How sustainable are your favourite brands?

News, blog and backgrounds about the sustainability scores of brands

Fighting of the last cold winter days

Brrrr, it’s freezing outside! All time to cuddle up with a cup of warm tea or even hotter coffee. Add in some vitamins and fiber in the form of bananas or pineapples and you are ready to fight those last cold winter days. While these products might keep you warm and pick you up in cold days, they seem to be less affectionate to the world. In the updates for the tea and coffee sectors we see that brands are performing worse than last year (due to the more stringent criteria we have implemented). This leads to the situation that the choices to warm both your heart and body are becoming more limited than before. Moreover the tropical fruit sector is going bananas and does not show any good outcomes, except for one high scoring Costa Rican brand that is sold in Germany. So what are the best options to stay healthy and warm this winter? Let’s find out.

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Black coffee, green tea, or the other way around?

There are two brands that stand out by performing green in both the tea and coffee sector. The German brands GEPA and Lebensbaum both receive an A label, which clearly shows that they have their values in order in both their coffee and tea production processes. When only considering the coffee sector we found a third brand joining these top performers, namely the Dutch brand Hesselink coffee. This brand performs well for its use of 100% Rainforest Alliance certified coffee beans in its production process.

So what are these green brands doing to score an A label? A good example is GEPA, performing well in both sectors, and going the extra mile. They only use 100% fair trade and/or organic certified coffee and 100% environmentally certified tea, namely Naturland and/or EU organic. In addition, GEPA pays premiums up to 65% for their coffee beans and up to 109% per kg for their tea within its ”Fair+” program. This means that GEPA pays higher prices to their coffee and tea farmers than the most commonly used prices that are set in accordance with the Fairtrade standards. Concrete reporting of such premiums, like the premiums GEPA is paying, are rare to find among other brands in both sectors. By now, most brands, if at all, rather refer to collaboration with certification schemes like Fairtrade, UTZ Certified or Rainforest Alliance only.

Something that seems to be difficult to accomplish in both sectors is reporting on the company’s climate policies. This is especially true for the tea sector, where more or less only GEPA and Lebensbaum present clear reporting on these policies. We also see this in the coffee sector, where only Hesselink Coffee and again Lebensbaum come clean in their reports, followed by Nestlé (holder of Nescafé and Nespresso) and GEPA. Here Lebensbaum and Hesselink Koffie are setting a good example for the industry, reporting clearly on its types and sources of renewable energy for electricity and heat. Thereby, both companies also demonstrate that a significant share of its thermal energy (Lebensbaum) and electricity (Hesselink Koffie) is generated on-site. This makes companies less dependent on other companies’ renewable energy supply.

How do you like your coffee?

For coffee lovers there are some good alternatives out there, when GEPA, Lebensbaum, and Hesselink Koffie are not sold near you. Five brands receive a solid B label, namely the Dutch brands Café de Origen, Red Beans, Peeze, and Fair Trade original, and the German brand Café Intención. Furthermore, one German brand receives a C label: Tchibo. However, most widely available coffee brands perform worse, with among others Nespresso, Nescafé, Douwe Egberts, and Starbucks scoring a D label. Illy, Segafredo, and Dallmayr are three examples out of the eight lowest scoring brands, all receiving the E-label. This is mainly due to their totally absent or very meager reporting on policies regarding sustainability and sourcing. Unfortunately, as mentioned, it seems that consumers have to go out of their way to have more sustainable coffee options.

Let’s have a cuppa

For the English blended lovers the results are somewhere in the same direction. In the tea sector, Lebensbaum is the top performer with a solid A label. GEPA also does well and receives an A label as well. Of the remaining tea brands, one receives a B label, namely the Dutch brand Fair Trade Original. Three Dutch brands receive a C label, namely Markant, Piramide, and Zonnatura. What’s good to see here is that the brands ranked with a C label are more widely available (in the Netherlands at least) and can be purchased in many larger supermarkets. In the lowest scoring mark ups it is interesting, though sad, to see that Starbucks‘ tea brand Tazo is scoring lower than Starbucks does in the coffee sector. This is mainly due to the absence of reporting on how much of the tea leaves supply is certified fair trade, whereas Starbucks does mention a clear percentage for this for their coffee beans.

It’s bananas and pineapples!

As for the international market it is unfortunate to see that most tropical fruits brands are stuck in the lowest ranking category, the E label. Compared to last time, when five brands scored a D label, this sector is not headed into the right direction. This is mainly due to the lack of concrete and up to date sustainability reporting, e.g. mentioning certifications but not specifying what share that holds of the total products and not reporting numbers on the waste and packaging reductions mentioned. Chiquita, Del Monte, and Dole do show some effort, but as mentioned, lack any specific and recent data to have this sector come to a sweet ending.

However, something that is good to note here is that even though the majority of tropical fruit brands make it seem impossible to be sustainable in this sector, it can be done! A good example here is the Costa Rican brand Sixaolo that is sold in Germany, scoring a solid A label. Sixaolo is climate neutral and uses only certified (and beyond) tropical fruits in its production. Since the majority of brands is performing so low in this sector however, we advise not to buy their products until they show better performance and look for better alternatives around you in the meantime. When you know of such a better alternative that should not be forgotten in our ranking next time, let us know and give a donation to have that brand ranked. That way we can include these brands in our ranking.

Lighter times ahead for coffee and tea?

While there are some good options out there, the majority of coffee and tea brands performs poor and does not seem worthy of pouring in your cups. When looking at the tropical fruits sector, it is even worse, with too little well-performing international options out there.

When you are looking for more specific information on brands, a list of the brands can be found here for coffee, here for tea, and here for tropical fruits. We are excited to see some brands moving in the right direction and to (hopefully) be able to hand out more A and B labels in the future! You can support this by giving them a nudge in the right direction; look up your brand and send them a message through their page on our website. We will make sure it arrives with them.

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