If you’re anything like me, you can’t start your day without a good cup of coffee. The coffee industry has been growing over the years and has become such a huge part of many people’s lives. Finding a delicious cup of coffee that is also ethically sourced and sustainable can be a task that may seem quite daunting. Folgers prides itself on being “America’s #1 Packaged Ground Coffee.” Despite their success, their sustainability goals are not as ambitious as they need to be and their labor practices are not very transparent, resulting in its low rating. If Folgers wants to see a boost in their rating, they will need to be more transparent about the exact sources of their coffee beans and the labor practices on their coffee plantations, as well as propose and carry out more ambitious sustainability goals.
Folgers Coffee Ground Medium Roast Classic Roast is made from 100% pure coffee and is a blend of robusta and arabica beans. The coffee beans used are sourced from Central America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, North America, and Oceania. Folgers states that they are committed to purchasing green coffee and have processes and controls within the company in order to achieve these goals. However, nowhere do they specify what “green coffee” is defined as, nor what these procedures are that they use to monitor this goal. Additionally, a report that came out from J.M. Smucker, Folgers' parent company, said that only 10% of their coffee comes from certified green coffee sources. This seems like a very small percentage for a company that claims to be committed to purchasing green coffee. The company also states that they work with UTZ certified to make green-coffee purchases. Companies that are UTZ certified source their products in a sustainable manner and provide companies with guidance on better farming methods. Although this product only requires one ingredient, growing coffee beans can have devastating effects on the environment. Coffee plantations require deforestation and large amounts of water. Because Folgers is not specific about how their beans are grown, it can be hard to tell whether their practices are actually sustainable are not. Folgers needs to be more open about how they grow their coffee beans, but until then, the lack of transparency that seems to exist within the company results in their low rating.
The coffee beans used by Folgers are grown and picked on plantations internationally, and then shipped to the US by boat, and delivered to roasting facilities in New Orleans by truck or railroad. Folgers does not give that much information about the processes the beans go through at the roasting facilities, but they do emphasize that their coffee grounds are packaged in recyclable containers. It is important that Folgers is more transparent about their manufacturing processes in order to better assess their sustainability. J.M. Smucker has also launched operations at Plum Creek Wind Farm, which should be able to produce enough energy to match 50% of their total electricity usage. However, they do not mention any goal about transitioning to 100% renewable energy like many other corporations have done. This is alarming, as their manufacturing and transportation processes contribute a lot of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. I hope that the corporation tries to achieve this 100% renewable energy goal within the next decade in order to increase their sustainability. J.M. Smucker has also stated that one of their 2020 Environmental Sustainability Goals is to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 10%. Once again, this goal is not very ambitious, and I would expect and hope to see this corporation reduce their greenhouse gas emissions much more in the future.
Farmers from all over the world help Folgers harvest and produce their coffee beans. Folgers says that they work with coffee suppliers who are passionate about human rights, environmental practices, and safety procedures. However, outside of this generic statement, they give no additional information about how they ensure that the suppliers have these qualities. Folgers recognizes some of their farmers and families on their website, but there is no information on the working conditions of these farms. Folgers will need to be more transparent about their labor practices at coffee plantations in order to better gauge their human rights efforts. Folgers roasts its coffee in New Orleans and prides itself on the generations of families that have worked for them. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it severely damaged many of Folgers’ employees’ homes. As a response, the company set up temporary housing for the workers who had lost their homes and helped to rebuild the community. Additionally, J.M. Smucker says that they have anti-harassment and discrimination policies with mechanisms in place for the reporting and resolution of concerns. J.M. Smucker also helps to fund the Better Coffee Harvest Project, which is a $3.9 million initiative that will help 6,000 smallholder coffee farmers in Nicaragua and El Salvador to increase coffee productivity by promoting good agricultural practices, improving farm management, helping to diversify crops to improve farmers’ livelihoods, and working with local institutions to increase loans given to farmers. While this program is a positive achievement, the lack of transparency about the working conditions on these farms and plantations is the reason for Folgers’ low rating.