coffee industry has come around to recognize the virtues of shade-grown coffee. Sheltered under trees, the coffee beans (seeds, really) develop slowly, which is thought to yield sweeter beans with more complex flavours. It also means less stressed plants that need less synthetic fertilizers, and less deforestation. What kind of shade matters too. Diverse agroforestry systems have been shown to enrich the soil and support better crops. Planting a diversity of trees is good for farmers too: fruit trees provide food, others provide timber, together they can help a farm family diversify their income and make them less dependent on coffee alone.

Coffee is naturally adapted to agroforestry. Yet coffee farmers use other regenerative farming techniques as well. Fruit left after the coffee bean has been depulped contributes to rich compost. That compost, plus layers of leaf litter from the tree canopy, helps sequester carbon, building better soil for the farmer and contributing to a healthier planet for us all. Around the globe, small-scale farmers continue to innovate site-specific, locally adapted techniques, and share their experiments. There’s no one-size-fits all solution—although, as the Green Revolution’s technified vision of the coffee plantation shows us, that tends not to be sustainable or healthy over the long term!

It’s not just coffee that’s in crisis. We need to make a global shift in farming practices. Pioneering organic researchers at the Rodale Institute have found that if we shifted current farmland to regenerative, organic farming practices, we could sequester 100% of annual global CO2 emissions.

While coffee is well-suited to that shift to regenerative organic practices, and coffee farmers are actually pioneering many of the techniques, they need support. For too long, farming education and extension services have been funded by big agribusiness. Small-scale farmers need investment. Fortunately, organizations are rising to that challenge.

The non-profit crowdfunding platform Grow Ahead makes it possible for ordinary people (or interested businesses) to invest in small-scale farmer-led learning and innovation. As just one example, often remote farmers have received much of their learning about new farming techniques from big agribusiness’ pesticide salesforce as they travel the countryside peddling their chemicals. Yet in Honduras, an association of coffee farmers, COMSA, has built their own organic diploma program, training small-scale farmers in regenerative, organic methods that their members have tested. It’s the kind of peer-to-peer education that’s low-cost, proven to make an impact—and easy to invest in via Grow Ahead.

Fair trade can also help support small-scale farmers as they make the transition to regenerative, organic coffee (or other crops), both through fair prices & strong trading relationships. In addition, so many of the steps we need to take to combat climate change are embedded in fair trade principles, including supporting women farmers, educating women and girls, paying fair prices to avert deforestation, and more.

It’s clear that we cannot sustain the status quo in coffee. But the good news is that small-scale farmers around the globe are developing innovative regenerative, organic farming techniques and growing delicious coffee. It’s up to us to support them and invest in the future of coffee.

Company behind the brand

Café Libertad is a German-based collective, registered as a cooperative, that sells a range of solidarity food products; paying more for green coffee than the world market price and the ‘fair’ regulation required by the TransFair. Rather than participating in what it argues to be “questionable certification schemes”, Café Libertad states a preference for supporting resistance movements, such as that in Chiapas, directly with funding.

The Zapatistas came to world attention in 1994 with their uprising against hundreds of years of poverty, discrimination and repression of indigenous communities. The uprising coincided with the launch of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Zapatista spokesman Marcos proclaimed a “death certificate” for indigenous farmers. The Zapatista emphasis on autonomous organisation, rather than seizing power over others, has inspired movements around the world. Twenty-five years later and they still self-govern their communities across five regions of Chiapas.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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