Caribou Coffee will commit to buying coffee grown only under sustainable farming practices developed by the Rainforest Alliance, company officials announced today.
The Minnesota-based retailer is the first large national coffee chain to commit to 100 percent certification by 2011, according to a company statement.
The certification program sets standards for environmental protection and worker benefits.
"By Caribou providing the market for certified coffee, it's really helping the farmers in many countries, from Indonesia to Kenya to Guatemala, improve lives for their families and protect the environment in these really important areas," said Tensie Whelan, president of the New York-based Rainforest Alliance.
Whelan said local conservation groups will conduct yearly audits to check for compliance.
The certification differs from the Fair Trade certification used by Starbucks, the world's largest coffee chain, and many smaller retailers.
Coffee retailers say the Fair Trade model prioritizes economic equality, whereas the Rainforest Alliance certification prioritizes environmental protection.
Minneapolis-based Peace Coffee uses the Fair Trade certification, but company CEO Lee Wallace says that despite the difference in approach, she supports Caribou Coffee's decision.
"In my mind, the fact that they are committing all the way to a model is a really good thing," Wallace said. "I don't know any other company their size that has said, 'Hey, we're all in on this, and we're going to have a third party audit the fact that we do it.'"
Caribou Coffee expects that about 85 percent of this year's coffee purchases will be Rainforest Alliance certified, in preparation for next year's 100 percent goal.