Sustainable coffee is produced on a farm with high biological diversity and low chemical inputs. It conserves resources, protects the environment, produces efficiently, competes commercially, and enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
                                                      -- Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, First Sustainable Coffee Congress.

Site updates

by on February 28, 2015

In addition to making minor changes and updates on many individual posts, I have recently updated and overhauled several important pages here at Coffee & Conservation.

Quick Guide to Coffee Certifications — I’ve updated the information, and added graphs that illustrate the number of environmental criteria/requirements and number of biodiversity criteria/requirements for many of the certifications.

Eco-friendly coffee: How much is there? — How much of the world’s coffee is grown and sold under the standards of the major eco-certification programs? Data from multiple sources covers ~2006 to 2013.

Corporate coffee: How much is certified? — how much eco-certified coffee is purchased and sold by the biggest corporate coffee buyers? Data from multiple sources covers ~2007 to 2013.

Coffee bibliography — This is my curated list of peer-reviewed literature on sustainable coffee production and certifications. There are nearly 400 papers in the list.


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Posted in Housekeeping



(Original post about this certification can be found here.)

I don’t consider UTZ Certified an “eco-certification.” The emphasis is on traceability and transparency in the supply chain, offering substantial support to farmers of several agricultural products on improving their production and business practices. The environmental criteria in their Code of Conduct are fairly generic and lack much in the way of meaningful, quantifiable ecological goals. Being the first step up the certification ladder (from the ground floor of 4C compliance), it is popular with large commodity coffee companies. To their credit, UTZ has made several revisions to their standards over the past decade, the last being in 2014.

The new revision did not strengthen their environmental criteria, and in fact did away with one that marginally dealt with shade coffee. Thus, UTZ will still not be included among the certifications I include as eco-certifications. But let’s take a look at what changed in the environmental criteria of the last revision.

Brief overview: How it works

UTZ has a general Code of Conduct (one for groups, one for individual producers) made up of criteria that they refer to as “Control Points” (CPs). Most are mandatory within a set time period of one to four years. Some (which ones are up to the producer) are “additional” or optional. By the end of the fourth year, certificate holders have to be in compliance with a certain number of mandatory and additional points.

General changes in the 2014 revision

The CPs were grouped in similar categories. They have now been reformulated into four “blocks” representing the four pillars of sustainable agriculture: Management (35 CPS, 0 additional allowed by year 4), Farming Practices (42 CPs, 3 are additional), Working Conditions (30 CPs, 1 is additional), and Environment (13 CPs, of which 3 are additional).

The environmental criteria, then, are still the least emphasized, with the fewest number of mandatory CPs, around 9% of the total number. With the revision, there are now also several crop-specific additional sets of CPs, including one for coffee. The Coffee Module has four CPs in the Environment block, but none have to do with habitat; they deal with water consumption, treatment, recycling, and monitoring.

Many of the CPs seem to have been simplified and consolidated, or moved from one category to another. This kind of streamlining has been going on with other certification standards and is okay so long as it doesn’t water down the criteria. However, when standards undergo a substantial overhaul it can be hard to make direct comparisons between versions.

Environmental criteria 2010 versus 2014

In the 2010 Code, under the Natural Resources and Biodiversity category, there were 19 CPs, of which 15 were mandatory by the fourth year, and 4 were additional.

In the 2014 Code, under the Environment block there are 13 CPs, of which 10 are mandatory by the fourth year, and 3 are additional.

So a reduction in the number of criteria for the environment, although again, some due to reshuffling. The CPs having to do with buffer zones along water bodies, protection of endangered species, and deforestation appear to be stronger or more specific to me, which is positive. There is now a CP dealing with climate change, and the Coffee Module contains a mandatory CP prohibiting any coffee produced by animals in captivity — e.g., kopi luwak — welcome additions.

Less encouragement for shade

The biggest disappointment was the elimination of the one CP that mentioned use of shade trees in coffee production. In previous versions, there was a mandatory CP that read: The producer uses shade trees whenever this is compatible with the local coffee production practices and takes into consideration the productivity.

That CP is now gone. Instead, “shaded agroforestry systems” are among several options that can fulfill an additional (and thus optional) CP on protecting ecological biodiversity by “enhancing habitats and ecosystems”. Other options that can also be used to fulfill this CP (arguably easier and cheaper than planting shade trees) include planting flowers and preserving hedges.

Since by the end of year four certificate holders only need to have one additional point out of seven or so available, chances are that “shade coffee” is part of a producer’s UTZ certification are slim indeed.

The new Code of Conduct, Coffee Module, and other documents can be downloaded here. I think you’ll agree that it doesn’t quality as an eco-certification. UTZ recognizes that there are pros and cons of the existence of multiple sustainability initiatives, and that each has its strengths and weaknesses. While I can’t endorse it as a label to look for if ecological issues are important to you, I do believe UTZ encourage farmers to move towards more sustainable farming practices, and is especially worthwhile if producers use it as a stepping stone to more robust programs that really promote ecological sustainability.

