The Cost of Coffee: Unsustainable Consumption in the Global Market

Target: Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Goal: Educate American consumers about the environmental impact behind their purchases by providing sustainability labels to goods bought and sold in U.S. supermarkets.

A new study brings to light the cost of a global trade to ecosystems around the world. Through the course of their five year study, researchers as part of the University of Sydney examined more than 150,000 commodities (manufactured in at least 187 countries) and made available to consumers through more than five billion global supply chains. Narrowing their scope, the team decided to focus on a small number of globe-travelling products like coffee, cocoa, and lumber.

What they found proved that the heaviest impacts to the environment occurred not at the end of the line, where the products were purchased, but rather at varying points along the trade chain. And the hits to the environment are plentiful:

In poorer countries, one-third of animal species are threatened by coffee and timber distribution. Fifty to sixty percent of the biodiversity loss in countries like Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, Honduras and Sri Lanka can be attributed to trade. The mining and lumber trade between Papua New Guinea and Australia is endangering at least 171 animal species in Papua New Guinea. The list could continue.

As we become further entwined in the web of our global economy, consumers should not be left unaware about the impact their choices have on the rest of the world. To bridge this information gap, merchandise being bought and sold in American markets should come equipped with sustainability labels in order to better inform the buyer of the true cost of the product they are purchasing. There is no doubt that it is going to take some radical thinking, but in this case especially, knowledge is power.


Dear Mr. Leibowitz,

A recent study counts the ways in which our global trade system has laid waste to environments around the world. As the global markets continue to grow, and people come to depend more and more on goods from around the world, we will continue to see damage to the planet’s biodiversity.

Yet even as animal species continue to be threatened and vast areas of land destroyed by import/export business, consumers at the end of the line are left unknowing.

In order to allow consumers to understand the damage extolled by purchasing goods from unsustainable sources, they need to be informed about the source of their favorite products. By supplying products with sustainability labels, consumers will have an opportunity to apply their purchasing power to products they deem suitable.


[Your Name Here]

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