It’s complicated

It all started when I went to my usual supermarket and I was about to buy my regular brand of coffee. When I was about to grab the bottle from the shelf I realised that the one right next to it had a new label “Zero waste landfill”. To be honest I have never thought before about the waste landfill from my coffee, but I would like that to be zero. But then, the one that I already have in my hands says “Rainforest Alliance Certified”. I obviously don’t know who is the Rainforest Alliance or what does being certified by them mean, but I certainly care for the rainforest so maybe this green and eco-friendly tag is more appealing than the zero waste. Then, the third option: fair trade coffee. I know that it means that the guys that grow this coffee in Mexico or Costa Rica are getting a better amount of money for their work, which is great. Then more options, there is the organic, the one with extra antioxidants… Why would one choose a brand of coffee? Independent of flavour and price -which obviously are the most important features of the product- there are other stuff that makes us buy this particular bottle and not the other.

Rainforest Alliance
Rainforest Alliance

Then I went to buy detergent -which really is a product that I don´t care much about, so as long as I buy the one that works and doesn’t smell like mangoes or something like that. There I was, holding in my right hand a green bottle that said “100% Biological” and in my left hand its blue twin that said “100% Not biological”. Both of them cost exactly the same, with the same contents and the same everything. In this case is just a matter of choosing between the biological and non-biological. I know that I should have done some previous research on which one should I buy, but lets face it, I am in the supermarket, I don´t have much time and I think “I will do it when I get home”, but since I won’t buy detergent for a couple of months, I will most probably forget about it and be facing the same situation the next time I have to buy this product.

Biological Detergent
Biological Detergent
Non Biological Detergent
Non Biological Detergent

I know it is silly, but I was even wondering what the cashier is going to think when he or she sees me with my detergent. “Ahh, so YOU are the one that buys this biological stuff”, “So now we know that this guys clothes are going to smell like algae before he wears them”. Maybe the cashier is going to judge me: “So you couldn’t buy the biological one? Because of people like you my planet is warming up you know” “They cost the same, and you couldn’t choose the biological one?” In any case, I need to buy detergent, and I don’t know which one should I buy and why. Perhaps the cashier really is going to think like  “You know is the same product, only with a different colour, right?”.

With the eggs there is a very particular situation: I can either buy “free-range” eggs, or buy them from “The Happy Egg co” that has a smiley chicken in the pack. Do I want free-range -even when I am not sure what am I free of when I eat those eggs- or I want happy chickens and roosters? Do I really think that happy chickens produce happy eggs and that makes them better, and that makes me better? or is it only a conscious thing, like I don’t want miserable animals, but it really has no impact on me. The same thing occurs in many of the things I buy in the market. Non-GMO apples, farm fresh milk, organic bananas.

Happy Eggs
Happy Eggs

This fancy ideas: Organic, Farm-Fresh, Non-GMO, Zero waste landfill, Rainforest certified, free-range, eco-friendly, gluten-free (if you are not intolerant), lactose-free (if you are not intolerant), non-artificial colouring… they all sound awesome and I am not even sure I understand them all. I actually think that the regular consumer don’t understand them either, but that make decisions based on “I read somewhere that GMOs are terrible for your teeth”, or “They cause cancer”, or “Angry chickens produce angry eggs, and that also affects your daily mood”.

Is there a way to compare those attributes? Ecologically speaking, the best coffee would be one that is zero waste landfill, certified by the many rainforest associations, fair-trade, green, eco-friendly, etc. but I have to sacrifice one of those attributes, which one would be best? Maybe zero waste landfill is not that important if in a few years they become a beautiful golf course somewhere. What if I had so sacrifice two attributes? or many more? What if I could only pick one of them for my fancy bottle of coffee?

Then, the second measure would be how good this coffee is for you. Obviously the best would be packed with extra antioxidants and vitamins, would be organic, Non-GMO. If you could only pick one of those, the best coffee would be…? Really this is just an index, or a measure on how good, compared to other products, this is for you.


Maybe someday we could, as customers, get for every product that we buy at the market, a couple of index: How good this is for the environment, and how good this is for you. Just as now the food labels let you know if you are buying a product with too much fat or salt, and with a simple green-yellow-red colour, you are aware that this product is good or bad for you, maybe someday we will be able to really compare our products, not only on “Zero waste landfill” sound more important than “Rainforest Alliance Certified”. A mandatory label that makes your fancy advertising comparable.


1 Comment

  1. Hi Rafael,

    The Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit organization that works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. Products bearing the Rainforest Alliance seal contain ingredients sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms or forests. These farms and forests are managed according to rigorous environmental, social, and economic criteria designed to conserve wildlife; safeguard soils and waterways; protect workers, their families and local communities; and increase livelihoods – in order to achieve true, long-term sustainability. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

    Trisha Convey, Rainforest Alliance


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