Can Coffee Become the World's First Sustainable Agricultural Product?


Paris/Arlington, Va. USA (December 1, 2015) Today, at the U.N. climate negotiations, Conservation International (CI) announced the launch of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge — a call to action to make coffee the first sustainable agricultural product in the world. The announcement comes as ministers gather to write a new climate agreement and as momentum builds for businesses to take direct action to combat climate change.

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge aims to transform coffee production, moving specialty and mainstream producers toward sustainability. It will convene industry, conservation and agricultural development partners to develop a common framework for sustainability in the coffee sector.  Over the next 100 days, CI will formalize engagement with partners for the Challenge, while developing a plan to drive the industry toward total sustainability. The initial plan of action will be unveiled to coincide with the 4th World Coffee Conference next March in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Currently, nearly half of the world's coffee is being produced according to a sustainability standard, a figure that does not yet account for a number of recent significant investments made by the sector to support farmers in their transition to more sustainable practices.  Yet only 12% was sold as sustainable coffee in the market. The Sustainable Coffee Challenge will work to strengthen demand for sustainably produced coffee and better account for progress made within the sector.

"We need a common definition of sustainability for the coffee sector," said Peter Seligmann, Chairman and CEO of Conservation International. "This will require commitments by roasters to support increased demand for sustainability. It will also require improved measurement of how far the sector has come in the sustainability journey — and just how far we have to go."

CI kicks off this challenge with key partners including Starbucks Coffee Company, Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, 4C Association, Allegro Coffee Company, Ceres, Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA), Counter Culture Coffee, ECOM Agroindustrial Corp. Ltd., Fairtrade America, Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade (FAST), Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS), Keurig Green Mountain Inc., Lutheran World Relief, Pelican Rouge Coffee Roasters B.V., S&D Coffee & Tea, Solidaridad and SustainAbility. 

 "The longevity of the coffee industry is directly linked to the social, economic and environmental conditions of coffee communities around the world and at Starbucks we are committed to sourcing all of our coffee in the most ethical way possible that is good for the planet," said Craig Russell, executive vice president, Starbucks Global Coffee. "We are proud to be a part of the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a call to action for the industry focused on creating meaningful and lasting solutions to ensure farmer and family livelihoods for generations to come."

"The Specialty Coffee Association of America has maintained a commitment to the support of sustainable coffee production for more than a decade as a core value of its members," said Ric Rhinehart, Executive Director of the SCAA. "We are pleased to demonstrate that commitment once again, and to drive for coffee to realize its potential as a fully sustainable crop.  This challenge can be met when we dedicate our efforts in transparent and collaborative initiatives like the Sustainable Coffee Challenge." 

"IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative and the Sustainable Coffee Program are excited by this partnership in the coffee sector which builds strongly on the broad public private Vision 2020 collaboration agreed earlier this year by ICO (International Coffee Organisation), 4C Association Platform and IDH (Program Management of the Sustainable Coffee Program SCP)," said Ted van der Put, Member of the Executive Board of IDH. "The Sustainable Coffee Challenge will enable greater coordination of efforts and effective use of resources as more coffee sector stakeholders deepen their commitment to long-term sustainable production. It also has a big potential to accelerate the interest of roasters globally to offtake sustainably produced coffee. " 

The Sustainable Coffee Challenge comes at a time when nearly every major coffee-producing region of the world is feeling the impacts of climate change. Even as consumer demand increases — people drink 600 billion cups of coffee every year, and the coffee industry is a US$ 22 billion business — warming temperatures, drought and changing weather patterns are affecting coffee production.

Yet the industry has a part to play in reversing climate change. Halting deforestation globally, including through fostering sustainable farming practices in coffee production, can provide more than 30% of the carbon sequestration and storage needed to limit global temperature rise to safe levels.

As its plan goes into effect, the Challenge will stimulate economic development across the industry and benefit the lives of 25 million coffee producers, the majority of whom are small-scale farmers. It will also provide environmental benefits, including the conservation of vital forests that help fight climate change by storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and also protect freshwater resources.


More on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge:

Available images for media can be found here.


For more information, contact:

Kevin Connor, Media Manager, Conservation International

Office +1 703 341 2405/ mobile +1 410 868 1369/ email

About Conservation International

Since 1987, Conservation International has been working to improve human well-being through the care of nature. With the guiding principle that nature doesn't need people, but people need nature for food, water, health and livelihoods—CI works with more than 1,000 partners around the world to ensure a healthy, more prosperous planet that supports the well-being of people. Learn more about CI and the "Nature Is Speaking" campaign, and follow CI's work on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

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