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The Sustainable Coffee Challenge Roadmap: What is It?

sustainable coffee

Conservation International is unveiling the next phase in its Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a roadmap, tomorrow morning during the International Coffee Organization’s 4th World Coffee Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Unveiled last December during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge has a stated goal of making coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. Managed by the nonprofit Conservation International with initial funding from Starbucks — the two groups worked together on Starbucks’ supply sustainability initiatives for the past 16 years, making the claim in April 2015 that 99 percent of Starbucks coffees are ethically sourced — the Sustainable Coffee Challenge now represents a consortium of 36 coffee-related organizations, including roasters, traders, certification authorities, donor agencies and NGOs.

Tomorrow, CI representatives in Ethiopia are unveiling their roadmap concept, which will be guided by a “North Star,” which is described as “ensuring the prosperity and well-being of farmers; conserving forests, water and soil; and securing a long-term supply of coffee.”

So what will this roadmap look like? Who are the map-makers and what form will the map eventually take? We reached out to Bambi Semroc via email for answers to these questions and more. Semroc is leading the project on behalf of CI and is currently in Addis Ababa to present the next phase. (Answers edited for space) 

What will the roadmap look like? What is it actually composed of?

The roadmap is not a tangible thing but rather a plan that the Challenge members have agreed to in our first 100 days working together. It is comprised of a few parts: laying out the process for understanding where the coffee sector is right now in its sustainability journey, describing the tools we plan to create to share experiences across the sector, and our plan for inspiring more ambitious and new commitments to sustainability over time. It also shows the key products and services that the Sustainable Coffee Challenge will offer over the next two years to accelerate the process. These include a portal where participants can publicly state their commitments and report on progress, a sustainability framework that enables us to quantify and track progress collectively, and commitments networks that facilitate the sharing of lessons to stimulate new and more ambitious commitments.

How were member organizations identified, and what is the scope of their commitment to the project?

We are growing in numbers each day and are now at 36 participants. The full list is available at the Challenge website (note: the current membership is also posted below). These organizations volunteered to participate in the Challenge after we conducted a series of stakeholder workshops in the fall of 2015. We invited a broad range of actors representing retailers, roasters, traders, NGOs, certification organizations, donor agencies and producer organizations in these workshops. In December when we launched the Challenge, we had 18 participants sign on and since then have doubled the size of our community.

We have asked participants to sign onto the vision and based on their own interests, requested they participate in one of the four working groups (i.e. commitments, sustainability framework, communications and governance) that we launched after the December announcement. As the Challenge advances in developing a portal for publicly stating and reporting on commitments and facilitating learning networks around commitment categories, we will be asking the participants to commit to using the portal and partaking in the networks so we can inspire new commitments and greater action across the sector.

The level of participation to date has been very heartening. During the past 100 days we have had biweekly calls with each of the 4 working groups and involvement and attendance levels have remained very high. The stakeholders around the table are very committed to sparking this movement within the sector and this is apparent by the energy and insights they are bringing into the dialogue.

Who will be doing the work in sorting through the results of the open-source portal?

The actual work of developing the portal, analyzing the results and facilitating the networks will be done by Conservation International, which is acting as the secretariat for the Challenge.

How is the end goal going to be measured? What will be the definition of a “sustainable agricultural product?” And will there be some sort of third-party certification or auditing involved?

We are working to develop these answers as a community. We are pushing toward a common sustainability framework that will enable us to understand our collective sustainability impacts, while recognizing that every member’s actions will be a bit different. The framework will enable us to understand how actions taken will ladder up into what we refer to as our “North Star” elements: the prosperity and well-being of producers, conservation of forests, water and soils, and the sustained supply of coffee.

There are multiple pathways to sustainability and each journey begins with a first step. Certification represents one of these pathways — and an important one — but we also want to recognize the efforts made by the sector that go beyond certification (e.g. investments in technical assistance, smallholder finance, renovation, climate adaptation, etc.) as these also play a key role in ensuring producers have the knowledge and resources necessary to sustain coffee production.

Based on the common North Star outcomes we have set forth, the sector will be better able to track results and know if the Challenge’s collective commitments, actions and investments are resulting in prosperity and well-being of farmers, forest soil and water conservation and a sustained supply of coffee. While there are still trade-offs among these three elements, we know that we are not yet there. When they are all tracking in a positive direction we know we are on course. When producers around the world are able to prosper and meet demand for coffee while conserving forests, freshwater and other natural resources, we will know that we have arrived.

There is an urgency around getting the sector on track as population growth and climate change impacts are expected to have more significant and irreversible impacts by 2030.

Organizations currently contributing to the Sustainable Coffee Challenge

  • 4C Association
  • Ahold
  • Allegro Coffee Company
  • Ceres Coalition
  • Co-Crear
  • CoffeeRed
  • Coffee Quality Institute (CQI)
  • Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA)
  • Counter Culture Coffee
  • ECOM Agroindustrial Corp. Ltd.
  • FairTrade America
  • Falcon Coffees
  • Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST)
  • Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS)
  • IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative
  • Intercontinental Coffee Trading (ICT)
  • International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA)
  • Java Mountain Coffee
  • Keurig Green Mountain Inc.
  • Lutheran World Relief
  • Mercy Corps
  • Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF)
  • Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters B.V.
  • Rainforest Alliance
  • Rwanda Trading Company
  • S&D Coffee & Tea
  • Solidaridad
  • Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)
  • Sucafina
  • SustainAbility
  • Sustainable Commodity Assistance Network (SCAN)
  • Sustainable Harvest
  • Twin
  • UTZ

(note: In addition to CI’s presence in Addis Ababa, the group will also be presenting or in attendance at the upcoming National Coffee Association Annual Convention in San Diego later this month, and at the SCAA Event in Atlanta in April.)


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