Sustainability and the types of sustainable trade

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In today’s society un-fair trade is ripe in many industries. The indecencies and impacts that non-sustainable products are having on society and our planet is becoming more apparent. As a result we find ourselves slowly to moving toward products that are sustainable. But what defines sustainability? And with all the different products on the market how as consumers do we know what is right?


Sustainability in its truest form is the ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely. There are  three core types that make up a truely sustainable business; Environmental Sustainability, Economic Sustainability and Social Sustainability. With coffee the 2nd largest traded commodity in the world it’s economic sustainability is certainly not at risk. The environmental and social sustainability are key areas that consumers should be aware of when purchasing their daily grind.



Fairtrade is the most commonly known and many consumers now look for the Fairtrade logo. The Fairtrade certification covers many different types of products from coffee to chocolate and even cotton. The benefits of fairtrade are numerous with a core focus on socioeconomic sustainability. Fairtrade aims to tackle wages fair, educate communities, and assist farmers. Products generally have a fixed price to ensure farmers can make a decent living. The Fair-trade logo is quite well known but may vary slightly depending on the region it is certified in.


Direct trade

Direct trade can be a little more controversial as there is no governing body overseeing the trade to ensure it is in fact fair. These companies will work directly with farmers meaning the farmers them selves can command a higher price for a higher quality product. While direct trade can significantly benefit the farmers it does not have a broader impact on the community itself. There is no real way for the consumer to see or know the impacts if a cafe or supplier is using direct trade other than the claims being made by that cafe/supplier.


Shade Grown/Organic

Shade-grown coffee incorporates the principles of natural ecology to promote natural ecological relationships. This is similar to how wild coffee trees/shrubs grow in a forest understory. Sun tolerant  varieties were developed in the 70’s to produce larger yields through higher density, open planting which lead to deforestation in many parts. This devastated local ecosystems and resulted in a new trend in support of shade-grown coffee. Given the natural ecological relationships shade grown coffee relies on it is often classified as Organic.  Organic refers to farming and production without the use of fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals and is a benefit to both the consumer and the environment. Certified organic products in Australia will carry the Australian Certified Organic logo.


Rainforest alliance

The rainforest alliance has a strong focus on environmental and social sustainability, conserving biodiversity and rebalancing the planet by building strong forests. Criteria for Rainforest Alliance certification is designed to protect biodiversity, deliver financial benefits to farmers, and foster a culture of respect for workers and local communities. Specifically for coffee there is a focus on restoring an ecological balance to protect the land. One way farmers achieve this is through Shade grown crops which we discussed earlier. In 2017 the Rainforest alliance changed their criteria for ‘Shade coffee’ in what some have seen as lowering the bar and creating less transparency.


So what should i buy?

Well any of the above is better than none of the above. Look out for the official fair-trade, organic or Rainforest Alliance logo’s on products and remember to be vigilant. Some products use wording or create logo’s to sound or look familiar in order to win customers over. When buying your morning cup have a chat with the barista and find out where their coffee beans come from. Education is always the first step to making an informed choice.



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