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Every day, people drink more than two billion coffee cups worldwide, and experts predict that demand for it could triple by mid-century.
Coffee consumption is highest in Europe and North America. In the US, 66 percent of adults drink coffee every day — more than any other beverage, including water — and in the UK, coffee is now officially as popular as tea.
But it’s the Netherlands and Nordic nations who routinely top the charts for the most-caffeinated crowd, with the Dutch, Finns and Swedes consuming 8.3 kg (18.3 lb), 7.8 kg (17.2 lb) and 7.6 kg (16.8 lb) coffee per person in 2020.
Study after study shows that our thirst for coffee harms the planet and exploits millions of people in some of the poorest parts of the world.
Arabica, which originated in the highlands of Ethiopia, is prized for its smooth, complex flavour profile, and it fetches a higher price.
It requires shade, so traditional coffee farms intersperse trees of different types and heights among the coffee plants. To grow well, it requires shade and requires chemical pesticides to grow in the sun, which inevitably end up in local waterways.
Buy certified coffee: Coffee certifications can help you find coffee produced using farming practices that meet environmental, social or economic sustainability standards. There’s a dizzying array to choose from, but some of the best-regarded certifications are Fairtrade, Alliance, 4C and Smithsonian Bird Friendly.
Each scheme prioritizes different aspects of sustainability — and their focus can shift — so be sure to stay up to date and pick one that aligns with your values.
Dig deeper, beyond just the certification labels. Initiatives such as The Pledge aim to improve farmers’ bottom line by encouraging roasters to be transparent about the prices they pay. Many independent coffee shops also have close relationships with their growers and roasters, so don’t be shy to ask questions directly.
Dairy production is second only to meat in terms of its climate impacts, so it’s worth considering the entire contents of your cup. Studies show that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a standard latte are between two and four times as high as those from a standard espresso.
If you can’t forego the milk, you can slash its climate impact by two-thirds by picking one of a variety of plant-based options.
As much as 70 percent of your cup’s environmental impact is tied to the beans and how they’re cultivated, so it makes sense to focus most of your attention there. But small actions add up, so avoid non-recyclable coffee pods and bulky pre-made drinks that take an inordinate amount of fuel to ship.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a simple reusable cup. When you take yours into a café, you’re doing more than saving a disposable cup from the landfill — you’re also signalling your values to companies that want your business.
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