Over the years, I have examined the sustainability (eco-certifications, sourcing transparency, corporate social responsibility efforts, etc.) of many popular coffee brands. Here is a compilation of those posts.
First, who owns what brands?
Many coffee brands are owned by just a few large multinational companies. These companies buy most of the world’s coffee as a commodity, and strive for profit over sustainability. These companies have been the drivers of low coffee prices at the expense of habitat, biodiversity, and farmers. While there are some certified choices among these brands, they make up just a tiny fraction of the coffee purchased by these companies, and the companies themselves often have dismal overall corporate responsibility records. Here are the companies and brands that are best avoided (links are to related posts):
- Nestlé (and here) — Nescafé, Nespresso, Taster’s Choice, Clasico.
- Smuckers — Folgers, Millstone, Dunkin Donuts bagged coffee, Cafe Pilon, Cafe Bustelo, Java Coast.
- Kraft Foods — Yuban, Maxwell House, General Foods International Coffee, Gevalia, Kenco, Maxim, Tassimo, Nabob, Sanka.
- Massimo Zanetti — Chock Full o’Nuts, Chase and Sanborn, Hills Bros., MJB. A huge privately owned company which sources a lot of its coffee from it’s own massive full sun plantation in Brazil, said to be the largest in the world.
I regularly update a table on how much certified coffee is purchased by the large coffee companies; it includes other popular large buyers such as Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. If you’d like to know under what “standards” most commodity coffee is produced, see this post on the big industry code of conduct — it’s a real eye-opener.
Popular coffee brands, retailers, and fast food coffee
- Caribou Coffee — all their coffee is 100% Rainforest Alliance certified.
- Starbucks — doesn’t sell many certified coffees, due to their own very stringent supplier rules, which are actually very good for the environment. Read more about them here.
- Panera Bread
- Archer Farms (Target)
- Einstein Bros. Bagels and Noah’s Bagels
- Tim Hortons
- Walmart and Sam’s Club
- Trader Joe’s
- K-Cups — just don’t use these, they are expensive and wasteful. It’s hard to know which of my many posts to link to…how about the one on how they are not recyclable; make sure to read the comments.
- Instant coffee — Not eco-friendly due to cheap beans and high energy production.
- Songbird Coffee, partnership coffee with American Birding Association and Wild Birds Unlimited (Thanksgiving Coffee Company). A number of organic selections, all labelled as “shade grown” but none certified as Rainforest Alliance or Smithsonian Bird-Friendly (although they do sometimes buy from at least one Bird-Friendly certified producer, they do not use the Bird-Friendly seal). Here is some background on the partnership.
- Audubon Shade Grown Coffee (Rogers Family). Now all certified organic and Rainforest Alliance. Note that they are marketed as “certified shade grown,” even though RA certification does not guarantee the coffee was grown under shade. (We will be re-reviewing Audubon coffees sometime this year.)
- Birds and Beans (US). Exclusively Smithsonian Bird-Friendly (and hence, organic) certified coffees. Supports bird conservation organizations.
Two other conservation coffees we reviewed, National Geographic’s Terra Firma, and National Wildlife Federation Blend (Green Mountain Coffee Roasters) have apparently been discontinued since the reviews.
Researching these takes quite a bit of time, especially if the brand is owned by a large corporation (they tend to be secretive) or is privately-held (no annual reports or legal disclosures to dig through). But make your suggestions for future posts in the comments…maybe I’ll do a poll if there is enough interest. Just make sure your candidate has a broad geographic distribution.