Wednesday, January 13, 2016

7 Tips to make your next Cup of Coffee More Sustainable

Who doesn’t like to start off their day with a steaming hot, freshly brewed cup of coffee? Drinking coffee while getting ready, driving to work or having breakfast is a part of many people’s daily routine all over the world.

On average, Americans consume more than three cups of coffee per day - which makes us the biggest coffee consumer in the world. We spend a whopping 40 billion dollars on coffee each year as reported by Harvard School of Public Health.

Did you know that you can help the environment by making the right choices when it comes to your favorite drink? This post will break down some of the most important factors to consider when it comes to coffee and its impact on the environment.

1. Buy organic

Chemical pesticides are a big issue when it comes to coffee beans. Organic, non-treated plants are better for your health (who wants to drink pesticides?) and for the health of the people who grow it, as they are exposed to the harmful chemicals on a daily basis. Organic beans are also cultivated and harvested in ways that protect eco systems. Coffee farms or groups of smallholder farmers can earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal if they meet the sustainable standards set by the Alliance.

2. Look for shade grown and bird friendly

Have you ever heard of shade grown coffee? Most of the time large parts of the forest are cut down in order to grow coffee fast and cheap. Shade grown coffee is cultivated underneath trees and preserves habitats for migratory birds on coffee farms, also letting beans mature more slowly and creating richer flavors.

Some shade-growers even attempt to earn the Bird Friendly® seal of approval. It plays a key role in the conservation of our global environment and of migratory birds that find sanctuary in their forest-like environments. Soil, water and natural wildlife habits are conserved.

In Colorado, Solar Roast Coffee has the world's only commercial, solar powered coffee roaster. Since they use solar power, their roasting process is a gentle heat resulting in a lower temperature roast.

3. Buy fair trade

So in addition to consider if your coffee is organic and shade grown why should you care about it being fair trade?

Fair Trade USA defines Fair Trade for consumers as: “a powerful way to reduce poverty through their everyday shopping.” For farmers and workers in developing countries, Fair Trade offers better prices, improved terms of trade, and the business skills necessary to produce high-quality products that can compete in the global marketplace. Organizations such as TransFair and Rainforest Alliance both include rigorous environmental standards in their certification criteria.

See if you can find double certified coffee. According to Treehugger, about 80% of the fair trade certified coffee coming into the US is also organic.

You might even look for triple-certification, like Caffe Ibis in Utah (organic, fair trade, and shade grown), but those are rather hard to find.

4. Bring a reusable mug

In order to make your coffee break more green consider using a reusable cup. Not only will you save the paper cup from going into the trash but also the plastic lid and the cardboard cozy. Big stores often even offer a discount if you bring your own mug or tumbler. Starbucks has rewarded their customers with a discount when they bring in personal tumblers since 1985.

The following infographic by MyEnergy offers a great summary of the benefits of the reusable cup.

While you're at it try to avoid individually wrapped packaged coffee shots, creamers, throwaway stirrers and sugars.

5. Make your own home brew

Your own kitchen is full of resources to save you money, energy and the environment. Try a new coffee maker that doesn’t require electricity such as a French Press or a Chemex. There is a surprising amount of ways to make your own perfect cup of coffee

If you choose to make your coffee at home every morning, you’ll be able to use your own reusable mug and choose your own additives for your coffee such as organic milk or fair trade sugar (In the US, TransFair also certifies sugar).

6. Recycle coffee grounds

Coffee Grounds don’t just have to go into the garbage. Use them as fertilizer for your plants (it gives them a nitrogen boost), absorb household and stale cigarette odors or use them as an eco-friendly kitchen cleaner to scrub off grease from pots and pans. The possibilities are endless!

Also, ditch your coffee filters. Use a reusable filter and replace a large amount of paper filters.

Finally, you may have heard by now that Keurig Cups are very bad for the environment. Even the inventor of K-Cups regrets that he ever invented them because they are disposable and not recyclable. If you do use a Keurig machine replace the one time brewing cups and switch to a reusable K- cup.

7. Support local brewers and coffee shops

Are any of these Top 10 North Carolina Coffee Shops close to you? Support small businesses in your community and keep your dollars local. Also, make sure to check out some of our local favorites below:

Bean Werks Coffee Company in Asheville
Carrboro Coffee in Chapel Hill
Counter Culture Coffee in Durham
Beansboro in Greensboro
Larry’s Coffee in Raleigh
Island Roast Coffee in Wilmington

Ultimately, there is no "perfect" cup of coffee. Organic, fair trade, coffee shop or home brew, milk and sugar - enjoy your coffee as eco-friendly as you'd like.
Just remember, life is too short for bad coffee. Stay caffeinated.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Real vs. Fake Christmas Trees - Which one is more Eco-friendly?

It's that time of the year again. Your neighbors have already finished decorating their house with lights, ornaments and Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving, but you're a still debating whether it is more eco-friendly to cut down a live Christmas tree or if you should stop by the store for an artificial one.

The answer to this much debated problem might surprise you!

