What sustainability means to me
WHAT I USED TO THINK
When I first started drinking coffee, I believed the combination of reusable cups, Fair Trade and recyclable packaging was the peak of sustainability. I proudly supported any company that promoted these initiatives and recommended them to everybody I knew. In my mind, these were highly responsible businesses, doing everything they could to make the world a better place – how innocent I was.
Like many other people, I’d been swept up by the idea that I was drinking ‘sustainable coffee’ and doing my part to help bring about change. Unfortunately, sustainability isn’t that simple and clean cut. Sure, these initiatives have an element of protecting the environment and improving farmer’s income, but the problems facing our industry run much deeper than that. If all we do is focus on reusable cups and certifications, we risk overlooking the more complicated issues that are jeopardising the industry.
OPENING MY EYES
After working in the coffee industry for a number of years, I began to open my eyes to a growing list of adversities. Diving deeper into sustainability introduced me to dramatic coffee price fluctuations, an ageing population of farmers, increasing production costs on farms, pests & diseases destroying crops, carbon emissions throughout the industry, increased deforestation, a growing inequality in the global coffee value chain – and the list goes on.
To make things more complicated, whenever I took a closer look into any one of these issues, the flood gates opened and a whole series of associated problems emerged. Needless to say, it was overwhelming trying to wrap my head around all of this, but it became clear to me just how vulnerable the coffee industry is.
Since starting my role as Sustainability Manager at Calendar, I’ve come to recognise the sheer complexity and all-encompassing nature of what makes an industry sustainable. I quickly began to realise the challenge of addressing any one issue in particular, because so many of the problems are deeply interlinked. For instance, it’s extremely unfair to demand organic, shade grown coffee from farmers that aren’t getting paid enough to initiate and maintain these labour intensive methods.
Another challenge is measuring our impact. We can’t improve the way we do business if we don't understand or recognise the flaws in our own operations. We know we must be willing to pay more for our green beans, but how much more? How do we guarantee the producers we work with receive a sustainable price for their coffee? We can’t answer these questions without first understanding the complexities of the supply chain, and our role in it.
As Sustainability Manager, it’s my responsibility to raise awareness and help create solutions to some of the issues facing our industry today. There's a real need to keep a dialogue going around these topics to prevent us becoming complacent - something I believe is a real threat to sustainability. We can’t just sit back and hope that others will take care of the more complex issues.
WHAT SUSTAINABILITY MEANS TO ME
A sustainable industry ensures balance between social development, environmental protection and economic growth without negatively affecting future generations - in other words: benefiting People, Planet and Profit with no harm done. Achieving this balance is a lot easier said than done though.
One of the tougher things I've had to come to terms with is there will never be a “we fixed it” moment, where everything is in perfect harmony and will stay that way forever. The truth is, there will always be things outside our control that’ll come to rock the boat. Fortunately, we’re not in this alone. There are a number of companies that have stepped up to these challenges already, and their efforts have been truly inspiring. They’ve shown me the importance of perseverance and honesty, and what it takes to bring about meaningful change.
My experience at Calendar has given me a whole new perspective on what sustainability actually looks like - it’s an ongoing process, not a final destination. It requires constant monitoring, responsible decision making, and taking full accountability for our actions. As we aim to build a better future for coffee, this is a journey we’re proudly committing ourselves to at Calendar. We have lots of work to do, but I’m convinced bringing sustainability to the forefront of our decision making will give us the ability to make a genuine difference, not only to Calendar, but to the industry we're so grateful to be part of.