It seems fitting that National Coffee Day would directly follow National Drink Beer Day and precede Fair Trade Month. Coffee production and consumption around the world is enormous, and still growing.

A whopping 152.2 million bags of coffee were consumed in 2015, and we’re drinking 2% more coffee each year since 2011.

But this growth isn’t necessarily a good thing for the planet.

To make “full sun” coffee, often forests are cleared, biodiversity is lost, and soil is stripped of its nutrients, experts say.

And production of shade grown coffee, which is better for the planet, has decreased from 43% to 24% since 1996.

When buying ethically, there are other things to consider: how are the local farmers treated? Are they being given a fair price for their product? What’s the carbon footprint of their operation? Is the local community where beans are being harvested being paid well and generally supported?

But buying ethical coffee can be daunting, given the alphabet soup of acronyms and certifications out there. There’s Certified Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, Organic, UTZ Certified, Bird-Friendly Certified, and Shade Grown, to name a few.

Read More: What’s in a Coffee Label?

This handy guide from Modern Farmer can help clarify these somewhat confounding terms. As for coffee companies that are producing their coffee sustainably and treating their employees well, you can start with these 10 ethical brands:     

1.  Equal Exchange

This company pioneered the cooperative model for coffee production, starting in 1986. Everyone who works for the company, which also imports Fair Trade coffee, is also an owner.  

2. Cafédirect

Cafédirect’s claim to fame is that it reinvests one third of its profits back into the communities that produce its coffee. The company has invested in projects that train farmers in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, promote direct trade in Sao Tome, and reforest lands in Peru.

3. Doma Coffee Roasting Company

Doma uses advanced scientific metrics to ensure that its environmental impact is as minimal as possible. The company uses an eco-friendly coffee roaster, recycled paper, and toxin-free cleaning products.

Read more: Do You Know Where Your Coffee Comes From?

4. Kickapoo Coffee Roasters

Newer than Equal Exchange and Doma Coffee, Kickapoo Coffee makes this list in part because of the 80-panel solar array that has powered the roasterie since last July and annual visits by company leadership to the farms where coffee is produced.

5. Birds & Beans Coffee

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s “Bird-Friendly” certification is one of the hardest to receive, and Birds & Beans coffee earned this distinction early on. A blessing from Smithsonian means that coffee is produced in a shady environment without the use of any pesticides, among other stipulations.

Read more: Germany Bans Plastic Coffee Pods in Another Win for the Environment

6. Grounds for Change

Grounds for Change changed the game — earning the first “Carbon Free Certified Product” label in the US. This means that the company offsets 100% of its carbon emissions.

7. Blue Bottle Coffee

This company believes in producing and selling the freshest coffee possible, which means all coffee produced is sold within 48 hours and all of its trade is done directly with farmers. Direct trade gives farmers the ability to negotiate prices, thereby ensuring a more equitable relationship between buyers and sellers. 

8. Stumptown Coffee

Stumptown Coffee’s Green Team works to establish and maintain partnerships with local farmers by visiting each coffee-producing farm, as many as three times per year.

9. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

The team at Green Mountain focuses on working with the communities that produce their coffee through volunteering in coffee producing communities and supporting micro-lending projects.

10. Sustainable Harvest Coffee

This company, along with following sustainable coffee production processes, has led the charge on improving relationships between farmers and coffee companies through their “Let’s Talk Coffee” event held each year in Latin America.


Defend the Planet

10 Ethical Coffee Brands to Drink on National Coffee Day

By Phineas Rueckert