Seeking Sustainability: COSA Preliminary Analysis of Sustainability Initiatives in the Coffee Sector
Committee on Sustainability Assessment, 2008
48 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2009 Last revised: 28 Mar 2015
Date Written: October 5, 2008
The growing consumer popularity and economic value of sustainability standards inevitably raise questions about the extent to which they actually address many environmental, economic and public welfare issues - particularly at the producer and community levels. Any credible measure of systems such as organic, fair trade, or the many newer public and private initiatives, must address metrics across the economic, environmental and social spectrum. This is important in order to offer a multi-faceted view of sustainability that reflects the intentions and results of the Bellagio Principles, Agenda 21, and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, not to mention the stated intentions of the initiatives themselves.
The limited work in this area to date suggests the level of difficulty in finding useful indicators that can be consistently measured, especially in developing countries with only modest budgets and time in the field. The challenge facing the consortium of global organizations that form the Committee on Sustainable Assessment (COSA) was to design an innovative metrology, based on sound scientific processes and considerable participatory consultations with a wide group of stakeholders that range from producer organizations and NGOs to international agencies, scientists, and the private sector.
After 4 years of design and testing to develop a scientifically credible framework capable of assessing the most important impacts associated with the adoption of sustainability initiatives, this report presents the first findings from the testing fieldwork in five countries. It suggests that the actual effects are not always what may be expected and the cost/benefit ratio of such undertakings can vary considerably depending on several contextual factors. The findings are preliminary results of pilot efforts and thus are not yet at a statistically significant scale to permit firm conclusions.
Some preliminary observations include that certified farms that were assessed generally appear to be better off economically (net income) than their conventional counterparts, but the gap can be narrow. With respect to social parameters, certified farms appear to have distinctly better occupational health and safety, employee relations and labour rights performance. With respect to many of the environmental parameters measured there is only modest early evidence that certification had a significant effect on the environment over the first two years of certification — possibly due to the lag time between implementation of practices and environmental impact. Ongoing, full-scale assessments will expand to different crops and countries and feed a database formulated and maintained by the UN’s International Trade Centre in Geneva.
Keywords: sustainability initiatives, impact assessment, standards, organic, fair trade, Rainforest, social, environmental, economic, certification, M&E
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