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Without Sustainability, Coffee Roaster Says Industry Is At Risk

When it comes to sustainability, Italian coffee roaster Illy says that sustainability and fairness are the most critical factor it examines as it does business with other nations. In an interview with Fast Company, its chief executive Andrea Illy says that his company cultivates a relationship with coffee producers. And it starts by paying them a premium for their efforts under fair trade standards.

“Fair Trade is based not on sustainability but solidarity,” the magazine story says, capturing the executive’s remarks. “Which means that you pay an extra price on top of the official market price in order to make sure that there is enough margin. It’s a purely purely philanthropic goal—like giving money to an NGO, which then takes care of the social needs of those populations. The consumer doesn’t necessarily get higher quality in exchange of this premium price.”

“There’s still a long way to go before to make this industry really sustainable,” adds Illy. “Now the threat to be addressed very quickly is climate change.”

Helping fix climate change is one of the things that the industry needs to be part of, he continues. That’s because global warming is having an effect on agriculture, pointing that the Columbia University Earth Institute found that up to 50% of the currently available land today might dissipate by 2050. At that time, Illy says that the demand for coffee will be double what it is today.

“Coffee is a perennial crop that needs four years for the plant to become fully productive and the average life of one coffee plant is 30 years,” the magazine says, paraphrasing Illy. “That means that we need to renew, in one cycle, most of the coffee plantations.”

It means getting more involved in climate change efforts by fundraising, educating the populace and employing cutting edge technologies. “This means immediately addressing the problem of water management, irrigation, etc.,” he told the magazine.

The private sector has to be the motivating force, the executive continued. It has to lead. Government will then follow.

Indeed, private enterprise is the cornerstones to success. But companies need policymakers to find a common purpose — to join the public and private sectors to optimize both knowledge and capital.

Government has always been involved in creating sustainable societies through subsidies or outright grants. To maintain otherwise is to ignore the national investments in wind turbines, solar panels, battery technologies and the smart grid that seeks to avoid brownouts and facilitate renewables.

“We would never get large scale infrastructure without serious public regulations and public finance,” says Jeremy Oppenheim, program director for the New Climate Economy project, in an interview with this reporter. “Private capital then comes in alongside that. What history tells us is that it will always be a combination of the two.”

The world wakes up to coffee. Now it needs to wake up the realities that the coffee industry potentially faces.

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