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Cream, sugar, deforestation, what goes into your daily cup of coffee?

Mayaan Rotnes Cohen

If you wake up every morning and the first thought is coffee, you're not alone. With 1 billion people drinking coffee every day, there's an average of 2 billion cups of coffee consumed per day. This makes the coffee industry one of the most profitable and fastest growing.

Unfortunately, the consumerist and capitalist coffee industry is growing faster than the plants themselves, and thus the industry has turned towards an unsustainable future.

However, there are some ways to be conscious coffee consumers, with ways to stay sustainable and caffeinated.

An infographic video essay from Our Changing Climate explains visually how the coffee industry and climate change are correlated, watch here The True Cost of Coffee.

From Ted Ideas, “There are two main types of coffee growing today: Arabica and Robusta,” (Perkins). The key difference between these types of coffee beans is that Arabica is grown in the shade, while Robusta is grown in the sun.

According to The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, “While sun-grown systems can have higher yields, shaded farms easily outperform them in sustainability measurements.”

Robusta coffee beans are cheaper, have much higher production yields, and allow for an affordable caffeinated drink. However, the effects of Robusta have led to deforestation and other devastating environmental effects. Using chemical pesticides has created a physically toxic work environment and destroyed ecosystems and waterways.

The heavily industrialized coffee industry focusing on maximizing production leads to environmental consequences and only furthers society's carbon footprint and CO2 emissions.

The large-scale demand for coffee, especially in Europe and North America, led to the change from small-scale farmers to large-scale industrialized cropping systems for coffee beans.

However, Arabica beans are the alternative and more sustainable bean choice. Grown under the canopy of forest trees, rather than diminishing an ecosystem, it adds to the diversity and allows the forest to continue flourishing.

This is the traditional system of coffee production, and the ideal habitat for coffee beans, thus creating a richer taste and using fewer chemicals.

According to Project Drawdown, “17.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide could potentially be sequestered in the next 30 years if a majority of farmers switched to shade-grown,” (Our Changing Climate).

Shade-grown coffee keeps forests flourishing, and combats climate change. However, simply only purchasing shade-grown coffee whenever possible is not the only solution needed.

From the video essay, “The answer is not as simple as just buying single origin shade grown varieties. That is important and also a part of the solution, but we must also simultaneously understand that for more ecologically-sound systems to prosper they need a global economy that actively seeks to support and fund them, (Our Changing Climate).”

It is crucial that we shift our viewpoints and values around our imported goods. For coffee to become a more sustainable luxury, there needs to be an emphasis on supporting the environment, the communities, and quality goods. This would heavily contrast the current economic ecosystem in the West that prioritizes low prices, high production, and growth regardless of the consequences, (Our Changing Climate).

Small steps individuals can take include purchasing shade-grown certified coffee when possible, educating others, and being conscious about our own personal climate footprints.


  1. Perkins. C. (July, 27, 2022). Wonder about the impact of your daily cup of coffee on the planet? Here’s the bitter truth. Ideas.Ted.Com.

  2. Our Changing Climate. (December, 20, 2019). The True Cost of Coffee.

  3. Smithsonians National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. Ecological Benefits of Shde Grown Coffee.


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