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Essay: The Rise of Ethical Coffee in Singapore: Promoting Conscious Consumption

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 866 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Singapore is currently experiencing the third-wave coffee culture, which promotes conscious consumption.Coffee consumers are increasingly aware of the ethical and environmental implications of consumption of non-ethical coffee, such as exploitation of labour, soil erosion and leaching of pesticides into soil.

Patently, the time is ripe to further advocate for ethical coffee causes as Singaporeans would pay more attention to the origins of coffee and artisan methods of production before purchasing coffee.

Section 1.1.1 Environmental issues

Deforestation of rainforests occurs to expose the crops to sunlight to maximise the yield of sun-grown coffee.

The researchers in a study found that area of land used for non shade coffee has increased exponentially, resulting in shade grown coffee falling from 43% to 24% of total cultivated area.  

Ethical coffee is grown without use of agricultural chemicals, hence production of ethical coffee does not harm the environment.

Furthermore, most ethical coffee brands use recyclable coffee pods, such as Nespresso’s aluminium coffee pods. Unrecyclable coffee packagings are not disintegrated into tiny pieces and may be eaten by creatures, poisoning these wildlives.

Section 1.1.2 Ethical issues

A 2016 study revealed that Coffee giants Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egbert may sell coffee from plantations where working conditions resemble slavery. Coffee is also a top industry in using child slaves for production (Fig.3).

Unfortunately, only 55% of Singaporeans would be willing to pay more for sustainable goods such as coffee (Fig.5). This value is jarringly far from the average score for Southeast Asia of 80%.

Section 1.2 : Current Measures

With the growing culture of third-wave coffee, more “specialty coffee” cafes are emerging in Singapore. These various coffee business have current measures(Fig.10) to help maximise the support for the consumption of sustainably sourced coffee.

Section 1.2.1: Raising awareness


Common Man Coffee Roasters (CMCR) is committed to promoting ethical farming and educating their customers about the origins of their coffee beans. Besides coffee, CMCR sells merchandise to advocate their causes (Fig.11).

Another example is Hook Coffee, a business that has adopted the Direct Trade model to give consumers traceability of their coffees and ethical choices.

Merchandise are sold to complement coffee products (Fig.13) in which people would buy their ethical coffee products as they purchase these merchandise.

2. Informative blog posts and web pages

Coffee companies set up blogs and websites with information about their sustainably sourced coffee for the knowledge gain of consumers (Fig.14,17).

CMCR also leverages on their large number of approximately 20,000 followers to spread their message to a wider audience.

Section 1.2.2: Enabling Action

Recycling Programme

Nespresso is a company that sells 100% sustainably sourced coffee. It focuses on sustainable consumption and recyclability.

It launched the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program in 2003.

The program has reduced the carbon footprint of each cup of Nespresso by 20%. It is understood that Nespresso works closely with many farmers across the globe to ameliorate their livelihood so as to improve the sustainability of coffee.

Nespresso encourages their consumers to recycle their used aluminium coffee capsules and have attained success of 86% recycling capacity by 2015.

Section 1.3 : Unaddressed Gaps

We acknowledge the efforts carried out by the current coffee market in Singapore. However, there is more to be done.

Section 1.3.1 : Poor publicity/advertising

In the Facebook description of CMCR, it does not elucidate their aim to ameliorate the negative consequences of non-ethical coffee consumption (Fig.22). Their poor advertising results in failure to raise awareness of coffee consumption.

Section 1.3.2 : Taste over sustainability

Starbucks has been the leading coffee chain with one of the most recognisable logos in the coffee industry. However, Starbucks failed the Fair Trade test with only 8.4% of their coffee purchases were certified fair trade in 2013. Thus, the reason for loyal clientele and market leadership is attributed to the consistently managed image of the brand, rather than its sustainability.

Section 1.3.3 : Lack of ease of action

From the numerous Facebook reviews given the local ethical coffee company Hook Coffee, it is evident that albeit consumers have the intention to consume ethical coffee, they are hindered from doing so. Albeit delivery and subscription methods are provided these systems are not well managed. When consumers tap on these resources, they often find their orders lost, accompanied by disputes in communications. (Fig.24). Since the experience of purchasing coffee is such a hassle, consumers may be turned away and resort to buying coffee that is easily available in the supermarket but not ethical.

Nespresso encourages their customers to recycle the used coffee pods. However, there is only a total of 4 recycling points in Singapore, all located in the central districts of Singapore (Fig.25). For consumers who live in the far end of Singapore, it would take them about an hour to reach these recycling points (Fig.26). These recycling points are not easily accessible and may deter consumers from recycling their coffee pods as consumers do not like to inconvenience themselves(Fig. 27)


Section 1.4 : Desired Outcomes

Section 1.4.1

Help ethical coffee businesses advocate their cause

By maximising on the opportunities presented by third wave coffee culture, we aim to help these businesses better differentiate themselves from conventional coffee places and also advocate their causes to their consumers in a more interactive manner.

Section 1.4.2

To increase ease of action

Purchasing ethical coffee and interacting with ethical coffee businesses owners will be made more convenient for consumers.

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