This is Where We Start

By Sarah Beaubien, with contributions by Al Liu, Mark Stell and Janice Nadworny

Historically, coffee has been a crop grown to satisfy the demand of the developed world at the cost of a lower quality of life for producing communities. We can look at this situation through one of two lenses: Coffee is a major cause of crisis in the world (mug is half empty) or coffee has the potential to alleviate much of the world’s poverty, hunger, and disease (mug is half full). Choosing the optimistic angle, we can aim to change millions of people’s lives by changing buying patterns and growing methodologies of the specialty coffee industry. Simple? No. Possible? Absolutely—if we collaborate as an industry.

Now, at this moment, the coffee industry has the tools, the energy, and the momentum to create a paradigm shift and redefine coffee as we know it. But, before we can change the coffee world, we have to measure our current baseline and concrete steps taken, so we can design our intentions around real information. We need a measurement tool. And, we have one: START.

This world-changing tool will be available on April 28, 2011. START (Sustainability Tracking and Reporting Tool) was developed to fit every member of the SCAA, regardless of your size or role in the coffee industry. Our goal is to have each and every SCAA member use it. Your contribution to START is extremely important to achieve the first of its kind, industry-wide, collective impact.

According to a 2006 UN Development Program study, coffee-growing regions in many countries are among the poorest in the world. START has the potential to firmly establish the specialty coffee industry as a global leader in socioeconomic development and environmental stewardship. To make this possible, SCAA staff and Sustainability Council representatives will be at the SCAA booth to provide START registration guidance, and tutorials will be offered throughout the Expo to introduce this game-changing, world-changing tool.

The History

START has been many years in the making. The seed was planted in 2004 in Atlanta, when British author and business and sustainability expert John Elkington challenged SCAA members to examine themselves within the larger context of international development. For millions of people around the world, who rely on coffee as their primary source of income, the downward shift in the market in 2001 and 2002 had significantly damaged their livelihoods. Elkington called on the SCAA to endorse the Global Compact, a United Nations program that encourages the private sector to participate in solving some of the challenges of globalization by promoting responsible corporate citizenship. The areas of the Global Compact are Human Rights, Labor Standards, Environment, and Anti-corruption.

On behalf of the SCAA, then-Executive Director Ted Lingle and then-President Rick Peyser signed the Global Compact in mid-2005, joining the ranks of other business associations, companies, NGOs, labor organizations, and academic institutions committed to implementing and advancing these principles. The SCAA board of directors, however, did not find the Global Compact standards to be ambitious in the context of specialty coffee since the industry had embraced many of these objectives since its founding. They took the additional step of endorsing the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as a framework to guide the Association’s efforts in the area of sustainability.

The MDGs are a separate United Nations initiative that focuses on reducing poverty, improving quality of life, ensuring environmental sustainability, and building partnerships to benefit marginalized people in the developing world. They are the product of the Millennium Declaration, which 185 heads of state signed following a summit in 2000. Accompanied by indicators and targets to achieve by 2015, the eight MDGs are:

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Achieve universal primary education
Promote gender equality and empower women
Reduce child mortality
Improve maternal health
Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
Ensure environmental sustainability
Develop a global partnership for development

The SCAA board immediately tasked the Sustainability Committee—now officially the Sustainability Council—with determining the Association’s response to the MDGs. In considering the broad, somewhat vague goals, the committee realized that many SCAA members already were working on these issues, either directly or indirectly. By sourcing coffee through certified or direct relationship channels, importers, roasters, and retailers were helping raise the standard of living for those involved in coffee production, whether at a small scale or on a larger farm. Donations made to organizations such as Coffee Kids, Grounds for Health, and others, were addressing the MDGs through the projects designed, implemented, and monitored by these nonprofits. A comprehensive inventory of these initiatives had not been conducted, however. As a result, awareness of the industry’s collective impact was limited and opportunities for collaboration missed.

In early 2008, a task force formed by the Sustainability Committee proposed the development of a database to compile and track existing sustainability-related projects in the specialty coffee industry and promote new ones. Later that year, the group learned of a highly sophisticated, Web-based tool called CRedit360 that specializes in tracking corporate social responsibility initiatives. So began a dialogue with the UK-based company with a proven track record with some of the world’s largest and most respected corporations. The task force decided that CRedit360 was the ideal platform for this project due to the sophistication of the core system, emphasis on indicators, and the opportunity to display the projects on an interactive map. The company expressed its strong interest in working with the SCAA, culminating in a presentation to a joint meeting of the Sustainability Committee and SCAA board of directors in January 2009. The task force, led by Mark Stell, Managing Partner of Portland Roasting, has worked closely with CRedit360 to customize and fine-tune this database.

The initial development of START would not have been possible without the generous contributions from:

Platinum Sponsor ($20,000)
Specialty Coffee Association of America

Gold Sponsors ($10,000)
Asociación Nacional del Café (Anacafé)
Coffee Bean International
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
Portland Roasting
Starbucks Coffee Company

Silver Sponsors ($5,000)
Café Imports
Reunion Island Coffee

Individual Donors
Linda & Ted Smithers ($200)

How START Can Help Us Change the Coffee World

START covers a wide range of sustainability issues, ranging from philanthropic activities to green coffee sourcing to carbon outputs. START allows users to: 1) provide data on their own sustainability-related projects; 2) track their progress based on a series of indicators; 3) generate reports on their own programs for internal and external use; and 4) view a geographical display of where SCAA members are working on MDG-related initiatives. More importantly, START can generate data about the Association’s impact on MDGs and global sustainability for reports to its members, the media, and consumers.

Any member of the coffee value chain can register at by clicking on Become a START User. An automatic welcome email will be sent following registration. In this email, a link will be provided to connect to the START database to begin entering information. By identifying themselves under a specific industry category (producer, roaster, or retailer), users are prompted to enter data on indicators relevant to their categories. Each indicator set has a separate template for each of the three previous years, allowing users to track their progress.

In the second phase of START, a bulletin board will be added as an additional feature of the tool for users to post and view development-related projects in coffee-growing communities that require financial and/or in-kind support. The potential for this portal is exciting, because it has the ability to match the non-profit/NGO community and project needs with the specialty coffee industry’s resources and interests, leading to new, effective and impactful partnerships to address MDGs. Additional funding will be required for this phase, as well as offering START in Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages.

START is an amazing example of the potential for network effect—the more we contribute to it, the stronger it becomes. Ideally, every member of the SCAA will be play an active role participating in START, and our industry will be the first to have a real and lasting impact on alleviating poverty and stewarding our environmental resources.

As Product Innovation Manager at Coffee Bean International, Sarah dovetails brand strategy, product development, and tactical implementation. Through an innovative lens, she drives the sustainability movement, guides direct trade projects, and manages coffee and tea rationalization.