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Sustainable Purchasing

Did you know that the products you buy affect more than just your bank account? The materials and the practices that manufacturers and companies choose have an impact on animals, plants, water, soil, and air.

Green methods, like shade-growing coffee and cocoa, preserve the natural forest and plant diversity and provides a home for birds and other wildlife. Making paper without chlorine keeps harmful chemicals out of our environment, benefiting both animals and people.

Many companies are catching on that green, sustainable production is the wise choice for them, for their consumers, and for the planet. Here are some tips for identifying green products and things to keep in mind while you shop.

Cocoa Beans


How does the chocolate you buy impact the birds in your yard? Chocolate begins with the cacao plant, which is native to the tropical rain forests of Central and South America. For more than a thousand years, cacao plants were cultivated throughout the forest, tucked under a lush canopy of shade.

While much cacao is still grown in the traditional way, many growers have cleared the forests to cultivate the trees in open plantations, leading to a host of environmental problems:

What makes chocolate "organic"?

Where to Buy Organic Chocolate

Endangered Species Chocolate: Like the National Wildlife Federation, this Oregon-based company works to promote the plight of endangered species and ensure their survival for future generations.

Equal Exchange: Our new organic cocoa mix provides an immediate, positive way to respond to the recent reports of chronic poverty, exploited child labor and slavery on cocoa farms in West Africa—the origin of 70% of the world's cocoa.

Divine Chocolate: Divine Chocolate is unique because the Ghanaian cocoa farmers actually own a third of the company. Farmers receive Fair Trade premiums for their cocoa beans, which helps them improve their communities.


Many birds that visit your yard during the summer months migrate annually to and from Latin America, where their habitat is being increasingly converted to sun-grown coffee plantations.

Why organic coffee?
As the world market gets flooded with inexpensive, low-quality coffee from places like Vietnam and Brazil, traditional coffee farmers—who produce much smaller crops—can't compete and are often left to abandon their farms or convert their fields into full-sun coffee plantations. Due to this recent "coffee crisis," half of the region's traditional coffee farms have been converted to full-sun plantations.

It is important to support organic coffee cooperatives that are avoiding pesticide use and keeping a variety of trees, thus providing a much-needed stopover for migratory birds.

What is sustainable coffee?

For hundreds of years, coffee plants were grown using organic practices: inter-planting coffee with shade trees, composting, and eliminating harmful chemicals. These traditional, "sustainable" plantations often yield the best tasting variety of coffee, according to industry experts.

So why aren't all coffee beans grown this way? Because farmers can produce more beans more cheaply in "full sun" fields. Unfortunately, those fields carry a hefty environmental price.


Choosing the right paper made using sustainable methods is an important way to confront climate change and protect wildlife. When you go to the store, and stand in front of the many reams, or packages, of paper, it's hard to know what to buy.

These are three types of symbols to look for:

Green Certification Programs

Recycled Content
The chasing arrows symbol is the universal symbol of recycling. But some paper products are made from 100 percent recycled fibers, while others are partially made from recycled fibers.

Chlorine Use
Many paper products are bleached and this uses chlorine or chlorine compounds which can be very damaging to the environment.

There are many types of paper used in homes and offices, but the basic type is called "uncoated freesheet." These symbols should help you purchase environmentally-friendly uncoated freesheet. But if you have paper needs that go beyond this "workhorse of papers," such as paper for posters, books, or magazines, then we recommend consulting resources such as Conservatree.


Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label when purchasing wood products and help protect forests.

When you see that FSC-certified wood, it means there has been an independent, objective evaluation of forest management practices of a company. The program also certifies companies that process, manufacture or sell products made from certified wood. The FSC uses an eco-label to certify products that come from well-managed forests and to help consumers make responsible purchases.

Three places to look for FSC-certified wood:

Download our tips for how to choose wood products. For more information on the importance of wood that is harvested sustainably, visit

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