THE IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABILITY IN BUSINESS OPERATIONS
Estelle MacGilp, Green Coffee Buyer
What is sustainability?
There is no single definition for sustainability. It is generally viewed as an integrated approach that focuses on environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality, for now and future generations. If implemented correctly, it requires a systematic approach that recognises the complexities of the factors involved and the connections between them. It should be at the core of any organisation's activities and championed throughout.
What does Sustainability Mean to Business Today?
Sustainability is no longer simply a buzzword to be included in sales and marketing material or incorporated purely for compliance but should be considered a fundamental part of the business plan. It must have true value and focussed objectives across the business operation whether it’s a small independent business or a multi-national. It is important for every business to view sustainability holistically and consider not just their own activities but the impact on all the individuals and organisations they interact with.
The benefits of a robust approach to sourcing sustainably are often costs that can’t easily be identified but are more intrinsic and long-term, such as a strong brand image and customer loyalty. Sharing the benefits of paying for a product sourced with a true focus on sustainability can add real value to the business.
How can certifications help?
Buying coffee with a certification attached is one way to provide assurance that the coffee has been sourced from farms that are audited to meet specific requirements. Whether the certification is organic, Rainforest Alliance Fairtrade or other, the standards will be different but the requirements for each will be uniform whether sourcing from a farm in Ethiopia or Honduras. Implementing these standards and ensuring they are met by producer organisations inevitably comes at a cost. However, when we understand the long-term benefits and proactively share these with our customers, we can begin to understand the importance of paying more for our coffee beans. In addition, the care, attention, and commitment by producers to operate according to these specific social and environmental standards often translates to improved quality over time. Working closely with Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance for many years, we reached out to two of our key contacts to explain why they believe consideration should be given to their certification when making buying decisions:
"Fairtrade and sustainability are intrinsically linked because Fairtrade empowers farmers and workers to improve their living standards, their communities’ welfare and our shared environment. Fair prices are an immediate lifeline for vulnerable coffee farmers at times of need, enabling them to invest long-term in production, community and environmental projects to create a fairer, better world. Fair standards and practices promote sustainable farming to protect biodiversity and the environment, while building climate resilience. In addition, with young people turning away from the coffee industry due to very low earnings and precarious prospects, Fairtrade invests in ways to make coffee farming more attractive to this generation and the next.’" Emma Mullins, Senior Supply Chain and Programme Manager, Fairtrade
“Coffee tastes better when it contributes to a more sustainable world. This is also reflected in a growing awareness among consumers who want to trust that their coffee is produced with respect for people and nature. Certification schemes, such as the one from the Rainforest Alliance, play an important role to solve some of the most pressing social and environmental issues of our time. Buying Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee helps to protect forests, improve the lives of coffee farmers and their families, and help them adapt to the climate crisis. The little green frog seal is well-recognised by consumers around the world as a trusted symbol of environmental, social and economic sustainability.” Michel Harms, Senior Associate, Markets Transformation, UK & IE, Rainforest Alliance
Adapting to the Future
There is no right or wrong choice when selecting which coffee product to buy but it would be reassuring to think that sustainability plays a part in this choice and that the decision goes beyond simply the price.
Decision-makers should seek to understand the differences in price between products and where possible investigate the true value of these further down the supply chain and then communicate this to their own customers. With developments in technology, there is now more customer awareness and higher expectations around organisations and their approach to sourcing sustainably.
The businesses that find innovative ways to share these values and celebrate success will inevitably be the ones whose businesses thrive.
Covid-19 has created new challenges, businesses have had to be creative and adapt to new ways of working. If ever there had been an opportunity for change and creating a new and ambitious business plan with a strong focus on ethics, then now is the time. We must be able to react quickly, take ownership of our commitment to sustainability and take our own customers on the journey.
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About Estelle MacGilp
Green Coffee Buyer at Matthew Algie
Estelle sources and selects all of our amazing coffees. She is a certified Q-grader with more than 20 years of experience in coffee sourcing. She has cupped thousands of coffees from all over the world and enjoyed many a trip to origin.
Estelle understands the full supply chain: the importance of each and every step along the way, and what this brings to the final cup. There isn't much Estelle doesn't know or love about coffee!