National Coffee Day, a country-wide celebration of our caffeine addictions. Here in New England, this holiday of sorts is often marked by complementary 16oz iced coffees from Aroma Joe’s, and long lines at Dunkin’ Donuts. I did not abstain from this celebration, and found myself in line at our local Aroma’s on Wednesday, in desperate need of a midday energy boost. As I watched the gradual exodus of countless coffee-drinkers ahead of me in line, I started to think about what kind of impact this particular National Awareness Day might be having on our people and planet (it’s the sustainability major in me). This inquiry is particularly relevant in my life at this moment, as I just started working with Dean’s Beans as a Consultant through the B Impact Clinic here at UNH. For those who aren’t familiar with Dean’s Beans, the small coffee brewery out of Orange, Massachusetts, is recognized for being one of the top B Corporations in terms of positive impact. If you don’t know what B Corporations are, please Google it, they are the coolest companies around! Dean’s coffee is Certified Organic and Fair Trade, meaning that they adhere to strict quality and equity guidelines when it comes to producing the beans, and fostering mutually beneficial relationships with farmers.
So, in light of this momentous occasion, I think we should have a conversation about coffee sourcing, and why we as consumers should care about it. Let’s start with the hard facts. Did you know that farmers in major coffee-producing nations such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica typically only receive about 7-10% of the retail price, and sometimes as low as 2-3%? This margin indicates that many are not earning a living wage, and this deeply jeopardizes their families’ access to basic needs. Not to mention, about 20% of children in these countries are victims of labor exploitation. Many Americans are not aware of these facts, and even more disappointingly, many don’t care, only focused on securing their daily caffeine fix. Here’s the deal: if we perpetual coffee drinkers started paying attention to where our coffee was coming from, and making demands of our favorite coffee chains, we could harness our power as consumers and push for real change in sourcing and equity practices. If the entire population of Starbucks loyalists switched to purchasing Fair Trade coffee from a local retailer even just once a week, Starbucks would be forced to reevaluate or accept a loss of profit. Of course, it would be easy for us to bury our heads in the sand and continue to mobile order our Lattes each morning, to disregard the presence of coffee exploitation for the sake of convenience and sweet cream cold foam. But here’s the rub – money is power, and how we spend our money speaks volumes about our values. If you truly care at all about this planet and the people on it, you should reflect on your daily purchasing decisions, and start challenging your favorite companies to step up their game, on National Coffee Day and every day.