Press release

IISD Brews Up Sustainable Coffee Report

September 17, 2003

Confusion among coffee drinkers about organic, fair trade and shade grown beans

WINNIPEG — Feeling confused about whether your morning cup of coffee is organic, fairly traded or shade grown? Well you're not alone, says a new report published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Consumers and businesses around the world have been taking a greater interest in "socially and environmentally responsible" coffees, but this interest has been matched by an equal cup of confusion.

The new report, The State of Sustainable Coffee: A Study of 12 Major Markets, was launched in Columbia at the International Coffee Organization's Annual Council Session, and documents the fundamental features of the main sustainable coffee available today, as well as the state of their current markets.

The report, which calls for stricter guidelines and policies on what can be labelled organic, fair trade and shade grown, collectively known as sustainable coffees, indicates that this segment of the coffee market is growing significantly but is also in need of policy guidance to ensure that producers continue to benefit.

Coffee is arguably one of the world's most important cash crops and is vital to the livelihood of more than 25 million small coffee farmers. Sustainable coffees can provide such benefits as improved natural resource management; fewer agrochemicals used in production, which decreases costs and health risks; and increased use of rural labour, which provides more jobs for those in desperate need.

The market for these coffees is small-less than two per cent of consumption in developed markets, on average-but in 2002 sales of all coffees making credible sustainability claims were in excess of 1.1 million bags. Sustainable coffees around the world have already made significant headway toward improving the living conditions of almost a million farming households in the Southern Hemisphere. The markets and overall growth for such coffees are, however, threatened by growing confusion among industry and consumers alike.

"The report shows that consumers and industry representatives in Europe were clearly confused about the diverse labels and claims to sustainable coffee that are being made," says Jason Potts, Coordinator of the Sustainable Commodity Initiative at IISD.

"What this study shows is both the need and opportunity for developing an international platform for defining sustainability in the coffee sector based on clarity, transparency and multi-stakeholder collaboration," he added.

The report, authored by Daniele Giovannucci, is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, and examines the characteristics and trends of the sustainable coffee markets in 11 European markets and Japan. This report follows on the heels of an earlier similar report that Giovannucci wrote which surveyed the North American market. These reports are widely considered by many to be groundbreaking work.

The study was published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the International Coffee Organization and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.