The theme of this year’s 2012 State of the Industry is about “sustainability.” Simply said – difficult to define. Our industry has been wrestling with this idea of sustainability for years and we still do not have a clear road ahead.
What is “sustainability?” We at CoffeeTalk are hoping to move the definition a little closer toward being understandable. However, it can be a difficult task. Many definitions of “sustainability” seem opposed to one another. Is “sustainability” ensuring that your business model is able to maintain your company through differing economic conditions or, is “sustainability” ensuring that the environment is returned to self-sustaining conditions without regard to economic costs? Is “sustainability” ensuring that farming practices allow for renewal of the land and balanced production or, is “sustainability” ensuring that there are sufficient rewards to farmers to ensure adequate return on investment for future generations?
And these are just a partial list of the different viewpoints on “sustainability.”
Intellectually, most would agree that a realistic definition of “sustainability” is a blend of all these opinions. However, we naturally are driven by self-interest, especially regarding economic “sustainability.” Saving the world is great, for instance, unless that purpose conflicts with saving my personal interests, and possibly rightfully so. If we all were saints, then we would raise temples to sinners.
One possibility is to first understand that “sustainability” itself has to be sustainable. The road toward “good intentions” is littered with failed projects and seemingly zillions of dollars in empty buildings, decaying equipment, and displaced livelihoods. To stick on another metaphor, our son loves that kid’s paddleball game where the ball is on an elastic cord. No matter how hard you hit the ball with the paddle, it still comes screaming back. Many well-intentioned projects and companies are like the ball. If they were sustainable, you would hit the ball and it would never come back – ever.
In this issue, you will read many different viewpoints expressed by leaders and opinion makers in our industry. You will develop a deeper understanding on the scope and complexity of formulating a unified vision of “sustainability.” Many organizations are beginning the effort to catalogue and categorize programs underway primarily in coffee growing regions such as the Specialty Coffee Association’s START initiative. Tracy Ging of the SCAA talks about this in her article.
Another initiative is Track the Impact, led by Karen Cebreros. This online tracking system allows donors and recipients to record donations of time, money, and resources given to non-profit organizations. CoffeeTalk is proud to host this on our website, www.coffeetalk.com/track-the-impact. NGOs are growing and reaching out to our industry more than ever and competition is fierce. They need each one of us to leverage their impact and help millions of producers who live on $2.00 or less per day. To manage volunteer programs and monetary donations along with in-kind gifts, Coffee Talk and Track the Impact are partnering with Profits 4 Purpose. P4P provides a web-based tool used to track and connect every single coffee person in our industry to all of our non-profits. Individual participation is vital to achieving our goals and mission. Each person’s contribution will be combined to measure our industry and our impact as a whole. Working together, we will strengthen our commitment to producers at origin globally. Coffee is a role model and global leader in “sustainability.”
Jim Kosalos, founder of San Cristobal Coffee, is rolling out new products specifically designed to bring transparency and traceability to coffee from origin to the roaster. Built upon the Finca Lab platform, the system uses cloud-based computing power to generate descriptive barcodes that track a bag of coffee through the entire supply chain. The Finca Lab stations are fully functional coffee labs at the farm or cooperative level including a unique professional sample roaster, a mini huller for removing parchment, a moisture sensor, scales, cups, spoons, sizing screens, and much more – all packaged in a sturdy and secure case that folds out to become a SCAA standards cupping table. By grading each lot at the farm level and generating a bar-coded label to attach to the bag, all participants can identify and track exact information about that bag of coffee as it moves through logistics, collateral requirements for crop finance and banking, and especially for compliance with new Homeland Security border requirements.
The accompanying software, which lives in the computing cloud also has elements that allow for precise blending of different grade coffee to a customer’s exact specification of taste, quality, and size. Very 21st century.
These innovations, and much more are entering the market stream at a rapid rate. Although primarily data collection systems right now, eventually these will form the backbone upon which a much more systematic approach to “sustainability” in our companies, with our trading partners at origin, and with the world upon which we stand will form. The world of coffee has always been a pioneer in the development of sustainable capitalistic enterprises. We are continuing to lead the world toward a more sustainable future – in whatever way we choose to define it.