Chocolate is a food I just couldn’t live without! Although delicious, not all chocolate is created equally. It takes about 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate, which is about a 6th of a cocoa tree’s seasonal harvest. Chocolate has been a hot commodity since fermented chocolate drinks were first made 4,000 years ago and now it can be found today all over the world in any shape and size. Finding sustainably sourced, produced, and fair trade chocolate is the hard part!
Some brands of chocolate are also more sustainable than others, in the way it is grown, sourced, made, and packaged. If you love chocolate as much as me, it is time to make the switch to sustainable and Earth friendly brands!
Chocolate & Climate
From bean to bar, chocolate has a long journey!
Chocolate trees grow in tropical rainforests along the belt of the equator and require specific temperature and rainfall for growth and bean pod production. The largest production of chocolate happens in Côte d’Ivoire West Africa, Ghana in West Africa and Ecuador in South America. Climate change has already had an effect on the growth of chocolate trees from drought and deforestation affected by fires and agriculture.
Deforestation disrupts the regular weather patterns in the local area, affecting the growth of the trees and bean pods. Bean pods grow in the shade and require tall rainforest trees to provide shade, especially in the tree’s earliest growth years. Natural rainforest is often destroyed to build fields for growing chocolate trees instead of relying on the existing rainforest, a very unsustainable downside to chocolate’s popularity. Chocolate’s largest threat is climate change. Ironically, some of the deforestation causing climate change in these rainforest regions is happening due to chocolate field expansion.
The Chocolate Making Process
To make chocolate, first the bean pods need to be collected. Farmers harvest by hand and the wet beans have to be removed from the pods within 10 days. One of the ways that makes bean harvest more sustainable is if the pods are opened in the harvesting fields. That way the pod husks can be placed in the fields and composted naturally.
After the beans are collected, they have to be fermented in order to achieve the beautiful colouring and flavours we love! Beans are fermented in large boxes and take around 2-5 days. Just like fermenting fruit wine or vodka, the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol.
The beans need to be dried out after fermentation to reduce moisture. There are two methods used for drying, artificial drying and sun drying. Sun drying involves spreading the beans on sheets in the sun, which is more sustainable than other methods as it doesn’t require any other use of resources besides the sun.
Sustainable Chocolate Brands
Chocolate sustainability is not just based on the environmental impact of growing and harvesting chocolate, but also the economical impact production has on the farmers and their families. Globally, 6 million people depend on growing cocoa for their livelihood. Stable incomes and better working conditions ensures the focus of good environmental practices. For a brand to be truly sustainable, the chocolate needs to be from sources that achieve social, economical, and environmental standards of production…. Truly, from bean to bar!
Below are chocolate brands that exercise sustainability in all three areas: social, economic, and environmental.
The Raw Chocolate Company
They are vegan, certified organic, palm oil free, and use plastic free packaging. The importance of simple ingredients and no refined sugars. They use beans that are sun dried, and the cacao used in their chocolate is sourced in the surrounding areas of the Rio Abiseo National Park in San Martin Peru. The Raw Chocolate Company also plants trees back in the same region of harvest.
Seed & Bean
Seed & Bean is a chocolate producer in Britain (bars sell in Canada). They are organic with no use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides to increase pod growth. Organic farms means it is better for surrounding wildlife. They offer vegan friendly options too (all dark chocolate bars) and make lots of flavoured chocolates.
All Seed & Bean’s chocolate is fairtrade certified which means all ingredients and processes are ethically sourced in terms of environmental agricultural practices, steady income for workers, and no child labour. Lastly, their bar packaging is completely compostable – the inner foil being made from a material called Natureflex, a cellulose film created using eucalyptus pulp.
Kin & Pod
Kin & Pod is made in Canada (Alberta to be exact) and partners with a Venezuelan producer. The chocolate is ethically produced, made in small batches, and is vegan friendly.
Alter Eco creates sustainable chocolate in almost every way (except being sold on Amazon). They are a Certified B Corp company achieving the highest of sustainable standards. Their chocolate is certified organic, fairtrade, and carbon neutral. Their chocolate is packed in recyclable and compostable FSC paper.
Theo is a relatively new chocolate company created in the 2000’s. Using minimal ingredients sourced organically and fairtrade, and helps support ethical farming practices too.
Beyond Good sources their chocolate from Madagascar, which produces only 3% of the world’s chocolate. Their chocolate supply comes directly from the farmer and maker, no middle person companies in the supply chain which often is the culprit of unethical practices. They use chocolate from 93 farmers in Madagascar and also have their chocolate factory in Madagascar too.
Beyond Good is also organic certified.
Loving Earth sources their chocolate from the Amazon River, Peru. Their chocolate is organic certified, plant based, and the packaging is completely compostable made with renewable plant resources like corn and vegetable inks to print on the package. They are a direct trade company which means they buy the chocolate right from the farmers. Again, no middle person sort of situation which in turn helps support the farmers to produce higher quality products while getting paid more.
Sustainable Symbols to Look For!
Looking for these symbols when buying chocolate will help make sure the chocolate you are buying has the environment and farmers in mind. The more symbols, the better! Another one not pictured here is the FCS paper logo, which means the paper is sourced from places not tearing down important old growth forests.
Certified Organic – companies using this symbol are sourcing ingredients from places not using artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Organic usually refers to a place that has been pesticide free for at least 3 years. Ultimately, farms not using artificial fertilizers are better for the surrounding wildlife and it prevents contaminated water runoff.
Rainforest Alliance – this certification helps companies adapt to climate change and connect them with supplies that are certified (sourced sustainably). The goals of this non-profit is to protect forests and improve the livelihoods of farmers.
Fairtrade – Fairtrade has many symbols but all look similar to this one. Fairtrade means that products that have been traded between companies in developed countries and developing countries have been traded at a fair price and livable wages are compensated for the workers and families involved. This way of trade promotes a sustainable economy and a chance for farmers in developing countries to also improve the way they farm, making environmental sustainability a priority.
Direct Trade – Like Fair Trade, direct trade has similar goals, but instead of having a third party involved in buying and trading, the company buys directly from the farmer. This allows the farmers to control their farm more and even own vehicles for chocolate transportation to factories etc.
Compostable – Compostable symbols are everywhere, but don’t get compostable and biodegradable mixed up! Compostable means that all elements involved are organic and these materials would break down if you covered them in dirt and left them there. This is the symbol you want to see! Biodegradable, is a material that degrades over time. Technically speaking, plastic bags are biodegradable over 400 years because they will break down, “degrade”, into tiny pieces. Although this is true, usually you will see a biodegradable symbol on items that require industrial composting.
Certified B Corp – This logo is for certified companies that have undergone a sustainability assessment that is not an easy process. They have to be sustainable inside and out in terms of environmental, economic, and social practices and must continually evolve to achieve this certification. It measures a company’s entire social and environmental impact. Mostly larger companies can apply for this certification, however they do have a stream for smaller ones too.