4C-certified coffee: miniscule amount under minimum standards

by JulieCraves on February 12, 2015

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 NestlÁ© and MondelÁ©z 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.


Revised on November 14, 2019

Posted in Certifications,Corporate coffee

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