Morning Joe – What to Know

Coffee drinkers alike will agree that this morning beverage is one of the greatest innovations of all time. I am tempted to write about the wonders of coffee… how the smell of a first brew wafts into the room with the power to revive, how the relief of the first sip clears away the morning fog…

…but that would make me appear an addict.

So the question is raised:

can we make a small, positive change by choosing a different label for our cup of Joe?

If we do a little background research and keep our eyes open in the supermarket, then the answer is yes. I have a couple of suggestions down below, but and have great, well-researched articles on the various certifications you can find on a bag of coffee. NPR also published a story on the differences behind these certifications.

Here are some ways to turn your coffee addiction green (click words highlighted in green for web links):

1. Buy Fair Trade Certified coffee.


Fair Trade USA is a non-profit organization that assures its farmers and artisans are paid equitable wages for their products. The organization also puts an emphasis on both agricultural and community sustainability. Though there are a variety of fair trade certified items out there, coffee is among the easiest to find. You may be surprised to know that companies such as Green Mountain CoffeeStarbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts sell fair trade coffee- however, it is important to note exactly which fair trade products they sell. Fair trade does not certify an entire coffee label but rather a particular blend. If you order a regular or flavored cup of coffee at Dunkin’, for example, you’re not getting fair trade- only their espresso is fair trade certified. Next time you pull into one of their “drive-thrus”, think about getting a latté or cappuccino.

list of all fair-trade certified coffees can be found on the fair trade website by scrolling down to “Companies and Products”.

2. Buy Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee

rainforest alliance

The Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit organization that aims at protecting biodiversity while meeting the needs of a farming community to sustain their long-term success. Like Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance certifies a wide variety of products beyond coffee; that being said, their coffee is as easy to find as Fair Trade. Keep in mind that Rainforest Alliance “allow[s] those using at least 30 percent Rainforest Alliance Certified content to put the seal on packaging”. Their website notes that even 30% can make a significant impact on farmers and their communities, but labels such as Caribou Coffee carry 100% Rainforest Alliance certified coffee blends.

If you “Shop the Frog” online you can search for Rainforest Alliance certified products available in your state.

3. Buy coffee bought through Direct Trade

“Direct Trade” is best-known to be advocated by Geoff Watts, the director of Intelligentsia Coffee. Roasting companies such as Counter Culture Coffee and Stumptown Coffee are also famous for using direct trade practices. The idea is for the roaster and the farmer to meet one-on-one, creating a personal relationship based on respect, equity, and a concern for the environment. A notable aspect of direct trade is that farmers are paid at least 25% more for their coffee than dictated by Fair Trade. Intelligentsia gives a more thorough explanation on how direct trade works on their website.

4. Buy Organic coffee


Coffee beans raised under organic conditions have obvious benefits for the environment and the greater community- less pesticides to handle, consume, and adversely affect soil quality. The difficulty consumers often have to grapple with is the fact that many farmers cannot- or do not- become USDA Organic certified. It is an expensive task that some cannot afford, and meeting certification requirements can be a lengthy, difficult process for small-scale farmers. You can, however, be assured that USDA Organic certification requirements are rather stringent. A company I personally find extremely trustworthy is Newman’s Own Organics.

5. Buy Bird Friendly Certified Coffee

bird friendlyMany would consider Bird Friendly coffee the “golden label”. Personally it is a label I have rarely seen or heard of, but the Smithsonian National Zoological Park website has a list of FAQs on this certification. In a nutshell, Bird Friendly coffee is organically shade-grown in forests that support a healthy bird habitat (various coffee blogs and websites claim that shade-grown coffee has a higher quality flavor than sun-grown coffee). With organic certification as a preliminary requirement, Bird Friendly coffee is infamous for its triple threat of protecting both the biotic and abiotic community as well as its farmers. Care2 lists six convincing reasons why Bird Friendly coffee is the way to go.

You can enter a search for Bird Friendly Certified coffees in your area through the Smithsonian website.


After looking at all of these labels we must keep in mind that certification is a difficult process that calls for time, money, and opportunity. When purchasing coffee we must be wary of the back-story. What are the limitations to each certification? Have there been recent changes to certification standards? Are farmers and the environment truly being met with respect? Sadly it is difficult to know the answer when we are so removed from the countries that produce coffee beans.

It is important to note that small independent roasters often hold to highly ethical standards without gaining certification while big-brand names only include one or two Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance certified blends for marketing purposes. Do not be afraid to ask a farmers market merchant about his company’s buying and selling practices. As the environmental movement and an increased awareness of social justice are on the rise, staying informed  is the best way to make responsible decisions as a consumer.

6 thoughts on “Morning Joe – What to Know

  1. This is awesome Alexandra, thanks for sharing. I’ve noticed that Dunkin’s coffee isn’t fair trade, but their espresso is! This is a good reminder that certain brands do have options that are good for the environment, but I wish they were able to fully transition all of their products.

  2. What an awesome post, Alexandra! Thanks so much for sharing. Easy ways to be more conscious about an everyday necessity! I’ve always love Newman’s Own, too! I normally make my coffee with the Keriug – any suggestions?

    • go green cuisine

      Thanks, Annie! I use a Keurig as well. Unfortunately, using the K-cups results in a lot of waste; the plastic is neither biodegradable nor recyclable. However, I still think it is a better choice than making a full pot of coffee for one person each morning!
      Keurig is working on their “environmental challenge” and started coming up with some solutions. You can purchase My K-Cup, a reusable coffee filter for the Keurig machine. This lets you use whatever coffee you want in a Keurig machine (even those that are not typically sold as K-Cups) without pouring half a cup of coffee down the drain. Keurig actually conducted a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on its coffee products if you’re interested on greater environmental impact detail.
      Vue Coffee Cups are another alternative (but you need a machine that brews Vue coffee, and their product line seems rather limited). The plastic material is recyclable- it just requires the user to remove the coffee and filter lining once the used cup has cooled off.

      Recommendations? I personally put all of my trust in Green Mountain Coffee, whether or not it is one of their Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees. However, you can all K-Cup products online. From there, scroll down to the left-hand sidebar labeled “Refine Your Selections” and click “Types”. From there, choose your limiting agents: Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic, etc.!
      Hope this helps!

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