Kennedy studied Political Science/International Relations and French at Stonehill College, and she is a writer and editor at Ecopreneur Media. Kennedy is passionate about many social issues, such as homelessness, inequality, immigration, and is interested in how these issues intersect with those relating to the environment. By informing others about eco-friendly companies, Kennedy is driven to inspire readers to take action in their communities in solidarity for the preservation of our planet.
Chocolate. That sweet, delicious treat that melts in your mouth every time you take a bite. Everyone knows this “feel-good” sensation that chocolate gives us all, but have you ever wondered if the origins of your favorite chocolate bar are as good as it tastes?
As many may know, chocolate comes from cacao trees. After cacao is combined with sugar and some other ingredients, including milk in some cases, it creates what we know as chocolate. However, what many probably don’t know is that chocolate, like many other foods, comes from a plant that is mass produced and certainly has an effect on the environment it originates from.
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an estimated 70% of the world’s cacao beans come from West Africa. Due to the high global demand for chocolate, many tropical forests are being cut down to plant more cacao trees, causing dangerous amounts of deforestation in a region that is already suffering from rising temperatures and drought. The WWF explains that more support for West African farmers through advanced farming techniques can propel the productivity of current cacao farms, which would eliminate the need to destroy habitats to plant more trees. In fact, organizations like Fair Trade USA work with farmers, including West African cacao farmers, towards these advancements and ensure that the farmers adhere to just labor practices along with environmental and ethical standards; in return, these organizations promise farmers that they will receive a steady income despite unpredictable market trends.
Knowing this, you’re probably wondering where you can get chocolate that tastes good and doesn’t have a strong negative impact on the environment. Five North Chocolate is one option. Founded by Ben Conard, Five North Chocolate sources its chocolate from cacao farms in West Africa. Its business model is rooted in fair trade to ensure that its chocolate has an environmentally sustainable starting point.
When discussing how Five North Chocolate came to be 3 years ago, Ben Conard describes himself as a “naive college student who thought he could change the candy industry”. Conard explains that people usually see chocolate as “guilty…as something they shouldn’t be eating”. When Conard found out more about the supply chain of chocolate, its impacts on the environment, and the use of child labor to produce cacao, he found a desire to make something that wasn’t “guilty,” and was ethically based.
When he started the company, Conard admits he was “entering an industry that [he] knew nothing about” at the time. He started out from making chocolate samples in his dorm room to spending late nights in a commercial kitchen all by himself. After winning grants and various pitch competitions, Conard finally created a sellable product.
Once he had a product, Conard decided to name his company “Five North Chocolate” due to the fact that 2/3rds of the world’s cacao is produced five degrees north of the equator in West Africa. He felt that since cacao is their number one ingredient, it was important to name the brand after its root and to source cacao from this region to support local farmers.
Five North Chocolate produces vegan chocolate, chocolate that is plant-based and contains no dairy products. According to Conard, “you don’t need lots of sugar or dairy to make chocolate good.” From a sustainability perspective, Conard wanted to avoid using dairy and to respect cacao as the main ingredient.
Interestingly, Five North Chocolate describes their products as having “snackability,” being “guilesschoc,” and being “yummylevelup”: “snackability” meaning shareable, “guiltlesschoc” meaning enjoying chocolate guiltlessly, and “yummylevelup” meaning that there is more to chocolate if we “level up” our standards. Conard came up with these terms to describe his chocolate differently than other brands on the market right now. Conard feels that “the market hasn’t caught up the potential chocolate has.” Conard believes that this new vocabulary shows chocolate’s true potential and means something to his customers.
Conard decided from the start that their chocolate would be fair trade certified. Conard has been active in the fair trade movement for many years by visiting farmers on the ground in Ecuador, interning for the World Fair Trade Organization, starting a fair trade club in college, and working for a variety of fair trade universities. Through all these experiences and seeing how fair trade impacts business first hand, Conard wanted to make sure his business was committed to fair trade as well.
In terms of Fair Trade’s relation to the environment, Conard explains that farmers “are given more incentive to invest in their land, their crops, and their community” which is ultimately “investing in their future…[and] the environment is part of that future.” As a fair trade certified company, Five North Chocolate partners with Fair Trade USA as a third party to source its cacao from fair trade certified farms. Fair Trade USA certifies cacao farms in West Africa based on their adherence to Fair Trade USA’s strict labor, environmental, and ethical standards. In return, Fair Trade USA connects these local farmers to businesses seeking their crop, like Five North Chocolate, and ensures that the farmers will receive a steady income despite the fluctuating market. Conard explains that Fair Trade USA ensures that farmers are treated fairly and are using environmental practices.
When asked about environmental justice, Conard urged that combating environmental justice “always starts with awareness.” He believes that once people are more aware and understand “how” and “why” a particular issue is happening, they will be motivated to do something about it. As a business owner, Conard feels that it is the job of social entrepreneurs to listen to consumers and to create solutions that cater to their demands. For him, social entrepreneurs can become “the catalyst for change more quickly by listening, educating consumers [about environmental issues], and doing more to change the current situation.”
As we are seeing more and more through the current climate change movement, individuals have the power to push for environmental preservation and to be better stewards of our rapidly changing environment. To do this, individuals should acknowledge their civil responsibility to consider the environment in their daily decisions. Conard urges that “just as citizens in a democracy have a duty to contribute to the political ecosystem, they have a duty to the economy.” This means that whenever individuals purchase something, they should be aware of “where they buy it, why they are buying it, and have a duty to know more about the supply chain” of the products they are buying.
As you can see, it is worth understanding the supply chain of chocolate for the sake of our environment and the well-being of local farmers. Be part of the change within the chocolate industry by supporting more socially and environmentally conscious businesses. Five North Chocolate may be just the place to start!
Visit their website at https://www.fivenorthchocolate.com/ for more information!