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Why coffee drinkers should #DrinkBirdFriendly

A certified shade coffee farm in Honduras. Photo by Robert Rice/Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

In 2012, Contributing Editor Julie Craves wrote for us about the ecological costs of traditional coffee farming, and she explained why shade-grown coffee is a better alternative for supporting birds and other wildlife.

Recently, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center launched a #DrinkBirdFriendly campaign to raise consumer awareness about Bird Friendly coffee certification.

Bird Friendly coffee certifies farmers’ growing practices that conserve the habitats of migratory birds – and their ecosystems – in the face of deforestation and climate change.

The campaign includes advertising in San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., social media promotion, and includes the program’s new Bird Friendly seal (above).

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center also announced the results of an online survey of more than 1,500 coffee drinkers. It found:

  • 83% were “likely” or “very likely” to purchase Bird Friendly coffee once they learned the higher standard of certification that it provides compared to other certifications and marketing claims, which are less stringent when it comes to conserving biodiversity.
  • The poll was heavily influenced by ardent bird lovers, but even coffee drinkers who say they simply “enjoy” birds, and those who do not enjoy them at all, are still more likely to buy the coffee once they learn about the certification’s stringent biodiversity standards — 80% and 50% respectively.
  • Consumers would pay $0.65 more per cup for Bird Friendly certified coffee.
  • 87% said if the coffee were available in their usual store, brand and flavor, the Bird Friendly certification seal would positively influence their purchasing decisions.
  • Though current awareness and availability of the certified coffee are low, the survey revealed an incentive for companies to make the coffee more widely available to consumers: on average, respondents are willing to pay $2.10 more per pound for coffee bearing the Smithsonian Bird Friendly seal. A similar, independent study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology produced an even higher price premium for coffee that conserves bird habitat. That report will be available later this year.
  • The certification’s association with the Smithsonian Institution positively influences over half of respondents and was most influential with those affiliated with nature and conservation organizations.
  • The survey concludes that taste remains the most important quality for consumers purchasing coffee, a finding reinforced by various external studies.

While deforestation for sun-grown coffee production in the tropics has certainly harmed bird habitat for decades, the good news is that shade-grown coffee is expanding. In 2018, 4,600 growers produced 19 million pounds of Bird Friendly certified coffee on more than 31,000 acres of land. And, over the past six years, sales of Bird Friendly certified coffee have doubled.

Read more: The true cost of coffee


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