For many individuals, coffee is the ultimate getaway – a warm cup to cuddle up with, a quick break from work, the date before you decide whether or not you want to date. It’s been at the centre of a simmering controversy about “conscious consumerism,” which the New York Times defines as “an umbrella phrase that essentially means interacting in the economy with a greater understanding of how your purchasing effects society at large.” Avoiding single-use plastics, purchasing secondhand clothing, joining a food co-op, and determining whether firms have ethical sourcing, manufacturing, labour, and marketing policies are all examples.
The concept of a “socially conscious consumer” is not a product of social media or “Goop.” It’s a notion that dates back at least half a century, when businesses began to recognise the growing momentum for this societal transformation and realised that “the cost to the firm of disregarding the social and environmental context in which it works may not be profit; the cost may well be survival.”
According to the Havas Group’s 2021 “Meaningful Brands Report,” the momentum of this type of demand, combined with capitalism’s unwillingness to make meaningful progress, has spawned a “age of cynicism,” in which 73 percent of 395,000 surveyed consumers believe brands “must act now for the good of society and the planet,” while 71 percent believe brands “must act later for the good of society and the planet.”
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There are so many (like, so many) consumer products out there, many of which have long been recognised as extractive and exploitable — diamonds, fast fashion, pretty much anything disposable — that consumers are generally inclined to look elsewhere when faced with information about questionable practises and dubious business dealings.
So, where does coffee come into all of this?