Sustainability is a cornerstone of Cooperative Coffees’ business philosophy. We foster long-term relationships with farmers as partners in trade. We believe coffee, when properly produced and traded, can provide significant climate solutions.
Today is Earth Day and a good day to announce Cooperative Coffees’ plans for a net-zero carbon footprint through our Carbon, Climate, and Coffee initiative. I encourage you to visit our new CarbonClimateandCoffee.com website and sign up for updates on our progress. However, before jumping into all that, I’d like to discuss our journey so far.
Cooperative Coffees’ impact fund was created to address barriers in our supply chain we cannot solve through trade. 3 cents/pound on all coffee sales are invested into this fund, with oversight managed by a committee of our roaster-members. Since 2015, over USD $900,000 has been invested into producer-led projects in coffee communities who supply us with high quality green coffee.
The producers we work with define the focus of our impact investments, and have consistently cited climate change, soil health, and increasing yields as top challenges facing their organizations. We learned from our partners that promoting regenerative soils and organic practices provides solutions for many challenges facing independent smallholder farmers (solutions like increased yields, higher quality/prices, pest/climate resilience, diversification of crops, food sovereignty, increased income, reforestation, etc). However, the greater gift of this work is the ability of independent farmers to mitigate the global effects of climate change as healthier soils also sequester more carbon from the atmosphere.
Recent research shows that 570 million Independent smallholder farms represent 94% of all farming business, but occupy only 17% of global farmland. Like many in the coffee industry, we believe producer cooperatives are the most accessible and scalable method of engaging with smallholder farmers, and that Fairtrade and Organic certifications are essential tools to assure organizational best practices in providing social and environmental impact to their producer-members. In short, we work with some of the best smallholder farmer organizations in the world and believe promoting their collective work is key to global climate solutions.
This understanding is the basis of our Carbon, Climate, and Coffee initiative. Smallholder producers are the solution to climate change, not the cause. Paying them for their environmental efforts is key to promoting carbon sequestering activities they currently perform while incentivising more effort in the future.
There are three components to our Carbon, Climate, and Coffee initiative.
Measure Our Carbon Footprint
As with much of Cooperative Coffees’ work, an important first step is to measure our own impact before reaching out to our supply partners. In 2017, our member-roasters started filling out carbon calculators to measure our collective carbon footprint from shipping ports, through ocean freight, all the way to where they sold and delivered coffee to customers. We continue to refine this tool, making it easier for our staff and membership to report on our carbon footprint annually.
But this calculation omits the scope of activities happening on coffee farms. Experience tells us that organic coffee producers sequester more carbon in their soil than they produce. However, our next step was to focus on a cost effective way to measure this and provide producer organizations with a tool to develop environmental services that sequester more carbon on the farm. In 2020, with the generous support of InterAmerican Development Bank (IDB), we joined forces with Cool Farm Tool, Root Capital, Chain Collaborative, and long- standing producer partners CENFROCAFE, COMSA, Manos Campesinas, Norandino, Pangoa, and Sol & Café to customize Cool Farm Tool’s Carbon Calculator perennials module for coffee farms. The primary objectives of this project are to:
- Introduce and scale this farm-based, carbon capture measurement tool
- Track the carbon sequestration on individual farmer’s plots
- Highlight a set of practices that are proving most effective
- Identify vulnerable areas where farmers could intensify their application of regenerative organic practices.
Initial results are in from these pilots and we will be reporting our findings in the coming months.
Invest at Source
Above, I started our carbon journey by talking about our Impact Fund being created to address challenges producers face that we cannot solve through trade. This fund has been a key compliment to IDB’s investment, paying producers for their efforts in implementing the Cool Farm Tool.
Our ultimate goal for this work is to internalize these investments into “carbon premiums” that are negotiated on all producer contracts. Those premiums will allow producer organizations to monitor, report, and reward producers for their carbon-smart agricultural practices and support innovation around greater carbon capturing on their farms. Remember, if we don’t pay producers for their carbon capturing efforts we are treating them as the cause of climate change, not the global solution they are.
Encourage Climate Action
Transparency is a core value of Cooperative Coffees’ work and a key tool in how we help influence the coffee industry. Want to know what we pay producer organizations? You can view producer contracts on our FairTradeProof.org site. Want to know details about our margin and how we spend it? Review these details in our Annual Report.
Our Carbon, Climate, and Coffee Initiative will use a similar approach. There are a growing number of carbon claims in the marketplace and Cooperative Coffees supports an open review of all industry work in this space. Assumptions we use to calculate our roasters’ carbon footprints will be published with our results. Reports on progress with our Cool Farm Tool pilots and decisions we make based on this data will be shared publicly.
But further than this, we encourage greater climate action in the industry because we need your help. On average, Cooperative Coffees buys 5% of producer organizations’ exportable volumes. While we believe our approach is a best-in-class model of how to partner with producer organizations equitably in climate change solutions, we lack the buying power to do this alone.
We invite all importers and roasters to join us in this work and encourage the industry to listen when producers mention “carbon premiums” in your negotiations.
Roadmap to Net-Zero Carbon
For the past few years, Cooperative Coffees has been balancing our science-based approach to climate solutions with our collective urgency for climate action. Today, we feel confident in our path to share with you what we have been working on and publicly set our milestone to be a net-zero carbon importing business and cooperative of roasters by 2025.
‘Invest in our planet’ is Earth Day’s theme this year. I’d further this slogan to ‘invest in the farmers who nurture the planet.’ They have the numbers and skills to implement global climate solutions, if we listen.
Ed Canty, General Manager
April 22, 2022