How your morning cup of coffee can help save the world

Editor’s note: Bambi Semroc is a senior strategic adviser in Conservation International’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. In this role, she leads the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, an industry-wide effort to make coffee the first sustainable agricultural product in the world.

By 2050, the area suitable for growing coffee around the world is projected to be cut in half.

I don’t even drink coffee, but this is enough to keep me awake at night.

Coffee trees are picky, growing only in parts of the tropics with the right mix of temperatures, rainfall, and soil. As such, they’re extremely vulnerable to climate change. Rising average temperatures and erratic rainfall will mean that coffee won’t be able to thrive in many of the places it now grows, and coffee farmers will need to move their farms to new areas — mostly to higher altitudes, clearing tropical forests as they go — or switch to other crops to earn a living.

The end result: There could be less coffee overall, and the coffee that is available will likely taste different (and not necessarily good).

SEE ALSO: The cleanest cup of coffee: Sustainable farming meets low emissions shipping

This affects a lot of people. There are more coffee lovers than ever: More than 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day, and global demand for coffee is expected to rise by up to 150 percent rise by 2050. Shrinking supplies, more demand: There is, quite literally, no time to lose to protect the coffee that you drink, the climate and ecosystems that coffee needs, and the tens of millions of small-scale farmers who make their living growing the crop.

I came to work in conservation through my love of trees. But in the past few years, it’s the coffee tree — yes, a tree that produces a beverage I don’t even drink — that has taken up much of my time and effort. I’m happy to report, then, that the coffee industry is waking up to the new climate reality, and is now taking serious steps to make coffee sustainable.

That’s where the Sustainable Coffee Challenge comes in. The Challenge was born two years ago to bring together players from throughout the coffee sector, big and small, to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. It’s eminently achievable — already, fully 48 percent of all coffee is being produced under some sustainability standard. 

From growers to roasters to retailers — and even governments of countries where coffee is grown — the Sustainable Coffee Challenge has…

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