Coffee Corner: Sustainability in coffee, our future depends on it.

If you asked ten experts on sustainability to define it, you would get ten very different answers. This is particularly true when talking about sustainability within the context of the coffee industry where there are so many ways to approach it and measure our impact. Coffee has a dark history of exploitation and harmful effects on its producers and communities, so it critical to the longevity of our industry that we rectify those past mistakes and create a more positive path forward.
Most would start with and focus on the supply chain – looking to financially support farmers to grow coffee with the climate and environment in mind and rewarding those who participate in social programs to benefit their workers and community. As with most sustainability efforts, there truly is no ‘perfect’ way to support this kind of work, and thankfully coffee has many different options to work with.
Fair Trade Certified products are produced according to rigorous standards that protect the livelihoods of farmers and producer communities, and the environment. Through the use of a guaranteed minimum price mechanism, secured even when market prices are low, fair and consistent compensation can be achieved for the producers, giving those that support the certification a level of comfort in what they are choosing to support. Rigorous standards ensure safe and healthy working conditions, the elimination of forced/child labor, environmental protections and product traceability. Producer communities also receive additional compensation through Community Development Funds, which are generated through the premiums paid for certified products.
Rainforest Alliance Certification is awarded to farms that meet rigorous environmental and social standards, while producing economic benefit for those that participate. It is a wholistic approach to sustainability at the farm level, which creates a level of transparency, organization and process that is of profound impact all, throughout the supply chain. The Rainforest Alliance seal reinforces the beneficial impacts of responsible choices, from farms and forests all the way to the supermarket checkout.
Organic certification ensures that coffee, or any agricultural product, is grown without chemicals, petroleum-based fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides, for a minimum of 3 years. Properly organic coffee is roasted in a facility certified by an organic body, to ensure no cross contamination with non-organic products, and that verifies the providence of the coffee, all the way back to the farm it was grown on.
Grounds for Health is a mission-driven, international non-profit organization, born out of and with enduring ties to the coffee industry, and focused on increasing coverage of cervical cancer screening and prevention services.

What is the relationship between coffee and cervical cancer you might ask? A recent International Coffee Organisation (ICO) report shows that women contribute 70% of the global coffee production workforce. In coffee-growing countries, cervical cancer kills more women than any other cancer. Over 80% of women newly diagnosed with cervical cancer live in these countries. Most have never been screened, and many are diagnosed too late for recovery. Grounds for Health uses co-ops to reach rural women, who typically have very little access to any medical treatment, let alone cancer-screening.

Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to detect, treat, and cure when caught early. If every woman were screened just once in her lifetime, global cervical cancer rates would drop by 30%; screened twice, rates drop by 60%.
To date over 160,000 women have been tested and over 13,000 have been treated.
Beyond the green coffee aspect, sustainability in the OCS industry can take on many different forms: biodegradable and compostable packaging materials, reducing plastic waste through use of more sustainable materials, recycling programs, supporting renewable energy through partners like Bullfrog Power and the elimination (or reduction) of single use cups, to name a few. Similar to the coffee sourcing challenge, a multi-faceted approach will render the best results and ensure that your sustainability program is not just something to mention on your website, but one that you can speak proudly of knowing that what you are doing is making a difference.

Adam Pesce
Reunion Coffee Roasters
The Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association | Ph: 888-849-2262 | Fax: 905-826-4873 ||