Coffee Sustainability, News

How Global Coffee Platform is decoding sustainability

Coffee code

Global Coffee Platform on its revised Coffee Sustainability Reference Code, why this change was necessary, and the impact it’s expected to have on the industry.

Despite a growing awareness of the need to build a sustainable coffee industry, the steps required to achieve it are not always as clear, which is why membership association Global Coffee Platform (GCP) has revised its reference code on the foundations to advance sustainability.

Titled ‘The Coffee Sustainability Reference Code’, the code is designed to create a common language in the coffee industry on how to build the foundations for sustainable coffee production.

It is centred on the three dimensions of economic prosperity, social wellbeing, and environmental responsibility and stewardship. Within each dimension, the code outlines several principles, practices, and expected results, listing baseline practices in the sustainable production and processing of coffee.

“Through its 12 concrete principles, along with practices and expected results, it serves as a common language and guide for all coffee farmers, their business partners, and supporting actors to continuously improve and advance their sustainability,” says Annette Pensel, Executive Director of GCP.

The code also defines five critical practices: elimination of the worst forms of child labour, elimination of forced labour, no deforestation, no use of prohibited pesticides, and the newest addition, continuous improvement.

For all the other practices, the expectation is that over time, through the implementation of time-bound actions plans, this level of sustainability is achieved. In particular, these plans should be built around the realities of small farmers and local contexts.

“While the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code covers the beginning of the supply chain, with farmers on the ground, downstream actors are expected to share the responsibility for sustainability,” Pensel says.

“This includes supporting and incentivising the efforts of coffee producers to introduce, maintain, and go beyond these baseline principles across all dimensions, as well as promoting equitable trading and sourcing practices.”

Pensel says the revised code, which was built in collaboration with the coffee community, will be used as a reference to align, inspire, and accelerate individual and collective action.

Previously known as the Baseline Coffee Code, the revisions resulting in the new code began in October 2020. During the consultation period in March and April 2021, GCP engaged with farmers, industry members, and other actors involved in coffee from around the globe, hearing their views on the code.

Gelkha Buitrago, GCP Director Programs and Corporate Partnerships, led the code’s revision. She says since the code is intended to be a framework for the entire industry, it was important to have an extensive and inclusive consultation process that involved all in the coffee sector.

“Approximately 800 stakeholders participated via webinars, workshops, one on one interviews, emails, and through the online survey, contributing more than 1100 comments,” Buitrago says.

The revision of the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code was led by Gelkha Buitrago, Global Coffee Platform’s Director of Programs and Corporate Partnerships.

These proposals for the code’s revision were then developed by GCP, through its Technical Committee and Advisory Task Force, made up of members across the coffee supply chain including from the finance sector as well as from non-government organisations.

“The changes in the code reflect also the evolution of the sustainability landscape,” says Buitrago. “This code now includes new topics such as climate change adaptation and mitigation, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The name change, she explains, is just one example of its stakeholders’ input.

“It was requested that we make it clearer what the code is about, after all, it is a reference for the sector on the foundations of sustainability and not a certification standard,” Buitrago says.

For Buitrago, this reference code is chiefly important to help guide the coffee farmers, especially the ones who are new to sustainability and are looking for guidance.

“We hope coffee farmers and managers of farmer groups will use it to assess their practices using the principles and identify areas for improvement,” she says.

When used in combination with GCP’s Equivalence Mechanism, which assesses sustainability programs against the code, Buitrago says the code can also be used to guide sustainability programs and other initiatives, fostering alignment across the different programs.

To achieve the best results from the code, GCP believes that it’s important that every supply chain actor promotes and implements the framework, with national coffee bodies playing a key role in each region.

“It’s obvious we should be working together in this. What we need the most nowadays – especially for sustainability – is to live by the words ‘shared responsibility, shared benefits’,” says Carlos Brando, Chair of GCP’s Board.

This belief underpins GCP’s membership. As an organisation designed to collectively address local sustainability issues and scale up successful initiatives for lasting change, GCP benefits from its broad member base from every segment of the coffee chain combined with its neutrality and technical expertise.

“The sector needs a sustainability reference code because despite increasing uptake of sustainability practices, in particular through certification, the percentage of small growers able to access these certification programs is limited,” says Brando.

“A sector wide reference code offers an easy way for initiatives to look into the sustainability of small growers, taking into account their context and resources, and determine if they are sustainable.”

Besides its impact on the ground, Buitrago predicts that the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code can foster change in every part of the supply chain, including at a government level. She hopes it will be used to inform strategies that underpin national coffee sustainability plans.

“For traders, roasters, and retailers, the Code can guide their corporate sustainability strategies, responsible sourcing, and origin programs, as well as their commitment to source responsible and sustainable coffee,” Buitrago says, adding that the reference code is the basis for the GCP Collective Reporting on Sustainable Coffee Purchases.

“Financial institutions and investment funds can use this code to inform eligibility criteria for investments in the coffee sector, even non-governmental organisations can use it to inform their programming and investment support.”

Buitrago says this code has the power to create a shared understanding of what “baseline” or minimum sustainability principles and practices entail, both within the public and private sectors.

“It can also inspire and align measurements and monitoring towards increased sustainable production and consumption of coffee,” says Buitrago.

Pensel says that it is this strong relationship with public-private coffee platforms in the coffee producing countries, along with its vision and mission, that uniquely position GCP to be the guardian of the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code.

“With its launch, we look forward to further sharing the Coffee Sustainability Reference Code and working with our members, partners, and others to truly unfold its potential,” says Pensel.

For more information, visit

This article was first published in the November/December 2021 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

Send this to a friend