In the case of conscious consumption of coffee and tea, you should take the long transports as well as the use of fertilizers and pesticides in cultivation into consideration. Cultivation of coffee and tea is also associated with several social and environmental problems in the countries where it is grown. The processing of coffee and tea causes large emissions of greenhouse gasses, as do the long transports of the products. But – it is possible to make conscious and wise choices in the coffee jungle.
- Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer, they account for more than half of the world’s coffee production.
- Coffee is grown mainly in Africa and South America, and tea in Asia and Africa, but the largest consumption of coffee is in Europe.
- The climate footprint of coffee powder and tea is estimated to have an average value of approximately 3 kg CO2e per kg / dry goods. However, the variation is high, between 2-10 kg CO2eq per kg / dry goods, states the Food-Climate-List produced by SLU.
- There are two overall problems with growing tea; The large amount of land required for cultivation and the intensive labor required to harvest it.
- Violations of human rights have been reported on plantations in virtually all major tea-producing countries.
- Coffee is one of the world’s most sprayed crops. This affects both humans, animals and nature very negatively, but there are organic farms that do not use pesticides. Organic farming affects nature to a lesser extent, mainly due to less chemicals in the cultivation but also because they use methods that benefit biological diversity to a greater extent.
- The biggest challenges for growing coffee are: the use of chemicals in cultivation, the negative impact it has on biodiversity and the large amount of water used.
- Organic farms exist, almost all coffee from Ethiopia can be classified as organic, but they are not certified. In Ethiopia, no pesticides and almost no fertilizers are used.
- Brazil, Colombia and Vietnam, which produce the most coffee, account for a very small share of organic coffee. About 6% of the world’s coffee is organically grown, a figure that needs to be raised significantly in the best interests of nature, humans and biodiversity.
Low wages and difficult working conditions
- Coffee and tea are two labor-intensive crops where a lot of manual work is required – especially during the harvest. To keep costs down, wages are being pressed down for those who work on plantations and farms.
- Those who grow and harvest coffee beans and tea leaves work long shifts with meager wages. Because a lot of labor is needed during harvest, seasonal workers are common. They are often paid less and do not have the same rights as permanent employees.
- The children of the workers often receive a lack of education and schooling.
- The largest part of the amount we pay for coffee and tea in the store goes to Swedish or multinational companies that buy the raw material, process and package it. Small farmers are therefore very sensitive to variations in the world market price. If the price falls, their income decreases significantly.
- The working environment is poor, there are mishaps and people get sick due to the high proportion of pesticides and fertilizers used.
- On tea plantations, the majority of workers are women and there are many testimonies of sexual harassment from supervisors.
Advice for a conscious consumption of coffee and tea
- Reduce your consumption of coffee and tea to reduce the climate impact and choose organic as much as possible.
- Replace some of your cups of coffee or black tea with a tasty herbal tea, preferably organic and locally produced.
- Look for KRAV-labeled and EU-labeled coffee and tea. These guarantee that no pesticides and fertilizers have been used.
- Coffee with certification has better control over production and working conditions at the production stage than coffee that is uncertified, so try to find coffee that has been certified with both KRAV labeling and Fairtrade. These two cover the work environment, human rights and environmental aspects.
Digging deeper into coffee
Sweden imports around 85,000 tonnes of coffee every year, largely just unroasted coffee that is roasted in Sweden. Over 90 percent of households buy coffee. One problem in Sweden is that we get used to buying cheap coffee in our stores. The quality aspect has not been in the foreground. Another problem is that many store chains do not have a uniform policy but leave the responsibility to the individual retailer to choose whether fair trade products should be included in the range. The non-profit association We Effect (in Swedish) points to four areas where measures need to be put in place to solve the coffee crisis:
- Measures are needed to restore the balance between supply and demand
- The big coffee companies must take their responsibility and give the cultivators a decent price
- The agricultural world’s agricultural policy must be reformed
- The greater share of development aid must go to rural development
But they also highlight an area where everyone can make an effort to change the situation – sell and drink fair trade coffee. Fairtrade is a social and ethical labeling of products. In 2004, fair trade coffee’s share of the Swedish market was just under 1 percent. They state this in the report “Justice in your coffee cup” from 2004, when the association was called Without Borders.
If you want learn more about coffee, there is more to read here (in Swedish):
Justice in your coffee cup, We effect, 2004
Who pays the price for our coffee? The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
A bitter taste of injustice, Swedwatch, 2005
Page updated 2021.