Be ‘fair’ and green in your purchasing

It’s impossible to walk around the UNC campus and not notice the monumental number of students rushing (or maybe just struggling) to class holding their morning, afternoon or evening cup of coffee. Whether in a cardboard cup or plastic thermos, students cannot get through their admittedly long and difficult days without that extra caffeine boost.

I’m not judging one bit — after four classes, two meetings and a cozy night in Davis to look forward to, Starbucks is a more welcome sight than my best friend.

This isn’t just the case at UNC; in the National Coffee Association 2011 Coffee Trends Study, 40 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds said they drink coffee every day.

The average daily consumption? About three cups.

Clearly this coffee thing is a big part of students’ lives that isn’t going anywhere. The good news is with barely any extra effort, coffee drinkers can be assured their little addiction doesn’t harm anyone, namely the environment.

Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization that certifies products as fair trade if they meet ethical standards. These standards include environmental qualifications, such as preventing farmers from using harmful pesticides and ensuring protection of local ecosystems. In essence, all fair trade producers must practice sustainable agriculture.

But where’s the catch? We all know that what is generally softer on the environment is harder on our pocketbooks and, sometimes, harder to find.

In this case, that isn’t necessarily true.

Continuing with coffee (one of the biggest fair trade products), students have the option of Starbucks, which in 2010 reported that 84 percent of its coffee was ethically sourced. And the ever-popular Alpine Bagel and The Daily Grind buy from fair trade-certified providers.

Meanwhile, Ben & Jerry’s uses fair trade vanilla, cocoa and — that’s right — coffee. If coffee’s not your thing but you still need to keep your eyes open during midterm week, Honest Tea, owned by Coca-Cola, is completely certified.

Clothes are even becoming more sustainable, and celebrities like Emma Watson (aka Hermione Granger) are riding the fair trade wave, designing labels that use certified cotton and fabrics.

So it’s not hard to find. But what about that equally, if not more, important consideration for students — price? Alpine coffee is the same price as most brands, and choosing a fair trade coffee blend at Starbucks isn’t significantly more expensive than a non-certified one. A bottle of Honest Iced Tea is comparable to one of Snapple. The same can be said of Ben & Jerry’s and its rivals.
How is this possible? Fair traders deal directly with producers, not exploitative middlemen who can take a substantial percentage of prices.

So to chip away at your environmental footprint, feel free to eat ice cream, drink coffee and shop for designer threads. Just be sure to keep an eye out for that fair trade certified label the next time you’re running — or just trying not to fall asleep — on your way to the coffee shop.

Holly Beilin is a sophomore Global Studies major from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Contact her at

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