Coffee Sustainability

Caring for Climate

caring for climate

ECOM Agroindsutrial Corp. Ltd. has long been a champion of sustainability and is helping coffee businesses become the same and achieve net zero through its newly launched Caring for Climate Service Platform. Building on its experience in coffee, this platform aims to host greenhouse gas removal and reduction initiatives for any supply chain.

Sustainability has become an important part of every coffee business, and could soon be required as a license to operate, but for coffee trader ECOM, it has been in the DNA of the company.

“Sustainability has been core to ECOM in terms of values and even business strategies for a long time now,” says Benjamin Rimaud, Sustainable Management Services (SMS) Coffee Global Manager at ECOM SMS. “With many operations and businesses in producing countries, ECOM fostered close connection with the local coffee reality through its origin-integrated  approach. Because of these close connections, sustainability has also been an integral part of how we work.” 

ECOM founded ECOM Sustainable Management Services (SMS) in 2006 to build sustainable supply chains and oversee the many projects that both coffee and cocoa operations were implementing on the ground at origin. Today, ECOM SMS reaches more than 600,000 farmers with 1500 field technicians across 23 countries in coffee and cocoa, allowing it to act at scale. 

“A key element of sustainability in coffee is the prosperity of farmers. Without this, we cannot expect producers to act on social issues like child labour, minimum wage, nor on environmental concerns like deforestation,” Rimaud says. 

“Education, training, and technical assistance are big parts of what we do – whether it’s related to certifications, good agricultural and environmental practices, or assistance with financing – so farmers can be economically empowered and produce more with the same amount of land.” 

With climate change being an increasingly important part of sustainability, Rimaud says it is important that solutions don’t fix one problem at the expense of another.

“We cannot have a tunnel vision on climate impacts, only focusing on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a complex and interconnected dynamic between various environmental impacts, such as water scarcity, biodiversity, and climate change. A very practical example is the wet mill at a coffee farm, which  produces large volumes of wastewater,” Rimaud says. “If that mill keeps its water in a lagoon or pond and is left untreated, as it degrades, it will release large volumes of methane and biogas. ECOM, in partnership with the University of Notre Dame, is investigating a scalable pilot on wastewater treatment technology. 

“In addition, you cannot discharge that untreated wastewater into a river because that leads to another environmental and social issue of water contamination and loss, so we must find a way to collect the water and basically compost it.” 

ECOM works closely with producers to ensure that its supply chain does not fall into these traps. The trader also works extensively with other figures in the coffee community to develop thorough solutions to the challenges faced in coffee production. 

“ECOM has a long history of working with the CIRAD to develop more robust farming solutions and planting materials. We developed a laboratory in Nicaragua propagating new coffee hybrids, five of which are now registered with World Coffee Research. This research is integrated with the technical assistance we’re providing as we can bring new varieties for the future that will resist drought or pests, maintain high productivity, and are adapted to new agricultural conditions, such as being grown in greater amounts of shade and agroforestry,” Rimaud says. 

ECOM has signed on to the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) and has committed to reach net zero by 2050 across scopes, 1, 2 and 3, and many other coffee roasters and chains it works with have done the same. To further assist its clients in achieving Net Zero, ECOM has launched its Caring for Climate services. This allows ECOM to collate its many projects to help ECOM and its clients reach greenhouse gas emission targets through reduction and removal projects. Reduction projects aim to shrink the greenhouse gas footprint of the raw materials ECOM is sourcing and includes practices such as switching to renewable energy within primary processing, organic fertiliser usage, and better irrigation or waste management. Removal projects aim to remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as agroforestry or reforestation projects, and sequester it into biomass and soil. 

“We engage in vertical collaborations to tackle climate change, especially where scope 3 boundaries are shared. We also have the ability to work beyond our value chain,” says Ana Nicod, Head of Climate Change Strategy at ECOM. “While it is more straightforward addressing a business’s own scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, the bulk of the work is in our scope 3 emissions at farm level, which is more challenging to tackle.” 

As an integrated management company, Nicod says ECOM is well placed to help reduce the impact on its upstream suppliers, coffee producers, as well as work with them to improve agricultural practices. 

“In addition, we operate our own nurseries where we can grow and provide climate resilient and higher yielding plants. ECOM  has distributed in excess of 150 million coffee and cocoa trees.

We assist farmers with training and maintenance with regards to planting and better farm management. Thanks to SMS, we have extensive in-house knowledge on climate science,” Nicod says. “We’re not starting from zero. We already have many sustainability projects ongoing and we need to understand what positive climate impact they have.” 

She adds that the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in coffee production, for example, are mainly attributed to land use change (LUC) and the production and use of fertiliser. 

“Optimising yields is crucial to discourage further LUC and promote crop diversification, but it needs to be done with better use of inputs including organic fertiliser where feasible,” Nicod says. 

“Biodiversity is also extremely important as it can be an indicator of overall health of the plantation. This helps ensure that it is not just a monoculture crop.” 

Aside from the environmental benefits of planting a variety of shade trees, biodiversity provides an additional positive social impact on generating further income streams to boost farmer incomes. In some cases in coffee, Nicod says shade trees can also improve the quality of the bean due to its slower maturation. 

“Reduction is our first priority, but it cannot be the only action behind climate mitigation. We need to find ways of capturing carbon and sequestering it back into our soils and biomass,” she says. 

“We focus also on developing carbon projects within our scope 3 supply chain boundaries and projects adjacent to the boundary, also called insetting or offsetting. Partnerships are a crucial aspect of its Caring for Climate services to foster collaboration across the supply chain to deliver transformational change in the agricultural landscapes that we operate in to become carbon sinks rather than emitters”. 

“The threat of climate change impacts us all and we all have our parts to do across the different industries and sectors. Reaching our goal to become net zero by 2050 to limit temperatures to 1.5°C requires a systems transformation and corporations cannot do it alone.”

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This article was first published in the January/February 2022 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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