Fair trade coffee will come to campus — once you ask for it

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Fair trade coffee partnerships foster openness and respect between consumers and producers. By helping out small-scale farmers in often underprivileged regions of the world, these partnerships cultivate equitability and transparency in trade. They are often coupled with organic food initiatives, a union that highlights the idea of more natural and sustainable living. Fair trade coffee, when supported by vendors and consumers, leads to everyone being increasingly knowledgeable of other cultures of the world.

So why, then, isn’t fair trade coffee more prevalent on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, a campus that celebrates sustainability and green practices?

Currently, fair trade coffee — and information about it — is rare at Carnegie Mellon. On a campus densely populated with regular coffee drinkers, there are neither enough coffee selections nor enough shared information about what we’re drinking.Besides the fact that coffee provides the caffeine high that many of us need to combat gray Pittsburgh days, the average campus community member does not know enough about where their $2 spent on coffee is going — and that needs to change.

Today, fair trade coffee is only regularly brewed at the La Prima Espresso venue inside the entrance to Wean Hall. La Prima is built on the idea of being “a valuable member of the local community through [its] employment practices and of the world community through [its] green coffee selection,” according to the company’s website (, and 95 to 100 percent of the coffee La Prima brews is fair trade. The coffee vendor “strongly believe[s] in investing in local businesses and local people,” and this tenet is made reality by bringing small-scale, localized farmers’ coffee to our local Carnegie Mellon community.

But La Prima’s emphasis on supporting fair trade coffee is not publicized enough on campus. Most likely, the majority of students are not stopping at La Prima because of their commitment to vending fair trade coffee; rather, they are stopping there in between classes, sports practices, and study sessions out of convenience.

This grab-and-go mentality pervades coffee consumption on campus. So while the Maggie Murph Café and the Carnegie Mellon Café do have the option of brewing Starbucks fair trade coffee alongside their regular Starbucks brews upon your request, it is unlikely that anyone will have the time to wait for the brewing process to happen — if they even know it is an option. It is not enough to just say fair trade coffee is available to be brewed; it should be regularly brewed and advertised everywhere coffee is sold on campus.

While it is highly commendable that La Prima is committed to selling fair trade coffee, and thus supporting small-scale producers worldwide, fair trade coffee practices should be understood and celebrated by more than just vendors. Besides not being available at the Zebra Lounge or Entropy (according to Dining Services), fair trade coffee information is unavailable to the campus community at large, especially to the coffee drinker on the go.

So what can change? Pamphlets and signs detailing the significance of fair trade coffee partnerships should be prominently displayed anywhere coffee is sold. Fair trade certification labels could be printed on cardboard coffee sleeves, underneath store name signs, or on stickers decorating cash registers. Information could also be added to Dining Services’ website. But who is responsible for making these moves, for getting the word out?

It is ultimately Dining Services’ responsibility to decide what vendors are on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, but their moves are influenced by campus opinion. While I initially expected the lack of fair trade coffee to be the fault of a too-removed, too-profit-hungry administrative force (as fair trade coffee can be more expensive than non-fair trade varieties), Ryan Rearick, assistant director of Housing and Dining Services, explained the contrary.

Fair trade is “certainly something we’d look into … if we received a groundswell of feedback,” he said. Bringing to mind Dining Services’ recent change to using cage-free eggs in all central dining locations on campus, Rearick emphasized the fact that the university wants to support movements underscoring principles of sustainability and humane treatment.

Dining Services, Rearick stressed, does listen to students. But because he has only received three questions about fair trade coffee over his two years as assistant director, making it more prevalent on campus seems, at this point, an unlikely prospect. Fair trade coffee, he said, could be a “worthwhile investment of extra resources,” as was the decision to move to cage-free eggs. But this can only happen if students speak out. It is our responsibility to be mindful of something many of us consume on a daily basis — and of where it comes from.

So e-mail Dining Services ( Talk to vendors on campus. Ask for fair trade coffee. By asking for and investing just a few dollars in a product you’re purchasing anyway, you can make a difference that combats debt, labor shortage, and rising goods transportation costs faced by small-scale, local farmers around the world.