Harmful Chemicals

According to Rodale's Organic Life, fake trees are made from the plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and the toxic chemical dioxin is released during PVC production. PVC is one of the most environmentally offensive forms of non-renewable, petroleum-derived plastic. Not only is it harmful to the environment but also to your health.

Real trees are also treated with chemicals to avoid pest problems. Those chemicals have been proven to be harmful to some animals and human cells.
 It seems as if no matter what option you choose, you can't avoid putting your health at risk but there is an important differentiation.
Christmas tree growers in western North Carolina, with the help of NC State University, have learned a better way of growing trees called IPM (Integrated Pest Management). It’s a way of using less — fewer pesticides and fertilizers — to grow a better, prettier tree. NC State researchers have determined that trees grown in North Carolina need only a quarter of an ounce of pesticide per tree over the course of the tree’s lifetime. Pest management surveys conducted by NC Cooperative Extension specialists have documented a 71% decrease in pesticide use from 2000 to 2013.

When searching for the perfect tree do some research online and find organic tree farms. You'll be surprised how many local pest-free farms are in your own state!

Local Sustainability

Did you know that North Carolina is the second largest Christmas Tree Producer? A WNCN article recently stated, that since around 98 percent of all trees produced in North Carolina come from just seven Western counties, nearly two million trees are cut in Ashe County alone. Consider supporting your local farmer by buying a real tree this year.

On the other hand, nearly 80% of artificial Christmas trees are made in China. The carbon footprint just to transport those trees to your living room is immense. According to this Treehugger article, the estimated total CO2 emissions for an artificial tree are over 137lbs.


The fake tree can't be recycled should you decide to ditch it for a newer model. Due to its material it will end up in a landfill and stay there forever. Ask yourself, how many years do you actually reuse your fake tree before buying a new one? Every year they come up with newer, better Christmas Trees to ensure the customer will buy a new one. The average life cycle of a fake Christmas tree is only 6 or 7 years. Eventually, they all go to the landfill as garbage.

In comparison, real Christmas trees are a renewable and recyclable resource. There are many options to recycle your live tree after all the festivities are over. The National Christmas Tree Association has many tips for recycling your tree such as participating in a mulching program where trees are chipped and shredded and then they make the mulch available for use in your garden. 

You can also buy a small potted real tree. After the holidays you can transplant it outside. Not only do you save landfill space but you're also contributing to the reduction of CO2 for many years to come.

The Ultimate Holiday Experience

Finally, don’t forget the special memories you will make when picking and cutting a tree with your family. Cut your own tree or select a pre-cut tree while enjoying hot chocolate or roasted marshmallows. Everybody will look forward to this fun family tradition each year. Choose your tree species, desired amenities and your city or county and the NC Christmas Tree Association will provide you with a list of tree farms near you that meet your criteria.

We hope you enjoy your holiday season with the perfect Christmas tree for you and your family. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Going Green at Work

Have you ever thought about the impact your office or work place has on the environment? If you're a full time employee you spend 40 hours or more a week at your workplace - that's a big chunk out of your week. Choosing to make environmentally friendly changes to your work space can make a difference.

Reusable Water Bottles
According to the Huffington Post, there are 50 billion water bottles consumed every year worldwide, about 30 billion of them in the U.S. alone. It takes three times the volume of water to manufacture one bottle of water than it does to fill it. Why not make reusable water bottles available at your office with a company or business logo instead of offering bottled water? The company will end up saving money in the long run and the amount of plastic water bottles will end up being reduced significantly.

Green Catering
Is your next catering event coming up at work? Choose reusable items such as china or linen. Or purchase compostable plates, provide bins for recycling and compost all food scraps. Consider offering fair trade tea and coffee. Your actions can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of your event. You can also decide to use sustainable catering companies such as Green Planet Catering in Raleigh.

Reduce Paper Waste
Digitize your data and files. On average, an office worker uses 10,000 pieces of paper per year, which equals about 4 million tons of copy paper used annually. That is a lot of waste! Fact is, the more you do online, the less you need paper. Keep files on computers instead of in file cabinets and review documents onscreen rather than printing them out. Even though it's nice to receive letters in the mail sometimes, send emails instead of paper letters to reduce your carbon footprint. Check out this Treehugger blog with many more suggestions about a green workplace.

Travel and Commute
Another possible big change in your daily work routine is your commute. Did you know that 8 billion gallons of gas could be saved if every commuter car in the U.S. carried just one more person? It might be helpful if you consider setting up a carpool calendar. Need help finding one? Visit your local transit website, like Triangle Transit and start a vanpool. Or find info statewide on “ShareTheRideNC” – you can even set up a onetime carpool!

Carbon Offset
Ask your boss to purchase carbon offsets for corporate travel by car and plane. Check out NC GreenPower’s Event Impact and Travel Offset Program calculators.

For years, NC GreenPower subscribers have been able to offset the energy footprint of their home. Now you can do the same for events and travel! We encourage event planners to reduce their carbon footprint by helping them to “green up” their conference, wedding, party, or other special events. We enable you to offset the environmental impact with an equivalent purchase of renewable energy and/or carbon offsets through NC GreenPower, an independent, nonprofit organization who contracts with local generators. Each carbon offset you purchase will go right back to renewable energy projects across our beautiful state.