Many private sector retailers, roasters and traders made 2020 pledges to demonstrate their commitment towards a sustainable coffee sector. Over the past 10 years, we have therefore witnessed an explosion of sustainability initiatives - Certified VSS, Direct Trade, Sustainably Sourced, Women Produced, to name a few.Furthermore, a combination of philanthropy, government, development and research institutions continue to promote coffee as a tool for sustainable economic growth. This has resulted in coffee-centric Public Private Partnerships, Finance Schemes, and Pre-Competitive Sector Initiatives. And let’s not forget the tech partners that have joined the party, applying mobile, cloud, block chain, remote sensing and AI solutions to help solve the sustainability puzzle. Regardless of all these interventions, most coffee farming families still struggle to make a living income, child labor is still a cost of production and deforestation continues to rise.To add fuel to the flame, the Covid19 pandemic has put added strain on coffee families and workers, especially in terms of health and food security.
Coffee supply chains are dynamic, constantly changing and interconnected.But quite often, coffee sustainability propositions still seem to address partial solutions, articulated solely based on their role in the value chain. However, each one of these initiatives provides us with insights into the complexity of sustainability issues. Utilizing systemic design strategies, we can leverage this vast knowledge in order to develop holistic supply chains.
We all need to move beyond our linear thinking and focus on the relevant conditions that will unlock innovation opportunities for real coffee sustainability. Taking collaboration as a starting point of sustainability recognizes the complexity and ever changing reality that supply chain stakeholders cope with. Drawing on sustainability initiatives, collective impact programs, and innovation research, we have distilled 5 key design tips and industry resources to support our sustainability journey.
- The Collaborative Advantage. The "Collaborative Advantage" can be achieved when partners align towards addressing a common goal through reinforcing activities. Instead of seeing your coffee product or service as a stand-alone, see it as part of a bigger canvas, where it interacts with and depends on other initiatives – all jointly responsible for the overall performance and health of the value chain. Collaboration as an intentional strategy will increase interactive learning among value chain actors, which will optimize interconnectedness among places, people, processes, and products. Explore and participate in platforms to share knowledge, technology, and data. To learn more about what is happening in the sector please visit The Sustainable Coffee Challenge and The Global Coffee Platform.
- The Price of Sustainability. Deforestation and child labor are a function of economic survival and NO amount of training can solve this. When costs of sustainable production exceed farm gate price, farmers feel they are stuck paying the bill. Farmers are constantly complying with a growing list of requests from buyers, lenders and certifiers, while still struggling to make a living wage. When designing any sustainability intervention, a fair price should be the starting point.
The 2019 Specialty Coffee Transaction Guide provides real data on how recent green coffee prices were influenced by coffee quality, lot size, and producing region. This information is valuable in negotiations that determine the prices paid during subsequent harvest seasons by empowering sellers and buyers to look beyond commodity reference prices.
“Unless price discovery moves beyond reliance on commodity price references, farmers cannot expect these prices to evolve in ways that make them excited about continuing to invest in their sustainable practices on their farms. As such, more and more farms will struggle to find the next generation to take over”.
- Long Term Partnerships. Sustainability initiatives must be able to survive for a minimum of 10 years to allow value chain actors to fully integrate sustainability practices into their operations and credibly demonstrate impact. Sustainability requires consistency, time, investment and a certain element of entrepreneurship for change to materialize. It’s critical to root sustainability programs into the trading relationship from the beginning in order to build an authentically collaborative culture. Sustainable Harvest’s Relationship Coffee Model is an excellent example of a green coffee buyer that utilizes sustainability as a tool to build long-term relationships. To get inspired please visit: www.sustainableharvest.com/our-model
- Sustainability Intelligence. Integrating data sources is essential for facilitating interactive learning between value chain actors to foster innovation and effectively target resources towards sustainability priorities. Below are a few tips to crowd-source data and distill findings to facilitate information exchange.
To learn more about key components of Sustainability Intelligence Systems please visit our friends at COSA.
- Engage relevant initiatives and highlight aligned components that could be used to improve your sustainability efforts
- Integrate sustainability data collection into supply chain activities, such as trade, lending and training. Be transparent with how the data is being utilized to those that are providing information.
- Harmonize supply chain data (trade, lending and training) with secondary and tertiary data sources (certification, satellite, landscape, census) to gain a better understanding of the representative social, economic and environmental conditions in targeted production regions
- Validate findings and prioritize areas of intervention via qualitative research tools such as focus groups
- Distill and present sustainability information through an online platform and share access with value chain partners.
- Track progress via well-defined indicators and facilitate information exchange for coordinating partners and adapting supply chain practices
- Sustainability Flavors. Traceability now has the ability to link coffee sales to support specific sustainability themes – The Sustainable Development Goals is essentially a menu of sustainability themes, using a common language and communication tool that coffee actors can unite around. Each SDG has an associated community of practice that are researching, piloting and scaling strategies, resulting in tools and guidance for how the coffee sector can credibly communicate and coordinate sustainability approaches.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Currently, smallholder families, farm and mill workers, and coffee ecosystems still do not have adequate representation in program design, yet the sector depends on them. Unless human and environmental rights are respected and thoughtful collaboration is intentional, the coffee sector will never transition from an extractive, post-colonial coffee paradigm towards a more inclusive and sustainable future.
What will the next decade hold for the coffee sector? What innovations will accelerate the UN Sustainable Development Goals? The answers to these questions rely on the coffee sector’s collective ability to nurture a culture of collaboration in order to address the problems at their source.
Design Drinking is part of the "Drink different" blog series where we explore 5 IDEAS to illustrate how sustainability can create a better end-to-end coffee experience. To discuss how to apply Design Drinking principles to your coffee initiative, please contact us: [email protected]