SCAA recently revised its strategic themes and among the new guiding statements: promote sustainable practices. This is not a new direction for the organization. In fact, concepts of economic, environmental, and social sustainability have long been embedded in the values and activities of the Association. There is a new sense of urgency, however. Over the past several years, supplies of high quality coffees have contracted as erratic weather, land use pressures, and persistent poverty have taken their cuts of production. With these new challenges, came the honest revelation that the industry needs new solutions and sustainable development must take an even higher priority.
Getting clear (or not)
The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as:
Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
To operate responsibly today, we must be able to correlate our actions from today with ten years from now (and beyond). We must predict the future.
Predictions are unavoidably imprecise. Therefore, we have to learn to move forward without a clear end in sight, but things will come into focus with more information, data, and experience. Knowing that the target is very elusive (not to be confused with hopeless), we can at least see sustainability as a dynamic target.
The idea that we will arrive at “sustainable” should probably be abandoned for the time being and businesses and marketers should be cautious using words like sustainable, sustainable practices, sustainably produced, etc. We simply do not know enough to call something sustainable. What we can do is commit to a process of sustainable development, which means operating as responsibly as possible today and learning as much as possible about the impact, interrelationships, and innovations that will improve prospects for tomorrow.
To do better tomorrow, you must understand clearly what you are doing today. The best place to start is an inventory. As a business, how much energy do you use, how much waste do you produce, and how much do you give back? How do your efforts compare to similar businesses? With a fuller understanding of today, it is far easier to make better choices for tomorrow.
Developing that base of understanding is where SCAA has chosen to start. Our first step toward promoting sustainable practices is a tool to help businesses embark on their commitment to sustainable development (cleverly, the tool is named START – sustainability tracking and reporting tool). START is a powerful and user-friendly technology, the first of its kind data tracking and reporting system, built specifically for companies and organizations that work in coffee. The system provides templates to monitor energy and water use, waste, charitable investments and other points tailored by business type. The result is a benchmark and continuous log for individual businesses and an aggregated comparison against the industry. START addresses the axiom you can’t manage what you can’t measure, by providing a means for measurement.
Making Better Choices
We are also working to support individuals and companies with their choices, suggesting better alternatives. In 2012, at The Event in Portland, we will introduce an icon direction system – a logo marking areas where visitors have a choice to lesson their impact in some way. Also planned is a “green guide” for retail operators that will focus on major areas of energy use and waste, provide simple steps to lessen energy use, and by the way, help café operators save money.
Learning and Collaborating
These are important steps, but we recognize there is a lot more to understand. Core to the strategic theme of promote sustainable practices is the commitment to learn more –about what is working and what isn’t, what other industries are doing, and where can specialty coffee have the greatest impact. You will see more conversations, more investigation, and more content as we sort through the issues. An honest pursuit of sustainability requires a concerted pursuit of information and knowledge. We do not know exactly what specialty coffee can accomplish, or what sustainable development is for our industry, and that is okay. We have the priority, we have a place to start, and if the past twenty years is any indication of our future, we have the people and will to make a difference.
With more than 15 years of marketing experience, working on both producing and consuming sides of specialty coffee, Tracy has developed a deep understanding of the industry and trends driving it. She currently serves as Deputy Executive Director for the Specialty Coffee Association of America (www.scaa.org).