Northwest Shade Coffee Campaign

by JulieCraves on March 18, 2006

Update: As of 2013, the NSCC is no longer functioning. This post is informational only.

A number of roasters or retailers advertising shade coffee display the seal of the Northwest Shade Coffee Campaign (NSCC). The NSCC, formed by Seattle Audubon Society in 1996, does not certify whether a coffee is “bird friendly.” It’s mission is as a disseminator of information, and “…to protect habitat for wintering neo-tropical migratory birds in Latin America and the Caribbean by increasing consumer demand for shade-grown coffee.”

This is a terrific idea, and of course the mission of Coffee & Conservation as well.  Consumers do need to be aware, however, that this seal does not mean any of the coffee sold by the member is certified shade grown, that all coffees are shade grown, or that any of the coffees labeled as shade grown are grown under the best biodiversity management.

According to an article in Fresh Cup Magazine, members of NSCC “must identify its exact sources of coffee, work with its vendors to ensure a supply of shade coffee, carry at least one offering that is documented as shade-grown, educate its customers about shade coffee, and contribute yearly dues…”.  There was no indication on the NSCC web site describing the criteria for documentation, but it was noted that some companies certify their own coffee, and others don’t accept certification but take steps to help birds and the environment.  This leaves consumers again wondering what definition of “shade” was used and whether or not the growing methods are really preserving biodiversity.  An examination of the offerings of the majority of the members did not reveal any particular coffees as being designated as the “documented” shade coffees.

The Fresh Cup article goes on to say that, “Beyond these requirements, members are free to promote shade-grown coffee as they see fit.”  This is a little discomforting, as it seems to leave the door open for member greenwashing.

Increasing the demand for shade coffee requires an educated consumer, and NSCC deserves kudos for working towards that goal.  Unfortunately, the lack of definable criteria and rather loose membership requirements muddy the waters and probably do more to confuse rather than enlighten consumers.  It would almost be more worthwhile if NSCC just stuck with the education and didn’t have membership.

Nonetheless, it’s obviously preferable to purchase coffee from NSCC members than from sources who make no claims to have shade coffee.  In future posts, I will provide some guidance for consumers trying to choose a good non-certified shade coffee, including a listing of which countries and regions farm coffee mostly in shade, and individual certified farms and co-ops.

Revised on November 19, 2019

Posted in Certifications

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