17 million farmers, 2 billion cups drunk each day: why coffee sustainability matters

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world. Over 2 billion cups of coffee are drunk every day, from takeaway cups hastily gulped down on the way to warming mugs drunk at home while reading a good book. But how often do you think about the journey the coffee beans took to get to your cup – or the millions of people who make it happen?

What does ‘sustainable coffee’ mean?

True coffee sustainability can be measures across three axes: environmental, social and economic. There is already a lot of great work being done to make coffee more sustainable – in fact, over $350 million is invested into coffee sustainability each year. 

While this shows there is a real commitment to building sustainability, it also means that there are a lot of projects and activities going on, which means sometimes many people and organizations are working on the same thing, while other issues or areas get overlooked. That is why a global, coordinated view is so important.  We bring the whole sector together so that we can agree on goals and the priority issues we need to address in order to achieve these shared goals. 

So, what exactly would a sustainable coffee sector look like?

Economically sustainable:

Over 17 million farmers around the world grow coffee, and they and their families rely on coffee to support their livelihoods. 

However, many coffee farmers struggle to make an adequate living from coffee. If this continues, eventually they will stop growing coffee and swap to other more profitable crops. Therefore, it is important for coffee to be economically sustainable and for coffee farmers to improve income from coffee through optimum productivity, improved quality, improved supply chain efficiency and increasing demand for sustainable coffee. 

Environmentally sustainable: 

Coffee only thrives in specific climates and soils. If the weather is only slightly too warm or cold, or too wet or dry, the plants are more susceptible to disease and yields can plummet. This means that it is very sensitive to climate change. 

For coffee to be environmentally sustainable, it is essential for coffee farmers to be able to adapt to climate change, as well as reducing the impact of coffee on natural resources by using less water, protecting the soil and reducing deforestation.

Socially sustainable: 

Coffee is often an essential source of income for rural communities. However, the benefits of coffee farming are often not perceived as attractive by young people, and women often do not enjoy the same access to information and other resources. 

Socially sustainable coffee  means improving opportunities for all people participating in the coffee sector, including young people and women, better working conditions and improved access to health and education.

What are we doing to help?

As a membership organization, at GCP we support our members to work together to take effective action to make the sector more sustainable. Our members come from over 40 countries, and include traders, roasters, producers, NGOs and others, and we work closely with governments in coffee-producing countries. By working together with public and private bodies towards goals we all agree on, we help to make sure that the time and effort invested into sustainable coffee around the world have the most impact possible.

We’re bringing together people and organizations who care about similar issues like climate change, gender & youth inclusion and the economic viability of farming. In practical terms, this means things like working with partners to support industry actors to design gender engagements in their supply chain, or performing a quick scan to build an updated overview of farmer economics data and supply chain structures in 11 coffee-producing countries. Collaborating and aligning investments means that there is less duplication and fragmentation, which means more progress where it really matters. 

If you’re interested in joining us on the journey towards a sustainable coffee sector, find out how to join the Global Coffee Platform here.