[free1]For many students, grabbing a cup of coffee before class is a great way to kick-start the day. As well as helping students to get their daily dose of caffeine, something as simple as buying a quick cup of coffee can also help those concerned with such issues as environmental sustainability, fair economic practices and gender equality to fight for their cause. Fair Trade certified coffee and other items available in the East Lansing area allow students to make a more socially conscious choice in consumption while helping to ensure better lives for many families and communities around the globe.
“A lot of college students are unaware of what exactly Fair Trade is,” anthropology and Spanish sophomore Larissa Stenzel said. “However, once you explain it to them, most of the time they are very interested and want to find out ways to help.”
According to TransFair USA, the black and white “Fair Trade Certified” logo on a product guarantees customers that the producers of the good earned fair wages and worked in proper labor conditions. It also promises that the item was produced using environmentally sustainable farming practices and encouraged positive development in the communities of the people who produced the good. It is a symbol of not only economic responsibility and social consciousness for consumers, but of hope and progress for those who work under Fair Trade Certification standards.
Kenneth Deneau, general manager of Sparty’s, stated that the company decided to begin offering Fair Trade Certified coffee and tea in order to “stay abreast of the industry,” and to keep up with other universities that had already begun offering Fair Trade Certified products to their students. “We look at it as a part of the university’s mission of advancing knowledge and transforming lives. Having a consistent [Fair Trade] brand across campus gives us more opportunities to provide the product, and more chances to provide growth for the university,” Deneau said.
Starting in March 2004, Sparty’s began offering Fair Trade coffee and tea daily at all campus locations. By 2006, all of the coffee and tea offered at every Sparty’s on campus was Fair Trade Certified. Today, Fair Trade Certified products are also available in additional places around MSU, including all residence hall cafeterias, the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center and the Union. [larissa]
Within Sparty’s customer base, Deneau cited students as the biggest market for Fair Trade products. “Students have little discretionary money to spend, but they will choose to spend that money in ways that will support issues that matter to them,” he said. “The concerns start with social justice, but there are a lot of other perimeters, such as environmental sustainability, that matter as well.”
Fortunately, the switch to Fair Trade Certified products did not affect the prices for consumers on campus. While Fair Trade products can be more expensive than others because of fees charged by the company that overlooks and certifies Fair Trade standards, MSU has absorbed the extra cost, and Sparty’s has kept their prices low despite the change.
“There are a lot of products in which your dollars can have an impact,” Deneau said. “Coffee is an everyday purchase at a relatively low cost. The opportunity of a Fair Trade purchase not only gives us satisfaction through consumption, but it provides a better lifestyle for others, and from that we receive an even greater sense of satisfaction.” [free]
Farmers who work under Fair Trade Certification standards can count on receiving fair wages for their work, unlike those who work for non-Fair Trade corporations that often pay their laborers extremely low wages. Farmers also enjoy safer working conditions than those employed by large corporations, and an improved quality of life in their communities as a result of the implementation of scholarship programs and other business and social projects. Sustainable methods of agriculture also help farmers preserve the environment they live in, and guarantee a healthy ecosystem for future generations.
In addition to the benefits felt by Fair Trade farmers, students and consumers who purchase Fair Trade goods experience advantages as well. For starters, some students are interested in Fair Trade products because they are of higher caliber than their non-Fair Trade counterparts. “Fair Trade items are often better quality than regular products because of the rigorous certification process they have to go through,” Larry Butz, creative writing and Japanese senior said. “Farmers and workers are paid more than those who are not working under Fair Trade Certification, and therefore they have more incentive to produce a better product.” All in all, well-paid, happy farmers make better coffee.
Scott Dombrowski, an international studies and French senior and the president of MSU campus group Students for Fair Trade, views student consumer benefits on an even larger scale. “There are a number of issues in developing countries that are related to the developed world. Bad working conditions and poor certification processes for non-Fair Trade products create negative side effects toward the U.S. in developing countries, and those problems can affect our country in many ways,” he said. Dombrowski believes that because problems such as our struggling economy and drug use in the U.S. are interrelated with issues in developing countries, students with concerns about such issues can benefit from purchasing Fair Trade goods as well.
