Skip to main content

A World Without Coffee: A look inside the coffee crisis and how local businesses are working to #SaveTheCoffee

May 26, 2019 ● By Tori Capozziello

Photo credit: Phil Wingo

One of the United States’ most consumed and most popular products is in jeopardy due to the lack of sustainability practices in the industry. The millions of Americans that enjoy a daily cup of coffee stand to lose this beverage for good. Recent research from Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew (, has shown that more than half of all wild coffee plants could face extinction due to deforestation and climate change.

        A new scientific study has found that the two most popular species of coffee plant, Arabica and Robusta, are in danger of extinction. A major driving force behind this threat is climate change, because drought has severely impacted soil quality in Central and South America. Deforestation and land development has driven down the quality of plants and allowed for new diseases to plague popular strains. Additional shifts in the economic and political climates have also contributed to the way coffee plants are grown, harvested, conserved and exported. Without a stronger focus on conservation and environmental sustainability, millions of coffee drinkers around the world could soon be left with empty mugs.

        If sustainable practices are not introduced, nearly 60 percent of popular coffee strains could cease to exist in as little as 20 years. As more and more habitat loss occurs, coupled with drastic changes in the climate, a dire situation has arisen for not only coffee drinkers, but the farmers that rely on the crop for their livelihood.

        However, many businesses and coffee farmers have shifted their focus and begun efforts to incorporate sustainable practices. Danilo Rodriguez, a farmer who operates the De La Gente ( coffee farm, in Guatemala, uses practices that keep environmental sustainability in the forefront.

        “There are multiple aspects that make De La Gente Coffee fantastic,” staff member Emmy Grace says. “Besides growing delicious coffee that is sold via direct trade, DLG co-op farmers are contributing to more eco-friendly practices by producing shade-grown coffee, which has many ecological benefits. Trees in coffee fields act as a biological corridor and provide habitat for many species, especially for migratory birds that can also fend off pests. A variety of trees on coffee fields also increases pollinators like bees that are essential for coffee growing.”

        Coffee providers across the U.S. have acknowledged this shift toward sustainability practices. Many companies have begun to take into consideration how they are sourcing and importing their beans.

        De La Gente farm is one of the main suppliers for Chicago area-based Sandhill Coffee ( Led by founder Phil Wingo, every aspect of Sandhill Coffee’s business operations has a strong environmental focus, including an active membership of the 1% For The Planet ( initiative. Wingo does extensive research into the farms that he purchases beans from to ensure that they too are sustainable in their practices. The company’s signature Sandhill Crane-stamped coffee bags are made from a plant-derived material and are compostable, as are the cups Wingo uses to serve brewed coffee at farmers’ markets.

        For Wingo, the drive to be environmentally conscious reaches far beyond his business. “Starting small and by doing what you can is a great way to become more sustainable,” he says. “Try to reuse things, try to avoid single-use items, try to use reusable bags at a store. All of this can add up to help the environment.”

        Wingo is not alone in his quest to bring a more sustainable approach to his business. Other Midwest coffee providers, like Collectivo Coffee Roasters ( and Glenview Grind ( have begun to initiate more overall environmentally friendly practices, including biodegradable or plastic-alternative cups and straws, fair trade coffee and newfound ways to cut down on waste.

        So, this begs the question of how concerned coffee consumers can find more ways to get involved. Many resources are available to help eco-conscious shoppers make smarter choices. Sites like 1% For The Planet can help users find out which of their favorite companies are environmentally friendly. Interested readers can also educate themselves on current studies and ways to contribute to sustainable coffee practices. Eco-conscious coffee purveyors also allow coffee enthusiasts to enjoy their favorite beverage without the worry of contributing to the climate and deforestation crisis. Because after all, it’s hard to imagine a world without coffee! 


Tori Capozziello is a member of the Chicago Buzz Marketing hive. For more information, visit