Coffee and the environment, and what you can do

guy in coffee cup suit

Love drinking coffee but concerned about the environment? Coffee has earned a reputation as a crop which is not particularly eco-friendly. Concerns about soil degradation, deforestation, pesticide use, and water quality have become commonplace. Yet westerners continue to drink one cup of coffee for every two cups of water consumed– and that’s a lot of coffee! Fortunately, we coffee consumers do have environmentally friendly options.

Coffee and the Environment

Coffee wasn’t always harmful to the environment. Once upon a time, coffee was sensitive to the sun and grown under the shade of forest canopies where it required fewer pesticides, less water, and it added to the habitat. However, increased demand for coffee led to more efficient growing methods, which didn’t treat the environment so kindly.

The use of fertilizers increases the yield of coffee, but only when grown in full sun. Soon coffee was adapted to full sun growing, and the natural canopies that once provided shade were altogether removed. This led to the rapid deforestation of coffee growing nations. Unfortunately, much of the world’s coffee is grown in the rainforest regions of the world. Full-sun plantations have a devastating impact on the local ecosystem. Indeed, these plantations support 90% fewer species of birds than shade-grown coffee plantations.

In addition to deforestation, coffee production leads to soil degradation and environmental damages from pesticides and fertilizers. Full sun coffee plantations require enormous amounts of chemicals compared to shade-grown plantations. For instance, Colombia, where most coffee is full-sun, uses roughly 400,000 tons of chemical fertilizers annually. These chemicals can have a negative impact on the farmers that use them too.



One of the least environmentally friendly approaches to coffee cultivation involves razing the landscape of all plants (sometimes using toxic herbicides) and then planting coffee. After the soil is completely degraded, the operation is abandoned and moved to a new location. This process of migratory coffee plantations leaves behind a wake of degraded land, which is unsuitable for wildlife or other crops.

What You Can Do

The negative effect coffee production has on the environment is a result of coffee’s high demand coupled with careless consumer choices. But don’t worry, you don’t need to give up on coffee yet. As coffee consumers, the choices we make when purchasing coffee have an impact on the production methods employed and how coffee cultivation affects the earth.

Not all coffee is bad for the environment. There are organic coffee options, which are free of chemicals. Shade grown coffees are a better alternative to the more common full sun variety. And fair trade coffees guarantee farmers aren’t being taken advantage of. These coffees cost a little more, but that’s because it’s cheaper to destroy forests, plant coffee in the sun, and douse it with chemicals.

We’ll be covering the topic of coffee and the environment more thoroughly in future posts. So stay tuned so you can learn more about coffee production techniques– the good and the bad– and how you can support positive coffee growing practices while still enjoying that fresh-brewed cup of joe.

What is your coffee situation? Do you drink it? And if so, what kind? Fair trade? Organic? Regular? Let us know in the comments!



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