In the mid-1990s, before most industries were tackling sustainability, specialty coffee companies came together with NGOs and research institutions to address issues such as shade-grown coffee, organics and Fair Trade. 1996 marked the First Sustainable Coffee Congress at the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Four years later, Paul Hawken, in his keynote address at the 2000 Sustainable Coffee Conference in San Francisco, noted that he’d never seen an industry take on sustainability so honestly and holistically.
Since then, the specter of multiple, compounding issues has risen, threatening the viability of coffee production and processing throughout the world: climate change, water scarcity, ongoing food insecurity and poverty, population pressure and the land use shifts, human migrations and geopolitical turbulence that can result.
This new global context has spurred many to begin asking tough questions: Are our current solutions oriented towards the problems of fifteen years ago, versus problems of today, or the future? How can we define or prioritize the key issues? What would the right approaches look like? Should we be coordinating our efforts and measuring impact? Do we intend to talk a big game or make a real difference?