Toward a Sustainable and Fair Lifestyle

SustainabilityUnder an endless downpour of depressing news, with facts and images depicting economic, social, and environmental crises, it’s easy to get swept away in despair. And with so many world leaders pushing political agendas in the wrong direction—toward greater economic injustice, human suffering, and runaway climate change—we risk seeing more and more people give up. But please, don’t; it’s still too early to lose hope!

We’re surrounded by solutions. But we must choose to put them to work. Now more than ever, our lifestyle and consumption choices have potential to create remarkable, positive change.

By choosing fair trade products such as small-scale farmer coffee or cocoa, and other smallholder products, we not only support producers and artisans, but also participate in production systems that go easy on the environment and encourage thriving co-operatives and communities. A fair price helps farmers invest in more sustainable practices and infrastructures. It also empowers producer families, co-operatives, and communities to invest in projects that promote healthier living, such as reduced-emission cook stoves, clean water, or access to health services and education.

But what about everything that doesn’t fall neatly within the fair trade framework?

Fair traders are well positioned to raise awareness and take action in broader circles, to make our planet a healthier and fairer place. Climate change is a pending disaster for all living creatures, and we must act now in order to stop catastrophic environmental destruction in the frighteningly near future. Hitching our sensitivity for economic justice to causes that protect the environment is becoming part of our collective challenge.

It’s time for conscious consumers to revitalize, engage, collaborate, act up, and speak out!

DevineWhere to Begin?
Start by calculating your individual and organizational carbon footprints and discover how your lifestyle contributes to climate change. Incorporate “4R + 1CR” (catchy, right?) into your daily routine:

  • Refuse single-use plastics
  • Reduce consumption
  • Reuse what you have
  • Recycle everything that cannot be reused
  • Compost all organic Residue!

What’s next? Join or create a local climate awareness initiative in your community. Support sustainability curriculums at your school. Educate and mobilize others at your place of spiritual retreat or worship. All this contributes to the common good. Learn about how simple organic practices can regenerate our soils and green spaces—from backyard or community gardens to open pastures or woodland areas—and contribute to carbon sequestration. After that, sign an environmental petition to hold elected local and federal governments accountable to their commitments for economic, social, and climate justice.

Let’s stop trying to dominate nature and each other and adopt a spirit of constructive collaboration. Real impact is possible when we dig a little deeper and come together in our awareness to intentionally make positive, systemic change.

This might sound like a very tall order for the fair trade movement. But fair trade itself has been extraordinarily successful at driving noble causes. Because fair trade demonstrates that consumers care—about the way products are made and how farmers, workers, or artisans are paid and treated—Business as Usual had to sit up and take notice.

TalisThe Growth of Fair Trade Coffee
I’ve worked in coffee for 25 years, a blink in the history of that commodity, yet I’ve seen tectonic shifts in the industry. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the birth of the fair trade coffee movement, while working with both producer organizations and early labelling initiatives. I’ve seen the fair trade market grow, develop, and diversify. I’ve nurtured organic coffee, learning alongside small-scale farmers, and have seen how the nuances of this crop have blossomed into a household vocabulary. I’ve been swept up in the tourbillon of quality coffee, as the concept and realities expanded beyond our wildest dreams. And I’ve also seen countless “extreme challenges” from seed to cup, ranging from market fluctuations to crop failures to the ultimate extremes of power struggles and political assassination.

But when all is said and done, production, market, and living conditions have fundamentally shifted for coffee farmers engaged in fair trade.
I grew up in the era of the bitter and bottomless cup and an utter lack of consumer awareness of coffee farmers. With the introduction of fair trade and the ensuing ethical, responsible, and direct trade variations, coffee became chic in remarkably short order. Today, the fastest growing markets for specialty coffee are gourmet, organic, fair trade, and other cause-related niches.

Even coffee companies that have tried hard to steer clear of fair trade feel compelled to announce farmer friendly initiatives. For some companies, this is as simple as rolling up the rim to show consumers how their purchase touches the life of a coffee farmer. For others, it’s developing more sophisticated internal criteria or joining an ethical initiative so they can show a connection to the farm.

The impact that fair trade coffee has made reminds me of my favourite quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

An informed and motivated consumer base making intelligent choices can play a critical role in turning the tide toward a more just, safe, and healthy planet. So get out there and exert your power as if your life depends upon it. Because actually, it does.


Monika Firl is director of sustainability at CoopCoffees.

Originally published in Fair Trade Magazine - Winter/Spring 2019 Edition