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Posted in Certifications


Two of the giants in the corporate coffee world want to merge in an attempt to rival the world’s current biggest coffee buyer, Nestlé. I’ve been waiting for the merger to go through to write about this deal, but it is being investigated by European anti-trust regulators, so I’ll go ahead and provide some background now.

The proposed merger is between the #2 and #3 coffee companies in the world: Mondelēz International and D.E. Master Blenders 1753.

mondelez-logoMondelēz International was the name given to the Kraft Foods division that spun off from the company’s grocery segment in 2012. Coffee brands include Gevalia, Tassimo, and Kenco. (Kraft Food Group and Kraft Foodservice control Maxwell House, Yuban, General Foods International and the Gevalia and Tassimo brands in North America. Although I’ve not read that Kraft brands are part of this deal, Maxwell House is shown as an included coffee brand in this fact sheet put out by Mondelēz.)

master-blenders-logoD.E. Master Blenders 1753 is owned by JAB Holding Company (Joh. A. Benckiser) — the private firm that recently purchased Caribou Coffee and Peet’s Coffee.  Their main coffee brand, though, is Douwe Egberts (once owned by Sara Lee Corporation). There are other coffee brands owned by D.E. Master Blenders, mainly European; the most familiar to Americans is probably Senseo.

A merger between these two companies was agreed upon in mid-2014. If approved, the new company will be called Jacobs Douwe Egberts. Mondelēz will own 49% of the new company, and JAB will have controlling interest at 51%.

Mondelēz International purchases about 500,000 tons of coffee annually. D.E. Master Blenders purchases 300,000 tons, according to Coffee Barometer 2014 (PDF). Combined, their purchases equal Nestlé’s 860,000 tons. Thus, if the merger proceeds, Nestlé and the new Jacobs Douwe Egberts will be purchasing around 20% of the entire world production of coffee.

In my table describing Corporate Coffee: How much is eco-certified, you can see how little of this coffee is falls under any of the meaningful eco-certifications (Smithsonian Bird-Friendly, Rainforest Alliance, or organic). A mere 57,000 tons — 3.3% — of the coffee purchased by Nestlé, Mondelēz International, and D.E. Master Blenders* falls under these three certifications! Tweet

I can fall back on my usual advice: avoid inexpensive, mass-produced, commodity traded, grocery store coffee. The largest coffee companies in the world control this category, and do little, if anything, to make sure the coffee they buy is produced under conditions that protect farmland, natural habitat, biodiversity, or the farmers that grow it.

*I’ve not historically included D.E. Master Blenders in my table as I have concentrated on North American brands, but I will do so if the merger goes through. D.E. Master Blenders mainly purchases UTZ Certified coffee, which does not have strong, specific, or meaningful ecological criteria; Coffee Barometer 2014 indicates the company has plans to procure more organic and Rainforest Alliance certified coffee in the future. Even adding in UTZ and Nestlé’s own self-certified, mystery Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality program purchases, the total only amounts to 202,000 tons, or 12% of what these three companies buy each year.

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Revised on March 1, 2015

Posted in Corporate coffee,Kraft/Mondelēz International


In order to provide context and perspective, I update a table on this site to reflect the amount of coffee out there that is produced and/or sold under some sort of eco-sustainability standard. The amount of coffee produced under these standards (Bird-Friendly, Rainforest Alliance, organic, plus Starbucks CAFE Practices and UTZ Certified) has grown substantially over the last decade.

One standard/certification scheme I leave off is 4C certification. This is the “entry level” set of standards often used by large commodity coffee companies.  To the unsuspecting consumer: this certification really only verifies that the coffee was produced under conditions weren’t illegal (violating basic human rights, environmental laws, and business ethics). Overall, 4C standards are very basic.  You can read all about what 4C certification is and isn’t right here.

It’s a (needed) starting point, but frankly hardly something to brag about or (worse) convey to consumers as being a meaningful sustainability certification. Nonetheless, the growth in 4C certified coffee is driven by big players like Nestlé and Mondeléz International. Mondelez, for instance, is using 4C certified coffee to reach it’s 2015 goal to  “sustainably source” all its coffee for western Europe.

Last year, Daily Coffee News reported that the amount of 4C certified coffee tripled, to 7.5 million bags in 2012-2013 (at 60 kg a bag, that’s 450,000 metric tons).

That sounds like a lot, until you look at 2013 world coffee production: nearly 147 million bags (or 8.8 million metric tons).

Bottom line: 5.1% of world coffee production is sold as 4C certified, the weakest, lowest-bar standard available. On the bright side (?) the amount of 4C certified coffee produced is 2.28 million metric tons, or about 26% of world production. I’m not sure what it says about large coffee buyers that the supply of “sustainably” grown 4C coffee so widely outstrips demand, with less than 20% of 4C coffee being sold as such.

The 4C Code of Conduct is in the process of being reviewed and revised. We’ll see what that brings.


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Revised on February 13, 2015

Posted in Certifications,Corporate coffee