Greener Green Coffee

It’s hard to believe that 45 years have passed since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, when Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin started a grass-roots movement empowering ordinary citizens to protect the environment and denounce social injustice.

This bold step united individuals from varying races, religions, economic backgrounds, and political leanings from around the world, and led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of powerful environmental legislation.

With each passing year, April 22nd commemorates our renewed commitment to the environment and reminds us just how fragile our world really is.

So in honor of Earth Day – let’s ask ourselves, “Are we doing everything we can at home and in our businesses to protect the environment? Is there a policy or a change that we can implement this year to make a significant difference in our carbon footprint? ”

At the most basic level, we can renew and expand our commitment to the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). For café operators, the Specialty Coffee Association of America offers a digital “Green Guide” with strategies for energy conservation, waste reduction, water conservation, and toxics reduction.

For coffee roasters and brokers, making a renewed or increased commitment to sustainable sourcing would offer far-reaching benefits. Zero net deforestation should be the absolute minimum requirement. We all should be striving for positive reforestation and the sourcing of equitable, environmentally-friendly coffee which is free of pesticides and toxins.

For coffee growers, cooperatives, agricultural project developers, and investors, committing to an additional 3Rs (Reforest, Restore, and Rebuild) is extremely necessary in helping the environment to recover from the ravages of deforestation. This needs to be done in a way that also provides sustainable growth, support, training, and a positive future for coffee farming families.

Deforestation: The chickens come home to roost (or roast?)

The dangers of deforestation cannot be overemphasized. National Geographic warns that the world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at our current rate of deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that forest loss is responsible for 20% of current global greenhouse gas emissions and that we are losing forests at the rate of 48 football fields per minute.

The coffee industry has a very positive role to play in diminishing the rate of deforestation – and thus the rate of global warming. The benefits of shade grown coffee are undeniable. Apart from the exceptional taste inherent in beans that mature more slowly, shade trees reduce greenhouse gasses by filtering carbon dioxide. They also provide welcome shelter to a dwindling migratory bird population, provide natural insect control leading to a reduced need for chemical pesticides. Shade canopies also increase moisture retention in the soil, reduce erosion and run-off and thus lower the need for chemical fertilizer. This is how coffee was traditionally grown.

Despite the obvious benefits of shade grown coffee, Science Daily recently reported that it is a shrinking portion of global coffee production. An April 2014 study by scientists at the University of Texas in Austin found that shade grown coffee declined from 43 percent of total cultivated area to 24 percent since 1996. The report states that, “although global production of shade grown coffee has increased, the area of land used for non-shade coffee has increased at a much faster rate.”

Why the increase in non-shade coffee when shade coffee provides so many environmental benefits? An unfortunate reality is that reforestation and sustainability require money and technical know-how that the majority of coffee farmers simply do not have. Many farmers work in isolated areas and do not have the resources to invest in new initiatives, or the financial wherewithal to wait a few years for the seeds of an investment to bear fruit.

Therefore, encouraging reforestation needs to be a collaborative effort.

Being part of the Solution

Working with farmers in South America has given me a keen appreciation for the hardships and challenges that farmers face. Many are eager to reforest, to grow environmentally-friendly crops and to secure a sustainable farming future for their families and community – but simply lack the resources to make this a reality.

ECOTIERRA has since established a country-wide Shade Coffee and Cocoa Reforestation Project in Peru, certified by ECOCERT under the Verified Carbon standard (VCS) banner, offering financial and technical assistance, monitoring, training and project support to 15,000 small farming producers in 32 cooperatives from Ecuador to Bolivia.

This scalable program is a sustainable development tool that combines the principles of impact investing as well carbon finance. Its main objective is to create a profitable and sustainable agro-forestry system, involving the continuous enrollment of registered degraded and deforested lands for reforestation during a 10-year period ending 2022. It also aims to facilitate the renewal of older plantations using the best available techniques and added certifications, leading to qualitative/quantitative crop improvements as well as higher incomes and sustainability for farmers.

Involvement in the project comes in many forms and budgets:

• Some companies invest as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programs, allowing them strengthen, develop, or give back to local relationships.

• Others aim to secure new sources of green coffee. Ecotierra provides access to a “Greener Green Coffee” – zero net deforestation, equitable, with a zero carbon footprint as transportation emissions are offset.

• Other investors might seek to purchase the generated carbon offsets.

Project participants share a common vision of sustainability through reforestation and net zero deforestation principles – working in collaboration with local communities to promote conservation, protection, restoration, and sustainability.

Since 1970, Earth Day has grown to include 1 billion participants in 192 countries — yet climate change not only remains; it is accelerating. The problem is man-made.

Will you be part of the solution?

By Bernard Gauvin, Ecotierra

Etienne Desmarais, President & Co-founder of Ecotierra—

a developer of environmental & sustainable development projects, 

utilizing the benefits of carbon finance for the long term benefits of farming communities. 

Visit for more information on the SCCRP Project

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