Sustainable living isn’t just about one thing or another. Giving up plastic straws is great, but it’s only one small mart of a much larger lifestyle change. Otherwise, you’re mostly making a hollow gesture to keep with the times.
Lifestyle change means you need to change the way you live –all of it– even your coffee habit. For a lot of people, the way they drink coffee is a disaster. They use disposable cups, drink low grade beans that weren’t sustainably farmed, and rely use other disposables, like filters. Even though the picture isn’t so great, there is a reasonable solution.
Wait! I’m Not Giving Up My Coffee!
Alright, I did say reasonable, didn’t I? No one’s going to give up their coffee. Society as we know it would cease to function. Even though coffee beans aren’t one of the lowest footprint crops, they’re not among the worst offenders. Hell, tomatoes have a larger footprint, and no one’s calling for a boycott of pasta.
There are responsible ways to grow and drink coffee, and there are irresponsible ones. I’m only suggesting that people adopt more responsible habits with their coffee, even if that means still drinking two pots a a day.
Ditch The Single Use Junk
The first, and probably most important, thing that you can do yourself is ditch the single use cups and filters that you’re probably using at least a few times a week, probably more. There are plenty of better ways to make your coffee that don’t create extra waste.
If you aren’t already, make your own coffee at home. You won’t need to contend with the takeaway cups, and you’ll probably save a small fortune compared to popular chains. It’s really not hard to make coffee, even with the cheapest coffee maker.
On a similar note, the way you make your coffee matters. Any coffee snob will tell you that percolators and drip coffee makers suck, when it comes to taste. Now, if you have a beloved drip coffee maker that you’re attached to for one reason or another, that’s fine. Keep on using it. Look for better filters. There are even zero waste coffee filters that you can easily switch to.
If you’re not so attached to your coffee maker or you’re looking for a better cup of coffee, you can try a low tech solution that’s nearly indestructible and doesn’t require filters. I am, of course, talking about the tried and true french press. French press coffee makers aren’t mechanical. They’re just a (usually)glass carafe and a plunger with a mesh filter. Put your coffee in the carafe, heat some water on the stove, and pour it in. After a few minutes, put the plunger in, and push down. You can pour your fresh filtered coffee right away. There’s no need to worry about build up or weird bitter tastes.
You can also take a look at pour over coffee makers. These are another favorite among coffee aficionados. They work on the same principle as a drip coffee maker, but without the electronic side. A filter with ground beans sits over a pot. Pour your coffee into the filter, heat some water, and pour it through. The coffee collects in the pot at the bottom. There are multiple variations, but they all work similarly. As an added bonus, these often use permanent mesh filters, so you won’t need to worry about finding an alternative to the disposable ones.
It should come as no surprise that the only absolutely off limits type of coffee maker is single serve. These things are the undisputed worst for the environment, and whoever invented them didn’t care at all about the massive amount of plastic waste they generate. There’s really no redeeming side of them, from a sustainability standpoint, and you should avoid them at all costs.
When taking your coffee on the go, invest in a great insulated bottle to bring it anywhere. Sure there’s something of an upfront cost, but you’ll forego the takeout waste, and you’ll still save way more in the long run.
Enjoy Better Coffee
I know I’m stating the obvious, but crappy coffee is crappy. Not only does it usually taste pretty bad, but it’s also usually worse for the environment. Like anything else, the mass produced, quick and dirty, get it on the shelves as cheap as possible approach leads to subpar products that usually aren’t great in terms of quality or impact. When it comes to coffee, I’m referring to the grocery store aluminum can varieties. These aren’t farmed responsibly, and they’re made from low grade Robusto beans, as opposed to the better tasting Arabica ones that you’ll find in your favorite coffee shop.
When you start acquiring a taste for better coffee, you’ll also begin making better choices for the environment. Higher end coffee roasters usually pay more attention to sustainable practices and their footprint. This is especially true since the areas where coffee is commonly grown are among the most currently impacted by climate change. For them, they’re during the right thing, sure, but they’re also saving their own asses.
What To Look For
There are tons of different roasts and varieties of coffee. I can’t tell you which type you’ll like best. Have fun. Try some out. That part’s a matter of pure preference. There are, however, a few things to look out for when buying coffee to make sure that you’re supporting a company that’s doing their part.
First, look for organic coffee. This one should be fairly obvious, but organic anything is going to have a lower impact. It’s also likely going to be better for you, in the long run, without the possibility of contamination from pesticides or the like.
Then, check for fair trade certification. This doesn’t have much to do with the environment, but it ensures that the company isn’t ripping off people in developing parts of the world.
Rainforest Alliance certification is another thing to look out for. The Rainforest Alliance certifies that the coffee farms where the beans were grown have been audited by an independent authority to meet sustainability standards.
There’s also a less common Smithsonian Bird Friendly certification for the Smithsonian Institute’s Migratory Bird Center. They certify that the coffee was grown under a canopy of trees, ensuring that natural rainforest habitats were preserved for birds and other indigenous wildlife.
Similarly, there isn’t a certification for it, but you can look out for shade grown coffee. This coffee was grown using traditional methods under the shade of the rainforest canopy. Again, this ensures that the coffee isn’t the product of deforestation.
Go Vegan With Your Coffee
It’s really easy to switch to plant based milks in your coffee. The dairy industry, and animal agriculture in general, is a major factor in green house gas emissions. Substituting plant based milks is a more sustainable solution that doesn’t sacrifice on taste or convenience. You have your choice of almond, soy, oat, hemp, and other milk derived entirely from plants. Plus, you can usually find plant milks with slight flavors, like vanilla, to add even more dimension to your coffee. Personally, I think oat milk is excellent in coffee, and that’s coming from someone who usually drinks it black.