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As a coffee drinker and a fan of Dean’s Beans (whose mission is “to use high-quality specialty coffee as a vehicle for progressive change throughout the coffeelands of Asia, Africa and the Americas”), I was interested to come upon a Living on Earth radio story about the wider sustainable-coffee movement.

Steve Curwood is host of the Public Radio International show.

“CURWOOD: A cup of joe might help sustain your energy, but it may not be so sustainable for the Earth. Just 12 percent of coffee is sold under the label ‘sustainably grown.’ A new initiative called the Sustainable Coffee Challenge aims to change the way the coffee industry operates to the benefit of the Earth. Peter Seligmann is chairman, CEO, and co-founder of Conservation International. … So tell me about the sustainable coffee challenge that CI has just formed. Why did you zero in on coffee as a target for sustainability?

“SELIGMANN: Well, we started working on coffee about 15 years ago with Starbucks, and after 15 years we’ve been able to announce with Starbucks that 99 percent of all their coffee is certifiably sustainably harvested and produced. Which means that as their company has grown they have not cut a single tree, and hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests have been set aside as Starbucks has expanded its coffee business. That inspired us to think, is it possible to make coffee the first agricultural commodity that is completely and 100 percent sustainably produced. …

“The dark side of coffee growing is that coffee that is not produced under the shade of forest, [is] produced by clear-cutting forests and planting coffee. And when you clear-cut a forest, you destroy the biodiversity, you put emissions — CO2 emissions — in the atmosphere, you lose soil, and you do industrial agriculture, which maximizes pesticides and chemicals and reduces the benefits to society.

“CURWOOD: So, what’s the obstacle to growing coffee sustainably?

“SELIGMANN: It’s convincing the producers that this is in their enlightened self-interest. To go from non-sustainable coffee to sustainable coffee requires an investment of money and it requires time. Most of these growers, farmers actually work in co-ops, and the challenge is getting the co-ops to agree that this is the transition they want to make from non-sustainable to sustainable and what’s going to motivate them is there being a buyer for the coffee they grow. And so it gets back to the consumer, and the consumer says it’s what we want.” Read on.

Photo: Martin Diepeveen, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Coffee beans are the pits inside the fruit or “cherry” of the coffee plant.

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Around the country, generous people have been “paying it forward”– doing a good deed for someone else that was done for them.

Only in this case, it’s more backward than forward because it involves paying for whatever the person behind you at the drive-thru has ordered. It’s become surprisingly widespread, according to Kate Murphy, writing at the NY Times today.

“If you place an order at the Chick-fil-A drive-through off Highway 46 in New Braunfels, Tex., it’s not unusual for the driver of the car in front of you to pay for your meal in the time it took you to holler into the intercom and pull around for pickup. …

“You could chalk it up to Southern hospitality or small town charm. But it’s just as likely the preceding car will pick up your tab at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through in Detroit or a McDonald’s drive-through in Fargo, N.D. Drive-through generosity is happening across America and parts of Canada, sometimes resulting in unbroken chains of hundreds of cars paying in turn for the person behind them.

“Perhaps the largest outbreak of drive-through generosity occurred last December at a Tim Hortons in Winnipeg, Manitoba, when 228 consecutive cars paid it forward. A string of 67 cars paid it forward in April at a Chick-fil-A in Houston. And then a Heav’nly Donuts location in Amesbury, Mass., had a good-will train of 55 cars last July.” More.

I love the idea, but I think I missed something. Do you give the order taker an extra $20 and get the change when you pick up your meal at the next window? Or does the cost of the stranger’s meal have to go on your credit or debit card?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Drive-thru food outlet

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From a NY Times article by Stephanie Strom June 12:

“A few companies have taken some small steps to bring lost manufacturing jobs back to American soil, driven sometimes by declining labor costs in the United States, other times by dissatisfaction with the quality of goods made abroad.

“General Electric, for example, has created almost 800 jobs by building plants in Schenectady, N.Y., and Louisville, Ky., to make sophisticated batteries, some of which were previously made in China. NCR is making automated teller machines in Georgia that had also been made overseas. Last month, Starbucks announced it would build a factory in Augusta, Ga., that would employ 140 people and make the company’s Via instant coffee and the ingredients for its popular Frappuccino drinks. About half of Starbucks’s new employment overall will come in the United States, the rest internationally. …

“The effort is not all altruistic. Chinese labor has become more expensive, and Starbucks and other companies are looking at their supply chains more holistically. American Mug can deliver to Starbucks in four days, while Chinese suppliers may take three months.

“A Chinese supplier is also likely to require an order in the hundreds of thousands, increasing the risk that Starbucks will get stuck with inventory. And then there is the difference in shipping costs. ‘No doubt the cost of doing what we’re doing in East Liverpool [Ohio] at least in the initial stage will be more expensive for Starbucks, but the investment we’re making in this is about the conscience of our company and recognition that success has to be shared,’ [Starbucks CEO Howard] Schultz said.” Read more here.

We will probably never have the massive manufacturing we once had, but do send me what you hear about manufacturing picking up, even a little. For example, I recently heard about a new company in Massachusetts, 1366 Technologies, which makes silicon wafers for solar applications and has a manufacturing pilot going in Bedford. I mentioned this to a colleague who added that he knew of a new gin distillery in South Boston, which wasn’t really what I meant by manufacturing, but whatever floats your boat.

Photograph: http://www.1366tech.com/

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This YouTube video would have you believe that all you need in Minsk is love.

The video appears to be one of a couple Belarus entries into the “All You Need is Love” AIDS fund-raising effort that got Starbucks into Guinness World Records for the most nations in an online sing-along.

Personally, I think Starbucks would have done Minsk a bigger favor by setting up shop in town (with wi-fi and air conditioning).

That’s because, according to my son’s employees in that fair city, it is difficult to get office air conditioning. They did look into it as they were sweltering in the recent heat wave. But they soon discovered that another business in their building already had an air conditioner, and the local utility could not support more than one air conditioner at a time in that building.

So until the other business moves out, it would be nice if John’s employees could work in a cool web-connected Starbucks. But there is no Starbucks in Minsk.

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