Specialty Coffee Association members surveyed on sustainability

In a survey of its members the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) conducted in September 2017, 62 per cent of respondents said they had someone in their organisation designated to address sustainability. More than 30 per cent said that sustainability is fundamentally woven into their buying decision-making practices and just over half said they give sustainability at least some consideration when making purchases. One-quarter of respondents said sustainability is core or central to the way they run their business and only 6.3 per cent said there is no link between their business and sustainability. Asked in which areas the respondents' organisations work in sustainability was the most successful or most important, 'environmentally friendly business practices' ranked the highest at 19.8 per cent, followed by 'creating a fair and equitable work environment' (15.4 per cent), and 'maintaining the long-term economic viability of the business' (15 per cent). Other reasons given, in order, included 'ensuring and increasing farm profitability', 'social justice', 'maintaining long-term viability of the world's coffee supply', and 'climate change in coffee growing regions'. It is clear from these results that the diverse range of coffee professionals who make up the SCA membership care about sustainability but, as a subsequent webinar held on 15 March indicated, more focused questions and more detailed answers would be needed if the organisation wanted to define how each member organisation or individual understands as sustainability, and what each respondent means when saying they have someone in their organisation designated to address the issue. The webinar, hosted by SCA Chief Sustainability Officer Kim Elena Ionescu and Samantha Veide, former Sustainability Director for the Tea and Coffee Division of Mars and responsible for the analysis of much of the survey data, asked those very questions. At what level is the person responsible for leading sustainability efforts in each organisation and is that a priority of their position or something taken on as an extra, perhaps out of personal interest? Is that person a Chief Sustainability Officer or perhaps a highly committed barista trying to encourage his or her colleagues to consider sustainability more highly? During the webinar, Ionescu says sustainability was ranked very highly by members as a source of value and an area in which they wished to see leadership from the SCA. “But what we never did in this survey was to ask any follow-up questions about how that was interpreted or how that was being defined by members,” she says. “What kind of leadership do they want to see?” Veide says she was heartened by the number of respondents who reported someone in their organisation dedicated to sustainability, but acknowledges there was no indication of what that means, or even what sustainability means to them. “When we talk about sustainability in the industry, does worker safety fall into that or do we need to define what is sustainability in our industry more narrowly so that we have a common language?” she asks. When the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) unified as the SCA in January 2017, one of the features of the new organisation was the launch of the SCA Sustainability Centre, and its staff and volunteers will continue to review the survey and its findings, and explore the priorities in sustainability that were identified. Three of the top four areas identified as major concerns for respondents – climate change (29 per cent), labour concerns (25 per cent), and inequitable or volatile markets (12 per cent) are already the focus of the Sustainability Centre but the fourth, concern about the lack of 'next generation' farmers (15 per cent), doesn't have a dedicated working group at the Centre, but is being addressed at SCA major events. The survey report states that the Centre should consider this latter theme going forward, as well as considering the interdependence of sustainability issues. “The biggest threats are interdependent,” Veide says  in the webinar. “It's not really possible to address any of the threats in isolation,” Ionescu adds. The survey also identified that SCA members expect the association to play a significant role in educating and informing the industry – a historical strength of both the SCAA and SCAE – and also educating and informing consumers. As the association members are not consumers but those involved in the industry, meeting this clear desire from members without mission creep will require some thought and creativity on the part of the SCA. The sustainability-focused survey was the first of its kind for the association and has provided both a wealth of knowledge and an indication of what questions remain to be asked. Ionescu tells Global Coffee Report that another survey would help refine the data and she would love to add sustainability-specific questions informed by the current results into the next general member survey, which will be designed in the next year. “Meanwhile,” she says, “we'll continue to share these results with stakeholder groups – including a meeting hosted by the Sustainability Centre at the upcoming SCA Expo in Seattle, the Coffee Roasters Guild, the Barista Guild, and others – for their reactions and to understand what information would be most useful to know.”

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