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Conservation International Leading Broad Global Framework for Coffee Sustainability

sustainable coffee challenge

The U.S. nonprofit Conservation International issued a call to action yesterday at the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, asking industry to help make coffee “the first sustainable agricultural product in the world.”

What exactly that means has yet to be determined, but the group says it plans to formalize partnerships with numerous public and private organizations throughout the coffee and sustainable trade segments, making them part of the “Sustainable Coffee Challenge.” A stable of large coffee roasting companies, certification agencies, trade-focused nonprofits and trading organizations have already pledged their support for the initiative.

“The Sustainable Coffee Challenge aims to transform coffee production, moving specialty and mainstream producers toward sustainability,” CI said following the convention in Paris. “It will convene industry, conservation and agricultural development partners to develop a common framework for sustainability in the coffee sector.”

A primary point of the initiative, it seems, is to establish an agreed upon definition of “sustainable coffee” — one that can help players throughout the segment work toward common goals. “We need a common definition of sustainability for the coffee sector,” said CI Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann. “This will require commitments by roasters to support increased demand for sustainability. It will also require improved measurement of how far the sector has come in the sustainability journey — and just how far we have to go.”

The group suggested that nearly half of the world’s coffee is being produced according to some sustainability standard — although, again, the definitions are unclear — yet only 12 percent is sold as “sustainable coffee” on the market. Said CI, “The Sustainable Coffee Challenge will work to strengthen demand for sustainably produced coffee and better account for progress made within the sector.”

In its announcement, CI repeatedly cited the potential consequences of climate change on the long-term health of the coffee segment, saying the challenge “comes at a time when nearly every major coffee-producing region of the world is feeling the impacts of climate change.” The group’s scope here is immense, although an initial action plan won’t be unveiled until the World Coffee Conference taking place next March in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Said CI:

As its plan goes into effect, the Challenge will stimulate economic development across the industry and benefit the lives of 25 million coffee producers, the majority of whom are small-scale farmers. It will also provide environmental benefits, including the conservation of vital forests that help fight climate change by storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and also protect freshwater resources.

Partners who have already vowed support for the challenge include Starbucks Coffee Company, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, 4C Association, Allegro Coffee Company, Ceres, Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), Counter Culture Coffee, ECOM, Fairtrade America, Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST), Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS), Keurig Green Mountain, Lutheran World Relief, Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters, S&D Coffee & Tea, Solidaridad and SustainAbility.