Sustainability Report to Debut at Avance, SCA’s First Sustainability Conference

WWhat We’ve Learned From Asking Our Members

By Kim Elena Ionescu

In the early days of 2017, the SCA sent out a survey to all our members on the subject of sustainability. The survey asked questions about challenges to the sustainability of the coffee industry, about how respondents interpret sustainability in the context of their businesses, as well as what the role of the SCA should be. Most of these questions were framed to encourage long-form responses—sustainability doesn’t lend itself to simple answers—and given the time required to complete such questions thoughtfully, we were thrilled to receive more than 600 responses to the survey before officially closing it at the end of February.

Since then, we have been parsing data and comments from these 623 survey responses, and while we have not yet finished, we are eager to share some early results, including some surprises. For example, the third question asked, “does your company identify a person responsible for leading sustainability efforts?” and more than 60% of respondents affirmed that their companies do have someone in that role. When I realized that figure would imply that more than 300 companies in our community had a sustainability manager, or director, or even someone with multiple roles including sustainability – our membership includes a lot of small companies – I felt invigorated. And while sustainability titles won’t protect us from the effects of climate change, nor reduce our contributions to it, they are an indicator of our evolving views on the responsibility and influence of coffee businesses.

Those views are at the heart of our reasoning for conducting this survey in the first place, as well as for the creation of a Sustainability Center in the unified SCA. General member surveys in recent years have shown that our members rank sustainability high on their list of priorities, but we never asked what that meant to them or what they wanted from the association. And it would be a shame to codify the mission of a new Center dedicated to the sustainability of the coffee industry without asking the community for input, because while we face enormous challenges, but our community also contains multitudes of creative, collaborative, problem-solving people who are acting every day to make coffee better.

Over the second half of 2017, the Advisory Council to the Sustainability Center and its passionate volunteers will use these responses from members to shape the Center’s strategy for 2018 and beyond. Results from the survey will be presented at Avance, the first sustainability conference of the SCA, which will occur in Guatemala City, Guatemala, between October 11th and 13th, with a report to follow. Stay tuned for a deeper look into the issues, activities, and opportunities that are most important to specialty coffee’s future.

Kim Elena Ionescu is the Chief Sustainability Officer of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).