A sustainable brew

Coffee’s impact on the Sustainable Development Goals: a #SUSTAINCOFFEE Story  

The coffee industry touches more people than almost any other industry across the world. Globally, people drink more than two billion cups every day. There are approximately 25 million coffee producers, many of whom are smallholder farmers who depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

However, the global coffee sector is being threatened from all sides. Climate change is affecting coffee growing conditions, market volatility creates unpredictable prices and aging coffee trees are declining in productivity. This is leaving the next generation of coffee farmers seeking economic alternatives for their livelihoods — and the industry searching for solutions.

We have an obligation to all of those people around the globe – producers, traders, roasters, retailers and consumers – to do our part to help reduce poverty, protect our planet and ensure long-term prosperity for all actors throughout the coffee value chain.

A little over a year ago, in September 2015, world leaders gathered in New York to adopt the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)1. The SDGs include 17 global goals and 169 targets, which focus on sustainable development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Achieving these ‘Global Goals’ will require adjusting economic models and transforming entire sectors. The UN, therefore, calls upon governments, NGOs, people and businesses to come together and work to achieve them. Many of the SDGs are directly related to how we produce and consume coffee. The goals therefore present an opportunity to demonstrate and communicate the contribution of coffee to the overall sustainability agenda and for the coffee sector to serve as an economic development models that aligns with and supports the SDGs.

Leading companies, countries, NGOs and others are united in their commitment to the SDGs, as demonstrated by the work of the Global Coffee Platform and the Sustainable Coffee Challenge to align sustainability efforts of the sector around these goals. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge is working with more than 50 partners from across the sector to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. These partners, representing mainstream and specialty coffee companies, NGOs, universities, donor agencies and certification bodies have identified three “North Star” elements to guide our collective work: Prosperity and wellbeing of farmers, workers and communities; conservation of nature; and the sustained supply of coffee.

Currently, the partners in the Challenge are developing a common Sustainability Framework, which will enable the sector to better understand how the investments and actions we are making in sustainability are contributing to our common goals. In this context, the SDGs serve as our impact areas.

Each and every one of the 17 goals can be impacted in some way by actions and investments undertaken by actors in the coffee sector. Take the government of Mexico (SAGARPA), who is working to provide access to credit programs for farmers in their country (SDG1 – End poverty in all its forms everywhere). Or Starbucks, whose One Tree for Every Bag commitment is providing rust resistant plants to coffee farmers affected by leaf rust (SDG13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change). Another good example is the Japanese coffee roaster MiCafeto, who is committed to source and market 100% of their coffee responsibly by 2020, based on the company’s sustainability guidelines (SDG12 – Sustainable production and consumption).The Challenge will track sustainability commitments and our progress towards the SDGs via our Commitments Hub. Moving forward, partners in the Challenge will analyze these commitments and their results, build a shared understanding of sustainability, and push toward ambitious future commitments from industry players, governments and other stakeholders. Achieving the SDGs will require great effort over the next 13 years. Addressing the growth in coffee demand and its impact on sustainable development will also be critical in 2030 and beyond. Working together, the coffee sector has the people, the expertise and the resources to enhance effectiveness, efficiency and impact of our investments.

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge is proud to be doing our part and will continue these efforts while also making a call to those who have not yet joined to publically state their commitment and join the movement. Because just as important as the other 16 goals is number 17: Partnership for the Goals, which brings together governments, civil society, the private sector, the UN and other actors, and mobilizes all available resources toward achievement of the agenda. To learn more go to www.sustaincoffee.org.

Main image: A farmer harvests arabica coffee fruit from coffee trees on recently deforested land in Pagar Gunung village near Batang Gadis National Park in Mandailing Natal, North Sumatra © Conservation International/photo by Tory Read

1Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 

Bambi Semroc

Bambi Semroc is the senior strategic advisor for Conservation International's Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. In this role she leads CI’s work with the coffee sector, including CI’s collaborations with Starbucks, S&D Coffee and Tea, ECOM and McDonald’s. Ms. Semroc leads CI’s current efforts on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a coalition of businesses and organizations from across the coffee sector working to make coffee the first sustainable agricultural product.  Ms Semroc has been at CI for over 13 years always focusing on the food and agriculture sector and ensuring companies have the information and tools necessary to integrate natural capital and ecosystem service considerations into decision-making processes.