Reframing the Sustainability Debate
Business Benefits of Sustainability
Companies that commit to sustainability and proactively implement sustainability practices experience measurable benefits to their bottom line. In the McDonald’s Sweden case, consumers recognized the company’s newfound commitment to sustainability and improved public image has led to increased sales and a competitive advantage in the fast-food market. Taking steps to reduce waste and to use energy and resources more efficiently led to reduced capital costs and reduced operating costs. Companies that adopt TNS can also reduce their liability risks since use of hazardous products and contaminants are eliminated from production processes.
Creative companies make headlines with innovative practices, and new business opportunities often result when communities become aware of a corporation’s environmental commitments. Increased employee satisfaction often results from working for a company that has environmental commitments in alignment with employee concerns. Personal and professional satisfaction from “doing the right thing” is icing on the cake.
Creating A Sustainable Future For The Coffee Industry
The key to moving toward sustainability on an industry-wide basis is to reach a consensus about core issues and then devise cooperative solutions toward realizing defined goals. A framework such as The Natural Step provides the parameters for taking meaningful action and measuring progress throughout the journey.
In our individual businesses, as for the industry, we must first evaluate where we are and where we want to go. Once we determine our ultimate goal, then it is possible to map out the necessary steps to get there. The first steps will be defined to yield immediate tangible results, such as waste reduction and more efficient energy use. Intermediate goals typically take more planning and resource investment.
Companies throughout the coffee industry have been taking action to decrease their impact on the environment. These actions can be evaluated as part of the TNS framework of system conditions:
- Substances from the earth’s crust must not systematically increase in the biosphere. How do we decrease and eventually eliminate use of products from the earth’s crust?
- Coffee Kids project with solar coffee dryers is an example of a creative solution to eliminate the use of natural gas and wood burning dryer heat of conventional coffee dryers.
- In the case of coffee roasters, utilizing alternative fuels (bio-diesel, ethanol or fuels of sustainable origin) for vehicles that deliver products to customers, would substantially decrease the use of petroleum based fuels.
- Substances produced by society must not systematically increase in the biosphere. How can we decrease the amount of man-made substances that we make and put into the Earth?
- Organic farming is one example of eliminating the use of man-made chemicals and their release into the biosphere.
- Taylor Maid Coffee has a vermiculture program whereby retailers return their spent coffee grounds (otherwise destined for the landfill) to the company for composting using worms as bio-transforming agents of waste into useful fertilizer.
- Roasters can demand that their packaging suppliers provide them with solutions to the packaging dilemma of how to preserve freshness in a package that is recyclable, reusable, or degradable.
- The physical basis for the productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically diminished. Do the products we use or make preserve our physical ecosystems?
- The shade coffee initiative impacts the preservation of forest and habitat for migratory birds and wildlife.
- Costa Rica implemented an aggressive program for reduced water usage in all wet mills throughout the country. The program decreased the total amount of water used by five times, and totally eliminated the dumping of mills’ contaminated waters into the river system.
- We must be fair and efficient in meeting basic human needs. Are our business practices fair and equitable?
These pioneering strategies have yielded positive results for the organizations that have implemented them. While these and many other existing practices demonstrate important efforts for sustainability within individual companies, there are still countless opportunities for further meaningful steps to be taken toward a sustainable future for the entire coffee industry with impacts which will resonate far and wide in the coming years.
- Companies engaging in Fair Trade (see next month’s article on Social Responsibility) purchase coffees at a fair price directly from small farmer groups, thus helping them meet their basic human needs and at the same time encourage them to maintain and improve their sustainable styles of farming.
“Coffee has the unique ability to connect our daily routine with sustaining the planet,” says David Griswold, president of Sustainable Harvest and chair of the SCAA Environment Committee. “When we tell the extraordinary story behind a seemingly ordinary cup, the journey of coffee from seed to cup, the opportunities for sustainability become clear. At every stage, we can choose production and consumption practices that are environmentally sound and socially responsible.” And choosing such practices now more than ever generates a competitive advantage and new business opportunities that impact the bottom line.
Kimberly Easson is president of JavaVentures, a marketing consulting firm with a mission to strengthen the relationship between coffee producing and consuming countries. JavaVentures also offers educational coffee tours to Latin America and Hawaii, and tours to the U.S. for coffee producers. Kimberly has been an active coffee industry professional for more than eight years, four of which were spent in Costa Rica. Kimberly can be reached at: Tel:(1)(415)824-1484, Fax: (1)(415)264-8121, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tea & Coffee - March 2000
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