Fair Trade products can also be enticing to MSU students who are concerned with the fate of the environment. “Going green” is an interest of many students on campus, and buying Fair Trade goods can help those who want to live a more sustainable lifestyle to achieve their goal. Over 80 percent of Fair Trade Certified coffee is “shade-grown,” which means that rather than being cut down or destroyed, important habitats for many plants and animals are kept intact while the coffee is being grown. Along with using shade-grown methods, Fair Trade farmers work to conserve soil and water through composting and reforestation. Fair Trade Certified coffee farmers are also required to use pest management systems that stress using non-chemical pesticides.
[free3]With those benefits in mind, students searching for socially conscious beverages can not only look no further than their own residence halls and on-campus coffee shops, but they can also wander just a few minutes off campus and find many other local business offering Fair Trade Certified products. Espresso Royale, Bruegger’s Bagels and Green River Café are just a few of the local businesses that serve various types of Fair Trade Certified coffee. The East Lansing Food Co-op (ELFCO) also offers many Fair Trade Certified items such as bulk coffees and teas, roasted and salted nuts, cocoa, rice, molasses, vanilla extract and six different brands of chocolate, along with other items.
While grabbing a coffee, tea or quick snack may be the quickest way for students on campus to support Fair Trade, it is not the only option in the East Lansing area. Located at the intersection of MAC and Albert, Kirabo, the only store in East Lansing composed of strictly Fair Trade items, offers an array of handmade Fair Trade Certified gifts for the socially concerned consumer.
MSU graduate Gail Catron opened the store about a year ago and estimates that about half of her customers during the school year are MSU students. Popular items among students include purses, messenger bags and outerwear such as hats, scarves and “glittens,” (mittens with covers that can be folded back and buttoned down, allowing the wearer to use their fingers as if they were wearing gloves). [catron]
Because there is only one intermediary between Catron and the actual artisans who make the products she sells, she is also able to sell them at inexpensive prices. “I am selling hand-made, woven jackets for fall right now in the $50 range, where sometimes you could see jackets like that going for $200-300,” she said. For the most part, the artisans determine the price of the items, and the amount you pay for a Fair Trade good is relatively close to the price that the artisans chose. In that way, the cost of Fair Trade items is sometimes less than their corporately produced counterparts. “I keep the prices low because I would rather sell a hundred [Fair Trade items] so that families can eat, than raise the price and make a bigger profit for myself,” Catron said.
Members of MSU’s Students for Fair Trade group are hoping that with student help, they will be able to obtain more Fair Trade shops and goods on and around campus in the future. They cite optimism and open-mindedness as a main reason why students are prime candidates to become interested in Fair Trade.
“It is important to get students involved and interested in Fair Trade during college because this is such a critical time in our development as people. We are at a point in our lives in which we are experiencing and learning about cultures other than our own, and are more open-minded to new and different ideas,” Butz said. “We are more likely to get involved and active in a cause such as Fair Trade at this stage in our lives, rather than when we are middle-aged or older.”
“When you walk into an establishment, ask if they serve Fair Trade Certified products. If not, walk out and buy your coffee elsewhere,” Dombrowski suggested. “It’s something small that everyone can do.” He and the rest of the Students for Fair Trade group hope that if enough inquiries start to be made in local businesses, more Fair Trade Certified items will begin appearing in East Lansing shops and restaurants. Buying Fair Trade goods is one of the easier and more inexpensive ways that people can help secure a sustainable and promising future for others and their communities, and if MSU students demand more socially conscious beverages, businesses should comply. [free4]
Fair Trade Certified products around campus allow MSU students to not only satisfy their consumer needs, but to also make a significant difference in the world. Grabbing a quick cup of Fair Trade coffee impacts the lives of other people and helps to promise them a better future for themselves and their families. Saving the world has never been easier.

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