Roasters that sell Bird-Friendly coffee, certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, pay a per-pound fee to Smithsonian (around US$0.25, I believe). These fees go to support bird conservation research and education, with an emphasis on coffee as bird habitat. SMBC just posted a page where you can read about some of these projects. Let me take this one step further and tell you why this is so important, because they didn’t take the opportunity to really drive this point home.
Most people don’t understand how research is paid for. I’m a working scientist. I can tell you from direct experience that this type of research relies heavily — if not totally — on outside funding (e.g., it’s not part of the budget of the sponsoring institution, whether a university, non-profit, or government agency). Grants are the typical funding mechanism, and often they only fund very specific aspects of particular research projects, such as field equipment and supplies. It’s hard to find money for the mundane things that allow these research programs to continue functioning, and unrestricted funds such as these royalties are very helpful in that regard.
I know that roasters have business decisions to make, and consumers (who ultimately pay these premiums) have budgets as well. Roasters and the public need to understand that at least in the case of Bird-Friendly fees, they don’t just go to fund the annual office party or expensive haircuts for the boss. Virtually all that we know about the importance of coffee to biodiversity comes from this research. Smithsonian pioneered it and continues this work today. That’s what you’re paying extra for when you buy Bird-Friendly coffee. It’s totally worth it.
Photo by Scott Feldstein.