Introducing the SCA Coffee Sustainability Program

Introducing the SCA Coffee Sustainability Program

The Specialty Coffee Association’s new Coffee Sustainability Program is founded on the principle that sustainability must be embraced by all actors in the coffee supply chain if the specialty coffee industry is to survive and thrive.

As expectations for greater transparency and corporate responsibility grow in the industry, companies are rapidly increasing the size of their sustainability teams and seeking knowledgeable, experienced leaders to forge their path forward.

SCA’s Coffee Sustainability Program is designed to prepare learners at every level of the coffee supply chain to become competitive in this growing job field. 

“The SCA saw a need for this curriculum for many reasons – increase in dedicated sustainability positions, faster growth by companies (including but not limited to coffee companies) with a sustainability focus/mandate, interest of younger people in working for companies with values that match theirs – and also because of the threats that specialty coffee production (and by extension, the entire industry) is facing. Many of these threats have been building across generations but require action by this generation for the industry to have a viable future. As specialty coffee has gone mainstream, so have its thorniest issues, and with popular press articles regularly questioning the value that farmers derive from the product they grow, the labels used to communicate sustainability to consumers, and whether or not we’ll even have coffee worth drinking in 30 years, it’s reasonable to expect that anyone working in a coffee job needs a working knowledge of these issues.” Kim Elena Ionescu, SCA Chief Sustainability Officer

Why Coffee Sustainability?

A 2018 GreenBiz report showed that the number of sustainability personnel in facilities has grown by 15 percentage points since 2014, and the number of sustainability people in supply chain departments has gone up even more, by 21 percentage points. Not surprisingly, the size of sustainability teams is also growing: 41 percent of report respondents at large companies said their team increased in the past two years.

“The SCA Coffee Sustainability Program will help learners become more competitive in their existing lines of work as more and more companies, employers, and organizations crave greater integration of sustainability within their existing modes of doing business.” Nora Burkey, Founder and Executive Director, The Chain Collaborative, Coffee Sustainability Program Content Creator

Courses listed are each a prerequisite for higher-level courses.

Foundation Level

The program’s first course covers the major sustainability issues facing the coffee industry today and offers baseline knowledge of what the term ‘sustainability’ means, how it is connected to power dynamics, current and historical events, and practices, as well as a variety of coffee projects. The course is designed to have broad applications and appeal for people who are new to the coffee industry, or people who have been in coffee for a long time and want a better grasp on sustainability in the value chain. Learners can expect to take away the skills and knowledge they need to begin to make meaningful change within their own company or prepare to participate in the Intermediate or Professional courses.

Career focus: This course is ideal for coffee professionals who are interesting in growing their knowledge of sustainability to become better stewards of sustainability within their current role or company or develop new skills to help support existing initiatives or goals. Anyone working in coffee would benefit from this course.  

Intermediate Level

This level introduces learners to global sustainability challenges and prepares learners to begin thinking analytically about the impact they’d like to make in the sector. By exploring a variety of initiatives within the coffee supply chain, participants will develop the ability to better assess several current sustainability goals, practices, and measures of success, and critically analyze the major issues facing specialty coffee in the twenty-first century. As part of the curriculum of this program, learners will develop a preliminary plan to move forward on a sustainability initiative within their own context.

Career focus: The Intermediate level is ideal for coffee professionals who are currently working in a sustainability-focused role or are seeking to evolve into that job focus, as well as those who might be considered to lead a sustainability initiative within their company or who are interested in developing the skills needed to launch a sustainability-focused project.

Professional Level

This level offers an intensive, practical experience in which learners design, carry out, and assess their own sustainability project in accordance with their individual, organizational, or business goals and capabilities. The course is designed to be taught over a period of several months, with in-class sessions (online or in-person) to support students as they design, carry out, and asses their projects. Learners are also required to seek mentors for their work at this level. By successfully completing the Professional Level, students will be able to successfully identify measures of accountability, success, and progress within sustainability projects and programs. They will engage extensively with current debates, policies, and practices of sustainability throughout multiple points of the value chain. In addition, the Professional course prepares students to serve as advocates for intelligent sustainability research, project, or business programming across the coffee industry by making educated choices about trade-offs, sustainability costs, and concepts. Upon passing the Professional level, students are expected to serve as mentors for future students also taking the Professional level course.

Career focus: The Professional-level course is designed for leaders in sustainability or those with a focus on a sustainability career at the management level or above. Learners completing this course would have the skills and training expected to serve their company or organization as a Sustainability Director, lead an NGO project, or function as an advocate within the industry. 

 “A coffee professional can have an endless impact by working in this field. At the Professional level in the program, students not only define and pilot their own projects, they learn how to measure and communicate the impact of their project. And, they learn during Foundation and Intermediate a) how to ensure their projects consider all elements of sustainability (social, economic, environmental), b) how to ensure ethical marketing of those projects, and c) how to account for and predict “unintended consequences.” The idea is that they learn how to make an impact in their own context (whatever that context may be), measure it, and share it ethically. We are also encouraging research projects as part of the Coffee Sustainability Program at the Professional level, so one of the greater industry-wide impacts would be the ultimate availability of more sustainability research.”

Nora Burkey, Founder and Executive Director, The Chain Collaborative, Coffee Sustainability Program Content Creator

Learn more about this program by visiting our website and search for courses in your area by visiting our class calendar.