Ethical Coffee: How Justine Bowe is building a better world for birds one cup at a time

Justine Bowe is responsible for managing and growing the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Bird Friendly Coffee program. She aims to rally awareness for the Bird Friendly® certification and the conservation work it supports, hone the program’s strategy and expand Bird Friendly® protected habitat worldwide.

Bowe coordinates a variety of program-related work, including public engagement events, marketing the Bird Friendly® gold standard and managing agreements with roasters. She is also responsible for creating and implementing initiatives, such as Bird Friendly Cities and Taking Flight, programs she hopes to expand to more farmers, roasters and retailers as demand for Bird Friendly® coffees increases.

Bowe worked with the Bird Friendly® Coffee program on a contract basis for two years before becoming the program manager. Prior to this, she worked as a freelance marketer for various startup companies, while touring the country as a musician.

Bowe began birding at an early age, as the youngest in a family obsessed with and inspired by natural history and conservation. Her education at Tufts University helped to hone her communication and critical thinking skills, and she is always striving to consider the bigger picture of her work for the program in a global conte

Thanks for doing this! What is Bird Friendly Coffee?

Bird Friendly coffee is coffee certified to meet the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s rigorous standards for what creates good habitat for birds and other wildlife on coffee farms.

Most North American coffee drinkers aren’t aware that coffee growing can have an impact on the world, even down to the birds that migrate to their backyards. Bird Friendly coffees preserve the forests in which they’re grown, which means they protect habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, whereas most other coffee production does just the opposite.

Why is drinking Certified Bird Friendly coffee important to you personally?

I think it’s important to consider where the products we consume come from and their impact the world. The power of Bird Friendly coffee is not simply to save habitat — it’s also to raise consumer awareness: we have an important impact on the planet, and that impact can actually be positive.

What is the relationship of the Smithsonian to Bird Friendly coffee?

Scientists at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center created Bird Friendly standards in 1996 when research revealed that structurally and floristically diverse agroecosystems, like Bird Friendly coffee farms, can harbor higher density and diversity of birds and provide important habitat. Migratory birds that we love to see in North America — like the Yellow Warbler and many, many more — travel to many of these farms to overwinter there. That means preserving that habitat is a matter of saving species.

How can you tell if your coffee is Bird Friendly — is drinking organic coffee not necessarily Bird Friendly?

All Bird Friendly coffee is certified organic, but not all organic coffee is certified Bird Friendly. That’s because organic farming simply restricts the application of artificial pesticides — there’s no requirement to have trees or habitat on organic coffee farms.

You can tell your coffee is Bird Friendly when it sports our Bird Friendly seal

Where can people find Bird Friendly coffee?

You can find Bird Friendly coffee in cafes and grocery stores or by looking for our Bird Friendly seal — or checking out our Bird Friendly at In terms of national retailers you’re likely to have in your backyard, check out Allegro Coffee’s Early Bird Blend at all Whole Foods Markets, and Peet’s Coffee & Tea’s Yosemite Dos Sierras blend in grocery stores and cafes.

How many farmers produce Bird Friendly coffee?

4,642 growers from Colombia to Ethiopia, Thailand to Mexico participate in the program.

What is your favorite coffee or region?

I am a fan of Guatemalan coffees — but that is an unofficial stance!

What is a typical day like in your job?

I feel very lucky in my job because of the sheer variety of people and projects I engage with — I correspond with growers and certifiers all over the world, and our roasters all across North America, doing everything from organizing paperwork to designing campaigns to promote our certification, to streamlining our training and knowledge-sharing processes. At the end of the day, though, it’s much like any other job — sending many, many emails!

What is the biggest hurdle to getting more people to drink Bird Friendly coffee?

The biggest hurdle to getting more people to drink Bird Friendly coffee appears to be retail availability. We can easily appeal to consumer sensibilities — people want to do the right thing, and our data shows that when coffee drinkers are exposed to all of the benefits of Bird Friendly coffee growing, they will overwhelmingly want to purchase it. But they may not be able to find the coffee in their neighborhood grocery store or cafe, which is why we’re asking consumers to join our “Drink Bird Friendly” campaign and ask that their favorite coffee companies migrate to Bird Friendly. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get in on the action!

How else can people get involved or help migratory birds?

I think it’s important that people get outside and appreciate that birds around them! Our Neighborhood Nestwatch is an interesting way to do that — NN is a citizen science program that provides both an experiential educational experience for citizens and a unique platform for important scientific research. Accessing private properties in the course of urban ecology studies can be a major obstacle. Neighborhood Nestwatch overcomes this through its “house-call” approach, where each backyard or schoolyard involved becomes an outdoor classroom and research site. Participants are not only inspired to learn about local wildlife, but are also mentored to become citizen scientists in their own neighborhoods. Learn more on our website.

About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Medium magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site:

Ethical Coffee: How Justine Bowe is building a better world for birds one cup at a time was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.