Is your morning coffee good for the planet? That depends.
Remember the last time you bought at an eco-certified product? Now it might be a perfect time to reconsider your opinions. According to a new paper in Ecological Economics, goods with eco-labels are not always what they are made out to be when it comes to sustainability. At least, this holds true for coffee.
The study, done by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, compared three farm types in Uganda: organic, fair trade and non-certified. Overall, certified farms performed better than fair-trade ones. Those, in turn, did better than the rest. And yet, a green label showed to be a rather poor indicator in terms of real environmental impacts.
It turns out that whether your morning coffee is good for the planet depends more on the farm it came from than the certificate it holds. As long as certificates were owned by Arabica farmers, they actually meant a bit lower environmental risks, while also promoting stronger communities and improving capacities to deal with challenges.
The link between sustainability certification and actual environmental score was, however, weaker for Robusta farms. Ageing gardens, pests, and diseases showed more of a threat to Robusta farms. Meanwhile, Arabica farmers were better protected against environmental risks due to strong collaborations, mutual support and faster adoption of good agricultural practices. Certified Arabica also showed better sustainability scores on most themes compared with certified Robusta farms.
Therefore, “farms within the same production system experience similar sustainability opportunities and challenges, irrespective of the certification status”, conclude researchers. This finding changes the old picture of organic as a primarily ecological scheme, showing that other dimensions can play a key role in environmental outcomes. Sustainable coffee has more to do with local conditions than the presence of a sustainability label per se.
Such research is particularly timely as in a matter of decades we might see a 50% drop in coffee yields globally, while most wild coffee plants are already going extinct. Thus, making coffee production more sustainable and resilient is more important than ever. And if you are a coffee person, choose certified. And go for Arabica.