Highlights of NCA’s Coffee Summit from SCAA Director of Sustainability

The National Coffee Association (NCA) Coffee Summit, held at the end of last month in Austin, Texas, was dedicated to sustainability discussions and digging deeper into key issues for the coffee industry. Participants split their time among activities that included self-directed group discussions, learning exchanges, directed interactive forums, traditional presentations, and more. Session topics included Sustainability Beyond OriginSingle-Serve and its Journey to a Sustainable Future, China’s Water Risks and Sustainable Coffee Production, Assessing Coffee’s True Sustainability: Will it overwhelm our industry?, and Young Coffee Drinkers and Expectations for Sustainably Sourced Coffee.

kei bioSCAA’s Director of Sustainability Kim Elena Ionescu was in attendance. We asked her about her experience at this event, and here’s what she had to say:

What were your biggest takeaways from the sessions at this event?

I have met a lot of people and had a lot of great conversations about sustainability in a decade’s worth of SCAA Expos, and I am always interested in hearing from people whose perspectives on coffee and sustainability are different than mine. For this event, the format promoted discussion in small groups, so I really felt like I got to know other attendees. NCA member companies are typically larger than SCAA member companies, and some of these big brands have been around for generations, weathering boom-and-bust cycles for coffee that we–in our comparatively young industry–struggle to imagine. They are equally interested in sustainability, but more cautious in embracing its trendy implications and more firmly rooted in the business case, and that’s a great thing for idealists to remember. As far as a takeaway, I am energized by the feeling that EVERYONE is thinking about sustainability. We use different terms and have different priorities, but it feels like we’re on the cusp of it being impossible to ignore.

Tracy_Ging_QuoteWho was the most influential speaker to you and why?

Any time Tracy Ging is on the speaker list, I know I’m going to learn something. At this event, Tracy presented about generational transition and younger consumers’ perceptions of sustainability. For the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “invest in trust,” and how we can act on that idea at the industry level, as well as within individual companies. I also made sure to write down the e-mail address of Jennifer Turner from the Wilson Center, who spoke energetically and compellingly about water scarcity and water pollution in the Yunnan region of China, which I ended up researching from the airport the next day.

Water in China
Presentations can be downloaded here.

Which topic/issue spoken about at the conference are you most passionate about?

Asking me to choose a favorite topic at a conference about sustainability feels kind of like asking to pick a favorite child–how can I possibly pick just one when I appreciate all of these topics for different reasons? That said, I think that my favorite topic was one that wasn’t actually on the agenda but came up in discussions during the lectures, at coffee breaks, and while tucking into plates of brisket, which was: how do we create a better shared language for coffee and sustainability so that we know what we’re talking about to each other and when we speak on behalf of coffee to the wider world?