What is Sustainable Chocolate?

CHUAO, VENEZUELA. SEPTEMBER 26, 2011 In the town square of Chuao, black women dry the best cocoa and chocolate in the world. Chuao is a beautiful fishing village located on the coasts of Aragua


If you’ve bought a chocolate bar lately, you may have noticed a certification label like Fair Trade, the Rainforest Alliance or even “100% sustainable chocolate.” Sustainability may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to chocolate, but it’s an important factor that has become one of the core values of craft chocolate makers. The plight of small cacao farmers is becoming more widely known by both chocolate makers and consumers alike, with high levels of poverty in many cacao-growing countries of utmost concern.

Consumers are taking steps to ensure they buy high-quality chocolate products with transparent, ethical sourcing practices. With sustainable chocolate, you can easily trace the source of the cacao beans and learn the price paid to farmers as well as the type of labor practices and environmental protections implemented.

Small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate makers are drawing attention to these ethical and environmental concerns that surround a chocolate bar’s origins. They control every part of the chocolate making process and often visit the farms to make sure ethical sourcing practices are being followed.

So what is sustainable chocolate? Keep reading to learn more.

What Is Sustainable Chocolate?

Sustainability is an ambiguous idea that touches on a variety of business aspects, but in recent years, chocolate makers have worked to provide a clearer definition, both for themselves and for consumers. When it comes to the best cocoa in the world, sustainability means preserving and ensuring a long-term supply of high-quality cacao beans through a transparent supply chain. The main players in creating sustainable chocolate are cacao farmers and chocolate processors.

Chocolate gets its start as a cacao bean, which grows in pods on Theobroma trees in tropical countries. About 90 percent of the best cocoa beans in the world are grown on small family farms by about 6 million farmers, most of whom are living in poverty. Many of these cacao farms are located in West Africa, which grows about 70 percent of the world’s chocolate. Other small farms are found in Central and South America as well as Southeast Asia.

These small farmers struggle with extreme poverty due to price fluctuations. The majority of cacao beans are sold as a commodity crop where farmers are paid the same regardless of quality. Women especially struggle to support themselves.

Extreme poverty in these areas leads to social and ethical issues like child labor. Because people in many cacao-growing countries can’t afford to send their kids to school, they send them to work on farms instead. And for a small family farm that can’t afford to hire laborers, children become an extra set of hands doing often dangerous and grueling agricultural work.

Deforestation is another problem—forests are cleared at an often alarming rate to make room to plant more cacao trees.

Consumer awareness of purchasing sustainable products has risen, and with it, the sustainable chocolate movement. Sustainable chocolate practices include the following:

  • Providing safe working conditions for cacao farmers.
  • Offering fair wages and setting up community education programs.
  • Abolishing child labor.
  • Preserving the environment and natural resources.
  • Improving the social conditions, quality of life and livelihood of cacao farmers.

How can you find the best cocoa beans and the best cacao powder in the world that are sustainable? Start by reading the label—labels such as Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance mean that the cacao beans are sourced in a way that meets the guidelines of those organizations. Fair Trade standards work to ensure that farmers get paid a fair wage and protect the rights of women and children. Both the Fair Trade certification and the Rainforest Alliance work to reduce deforestation and reduce cacao farming’s impact on the environment.

Another way to find the best cocoa beans and the best cocoa powder in the world is to look for companies that share transparent sourcing practices, are owned by cacao farmers, care about the environment and work through the direct trade system instead of the commodity system. In the direct trade system, cacao beans are purchased directly from farmers or through farmers’ cooperatives. Farmers receive anywhere from 50 to 300 percent more than for commodity cacao beans, and cacao beans are usually higher in quality.

What Is the Most Sustainable Chocolate?

Cococlectic features some of the world’s best chocolate and offers only sustainable chocolate bars made by US small-batch bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers. One of those chocolate makers is Moka Origins. This coffee and chocolate company got their start as a sustainable farming venture in Cameroon, West Africa. Their mission is to create food security. They partner with farmers to increase employment opportunities and directly cultivate local food crops and cash crops.

Lumineux Chocolate sources their cacao beans from farms and farmers’ cooperatives that treat their farmers fairly and grow cacao sustainably. They search for the most flavorful cacao beans from Africa and Asia to highlight the complexity of their cacao beans, which are often under-appreciated.

French Broad Chocolate in Asheville, North Carolina, is committed to sustainability and connects chocolate lovers to the source. They work with sustainable farmers and producers whose values are similar to their own by building direct relationships with them and then transforming fine cacao beans into craft chocolate.

Triangle Roasters work with importers who use direct trade models, which cuts out the middle person and improves the price cacao farmers are paid. Not only do these farmers get a wage that is above the Fair Trade standard, there is an investment in their communities in ways that make their livelihoods and land sustainable for generations to come. When purchasing a Triangle Roasters chocolate bar, you know you’re buying from a company that provides sustainable, transparent and just sourcing.

Why Is Chocolate Sustainable?

Cacao is a labor-intensive crop that is difficult to cultivate, grow and harvest. Because most of the world’s cacao farms are small farms in areas of the world that lack infrastructure and offer poor living conditions, sustainability is a concern.

International sustainability organizations have worked together to improve conditions for cacao farmers, provide better working conditions, and set strict requirements for tracing and standards to ensure sustainable chocolate. Some of those organizations include Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, Organic, Sustainable Agriculture Network, the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO).

Fully sustainable chocolate concentrates its efforts at the source—the cacao growers and their farming practices—and then it moves up the supply chain all the way to the consumer.

Sustainable chocolate practices involve the following:

  • Using natural resources effectively to help improve the environment and protect the biodiversity of areas where cacao is grown.
  • Promoting a rural economy by growing cacao responsibly.
  • Providing safe working conditions and a higher wage for cacao farmers.

To measure the sustainability of chocolate, the whole food value chain should be analyzed. This includes the following factors:

  • Processing methods.
  • The distance the product travels between production and consumption.
  • Who consumes the final product.
  • Where the final product is consumed.
  • The nutritional value of the final product.

Each month at Cococlectic, we feature a different American small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker who is passionate about producing their chocolate from scratch using only three main ingredients: cacao beans, sugar and cocoa butter.

The chocolates sold at Cococlectic are vegan, non-GMO, fair trade and ethically sourced. They do not contain any soy, gluten, dairy or nut, but they may be produced in a facility that handles these ingredients.

We sell only dark chocolate bars in our chocolate shop. Monthly subscription boxes, one-time gift boxes or corporate gift boxes containing your choice of dark bars only or mixed bars with inclusions of fruits and nuts are available with the purchase of the Office Box. Each chocolate box comes with 4 full-size dark chocolate bars that are made in the US.

Sign up for our chocolate-of-the-month subscription club and join us for a free virtual chocolate tasting with our featured chocolate maker of the month.