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Freshly Brewed Ranking Guidelines for the Coffee Sector

Did you know that coffee was the first product for which a Fairtrade certification was introduced, now three decennia ago? To examine if the coffee sector as a whole—and certain brands in particular—are indeed a frontrunner in sustainability, we have for this year’s edition of coffee brand rankings revised our ranking criteria substantially. For one, we now more heavily stress the climate footprint of supply chains, and encourage brands to achieve climate neutrality. But we have also refined how we take into account environmental and social certifications such as Fairtrade.

The revisions to the environmental and social certification questions are primarily driven by the Authoritative Recommendations of Milieu Centraal. As stated in the updated Ranking Guidelines for the Coffee Sector, Milieu Centraal started as an initiative of the Dutch environmental ministry, and is an independent, non-commercial scientific research institute that conducts its own research of certifications, including by means of a multi-stakeholder dialogue involving governing organizations of the certifications at hand. Their research is verified by an expert group and the process is governed by the Scientific Advice Council. Milieu Centraal evaluates certifications on a scale from 0 (“adhering to minimum legal requirements”) to 5 (“very strict demands”) on both environmental standards (“Milieu”) and labour standards (“Mens en Welzijn”), while verifying whether the certification is transparent (“Transparantie”) and strictly monitoring compliance to its standards (“Controle”). Therefore, Rank a Brand only accepts coffee certifications that are rated by Milieu Centraal.

In addition, the environmental and social certification standards have become more stringent in that some certifications do not guarantee that 100% of coffee beans or tea leaves are certified. Therefore, Rank a Brand now calculates the percentage of coffee beans environmentally or socially certified based on these guaranteed minimum percentages (rather than necessarily the reported percentage in corporate sustainability communications).

Due to these changes in the ranking criteria, there was some overall movement in the rankings of various brands since the last update of the Coffee Sector. Both Peeze and Lebensbaum moved up in the rankings and are currently the highest scoring brands, receiving an “A” ranking, with 18 and 16 out of 20 points, respectively. Peeze and Lebensbaum were the only two brands to receive an “A” ranking, primarily due to their exemplary efforts in environmentally and socially certified coffee that aligned with the intent of the new, more transparent ranking criteria for these certifications discussed in the previous paragraph. Also, these brands’ comprehensive efforts to provide this information to consumers on their websites is noteworthy.

Overall, the Coffee Sector as a whole has significant room for improvement in its practices, with 13 out of 22 brands (59%) receiving a ranking of “D” or worse. Many brands are not as transparent as they could be in the environmental and social certifications of their coffee beans. They need to focus more on the sustainability of their supply chains, as this is a critical issue where most environmental and social impacts arise in the coffee sector.

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