A Brewed Awakening: Consumer Consciousness Among Coffee-Drinkers at Gettysburg College

Eric P. Harris, Gettysburg College
Madeline A. Price, Gettysburg College
Rebecca A. Schmitt, Gettysburg College

Environmental Studies Senior Thesis


In response to social and environmental concerns associated with conventional coffee production, special certifications including Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and USDA Organic have emerged to present consumers with more ethical options. This study explores what coffee drinkers at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, value when they consume coffee, as well as their awareness and support regarding ethical labels. We surveyed 315 coffee-drinking students at Gettysburg College to evaluate coffee values (of responsibility and convenience) and tested if students would support switching from a mainstream to an ethically-labeled brand. We also conducted four coffee tastings using two Starbucks blends currently offered on campus and two ethically-labeled Sun Coffee Roasters blends. We found that there was overall support to change to a more ethically-labeled coffee, despite that students valued convenience over responsibility. Students showed less preference for Starbucks and greater preference for Sun Coffee Roasters when coffee tastings were labeled versus blind. When interpreting and measuring responsibility, consumers’ support for ethical certifications as well as their awareness of those labels’ shortcomings should be examined critically.