The coffee industry has come up with certifications that place emphasis on ecological and environmental standards. Learn about these standards on coffee plus educate yourself on the quality of your coffee beans.
Bird-Friendly (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center)
This is the only true shade-grown certification. Developed by ecologists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, this certification requires that coffee plants be at least 12 meters high, have a minimum of 40% shade cover, and contain 11 species of shade trees. The coffee must also be certified organic, making it one of the biggest indictors of quality coffee.
The Rainforest Alliance certification covers environmental issues as well as that of the workers. There is not a criterion for shade as with the Bird-Friendly certification, but there is an optional area for this criterion. There is no organic requirement for this coffee and because there is not a requirement for growth in the shade, it may not be. The certification from the Rainforest Alliance is awarded based on a score for meeting a minimum number of an array of different criteria.
Anything with the label “organic” must be certified by the United States standards that are established by the USDAs National Organic Program. Some of the requirements are:
- No use of prohibited substances on the land for at least three years
- A buffer between the coffee and any other crop not grown organically; and
- A plan that demonstrates methods that prevent soil erosion
Coffee that is USDA approved must not be grown with herbicides, fertilizers, and most synthetic pesticides. These chemicals are shown to produce harmful effects on the environment.
The Fair Trade certification is only available to democratically-organized cooperatives of small producers, and excludes individually-owned farms, estates, or farms with hired labor. They are primarily concerned with alleviating poverty through greater equity in international trade as coffee farming is often cited for unscrupulous practices against its laborers. Fair Trade does not require an organic certification for the coffee plus no standards for shade growth.
UTZ certification looks into the agriculture practices of the production of coffee plus things like soil erosion prevention, minimizing water use and pollution, responsible use of chemicals, and habitat protection. UTZ places mandatory control points in place that are required for certification with this number increasing over a four-year period. There is no requirement for using shade trees with this certification.