Ask any college student about their beverage of choice and coffee often tops the list. Yet, despite enjoying commercial offers such as unlimited refills and super-sized options, most students are unaware of the complete process involved in serving up a steaming cup of joe.

Last week, as part of the celebrations for National Sustainability Day, Peace Coffee partnered with SustainAbilities to provide an educational event onenvironmentally conscious coffee consumption

Peace Coffee is a fair-trade company that was originally founded by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and a group of Mexican farmers in 1996. The company has since grown exponentially, founding a coffee importing co-op, regularly traveling to visit the growers they work with, and employing a crew of baristas dedicated to brewing the perfect cup.

Their mission is to “make exceptional-tasting, organic, fair-trade coffee that sustains the livelihoods of the people who grow, roast, and sell it; preserves and protects the environment that produces it; and delights the taste buds of those who drink it.”

As a company dedicated to minimizing their impact on the planet by providing only organic coffee and employing small-scale farmers, Peace Coffee is a welcome supplier of coffee to the St. Olaf College campus.

To offer students the opportunity to learn more about their campus coffee provider, three Peace Coffee representatives brought a passion for sustainability, educational materials, and, most importantly, coffee samples for students to enjoy throughout the morning in Crossroads on Sustainability Day. Students had the opportunity to ask questions about the transformation of coffee from bean to caffeine as they sampled Morning Glory, Guatemalan Light, and Ole Cafe–a brew made especially for St. Olaf.

The event was a big hit, with students sampling each flavor, discussing their favorites, and learning eye-opening facts about the coffee industry. What a great way to start off Sustainability Day!

It’s no wonder that the Peace Coffee tasting event was so popular- it is the second largest commodity in the world, behind oil. And it would seem that this popular beverage powers America just as much as its fossil fuel counterpart – over 400 million cups are consumed per day! – Just at St. Olaf campus we go through 500 lbs. of coffee beans in a week.

Thanks to environmentally-minded students in 2003 who pushed for Peace Coffee to be served at St. Olaf, all coffee in Stav Hall and in the Cage is organic and shade-grown. The environmental benefits are enormous when compared to commercial “sun plantations” owned by large corporations. These large-scale coffee fields have contributed to high-rates of deforestation: over 25 million acres of forest are gone to feed our coffee cravings, and more dissapear everyday. This puts a strain on dwindling rainforest ecosystems. Coffee is not meant to grow in direct sunlight, so sun-plantations are heavily irrigated and fertilized. This leads to soil erosion and fertilizer run-off, polluting nearby water sources.

Luckily Peace Coffee is committed to farmers who cultivate shade-grown coffee. This form of agriculture actually promotes bird life and biodiversity, retains the high-quality soil, and best of all, gives the coffee a sweet, rich flavor! While mass-production and harvesting can cut prices, the ecological cost is high. Thanks to Peace Coffee at St. Olaf, we can still get our caffeine fix in the morning while supporting fair-prices for farmers and a fair deal for the environment.