Being a sustainable business means more to us than just purchasing sustainable coffee. It also means finding ways to operate our business with the same principles that guide our green coffee buying. We are always looking for new ways to reduce waste and conserve energy while running Wandering Goat.
Some of the projects we’ve implemented so far include:
- Buying 100% wind-generated electricity from our local power company, EWEB.
- Reducing the amount of waste we generate by buying recycled, recyclable, compostable, or reusable office and cafe supplies whenever possible. This includes: napkins, straws, bags, office paper, cups, coffee bags, and cleaning supplies.
- Reusing shipping materials like boxes and packing materials.
- Recycling everything possible.
- Our choice of coffee roaster, the Loring SmartRoaster. It is one of the most efficient coffee roasters in the world. This machine uses 80% less natural gas and produces 80% less CO2 as shown in this study. It also has the added benefit of smoke output that is a fraction of that produced by a traditional coffee roaster.
- Composting our nitrogen-rich chaff (the outer skin of the green coffee bean that separates during roasting).
- Offering our organic coffee grounds to gardeners in our community.
These are just a few small steps we’ve taken towards operating a more sustainable business, but we’re always looking to do more. Sustainability is a process more than a goal; if you have any ideas that could help us improve we’d love to hear from you.
Organic coffees are those whose growing environment and processing have been certified by one of several independent monitoring and testing agencies to be free of the presence of pesticides, herbicides, and other potentially harmful substances.
Conventional methods of growing coffee often include the use of many dangerous chemicals. Chemicals such as DDT, benzene hydrochloride, and malathion are commonly used in the cultivation of coffee. Behind cotton and tobacco, coffee is the third most heavily sprayed crop on earth.
It has been suggested by some in the coffee industry that because the coffee beans themselves are relatively protected from direct contact with these chemicals by a thick outer layer (the cherry), and are then roasted at high temperatures (over 400 degrees), the chances of chemical residue making it into your cup are reduced to a minimum. However, the application of chemicals to any environment invariably leads to air, water, and soil contamination, which in turn leads to the contamination of all life that depends on this soil for its nutrients. Further, the health risks posed to the people who work directly with these chemicals, and the damaging effects on their environment are devastating coffee sprouts.
For instance, as a result of increased nitrogen fertilizer applications, contaminated drinking water is now an escalating problem in many coffee-producing regions. This, in turn, results in specific cancers, birth defects, and developmental problems for children; soil erosion, decreased fish and water life population, and numerous other long-term negative ecological impacts for all species dependent upon these bio regions. Furthermore, artificial fertilizers are primarily made from fossil fuels such as petroleum, which carries mounting environmental costs, and illustrates the potential global impact of even small scale traditional farming techniques.
Currently, the process of having a coffee farm certified organic is delegated to a review by one of a number of independent organizations. Representatives from these organizations will visit the farm directly, work with the farmers when necessary to help educate them in natural growing methods and techniques in order to bring them up to standards, as well as conduct routine inspections to assure adherence to the overall international organic standard. Unfortunately, this can be a costly and extensive process. Many farmers who already practice organic methods due to the high cost of expensive chemicals, and/or a thoughtful dedication to the health of the environment and those who work and live within it, simply cannot afford to become certified. By choosing to buy only certified Organic or other sustainably grown coffees we can increase the likelihood that these programs continue to grow, therefore becoming more accessible and affordable for coffee farmers the world over.
Because of our commitment to purchasing only coffees produced using sustainable methods we can assure you that every bean that reaches your cup is grown using the safest and most ecologically beneficial farming methods practiced today, and is as safe for those who grew it, as well as their surrounding family, as it is for you and yours.
Coffee is native to the high-mountain forests of Ethiopia. In its pristine birthplace, coffee grows low on the forest floor, shaded by the tall trees that make up the forest canopy. It is in these conditions that the coffee plant thrives. In this natural setting coffee receives the ideal ratio of sun to shade, protecting the plants from the sun’s intense rays while still allowing enough sun from the plant to grow and develop. This situation is not only healthy for the coffee tree but also for the entire forest by allowing the natural balance of a variety of plant, animal, and insect species.
Unfortunately, modern agricultural practices are not concerned with creating the ideal environment for the plant or its ecosystem. Common agricultural methods such as ‘mono-cropping’, the planting of a single type of crop rather than a diverse balance in one area, are geared more toward maximum yield and profit, not quality.
Coffee grown on large estates are often planted in long rows, very close together. Obviously, coffee does not grow this way naturally so the plants require large amounts of pesticides and herbicides to thrive.
In addition to providing shade to the coffee, large trees prevent soil erosion as well as helping the soil retain nutrients. Shade trees are often nut, banana, pineapple, or other crops that can provide additional food and income for the farmer.
Probably the most publicized reason the shade grown coffee is beneficial is that the high canopy trees are a vital habitat to migratory birds. Many species of birds (as well as countless mammals and insects) require trees for their habitat. While residing in the trees, these birds are an effective pest-control for the trees and the coffee plants, lessening the need for chemical pesticide. The practice of clear cutting forest for grazing land or mono-crop agriculture has virtually destroyed the habitats of living things of all kinds from birds, to humans, to ants. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Central America.
Because Central America is relatively narrow, a dramatic loss of tree cover has made it increasingly difficult for the millions of migratory birds that travel through that region twice yearly. We are already seeing dramatic declines in bird populations, so it is imperative that changes happen now. The rise in public awareness of the damaging impact of sun grown coffee farming, as well as the increased popularity of shade grown, will hopefully have a beneficial impact over time as the demand for sustainably farmed coffees directs the market.
Unknown to some coffee lovers is the fact that certain coffees, while being ’shade grown’ are not actually shaded by trees. Many coffees in the Coban region of Guatemala are shaded by the low-hanging clouds that are ever present in that microclimate. Some farms shade their coffee in the shadow of massive cliffs or even whole mountains or volcanoes. While trees certainly play a primary role in coffee’s ecosystem, there are some scenarios when trees are not necessarily required for sustainable coffee production. For instance, in some regions there is very little migratory activity of birds and in others, large trees simply may not grow as they do in coffee’s native land. Therefore, the definition of shade grown coffee actually includes some that were not grown in the shade of ‘canopy trees’. For those concerned with the environmental impact of coffee growing, it is most important to assess the overall sustainability of a farm or co-op within the context of the region, microclimate, and ecosystem where it is grown.