Olam Coffee is setting its first-ever public sustainability targets.
By 2025, Olam Coffee is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 15% and implement deforestation remediation plans by planting 5 million trees, saving 1 million cubic meters of water and improving the soil health by more than 20,000 hectares. The company also will train 100,000 households on sustainable agricultural practices and promote vocational agriculture training to 10,000 young people in the next five years.
Juan Antonio Rivas, senior vice president of coffee sustainability at Olam International, said in an interview that these targets are a continuation of the work they have been doing for several years, but pushes it a step forward by publicly holding themselves accountable at a time when demand is rising.
Sustainable coffee sales have doubled since 2016, totaling more than 19% of its total sales in 2019, according to Olam Coffee.
"We're basically seeing, across the board, people expecting more in terms of where their coffee comes from, what is the kind of footprint and the realities behind the production of that coffee," he said. "We have been doing this for a long time, but we've never set external targets and external commitments around what we do. This is the first time that we will do that in this public way."
In establishing these targets, the company aligned its goals with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Rivas said the company wanted to make the targets ambitious, but achievable by focusing on the areas they believe are most critical and where the company could make the greatest impact. The company calls the new goals "Coffee LENS," which stands for livelihoods, eduction and nature at scale, to show the importance of maintaining the environment and the economic sustainability of farmers, he added.
"The biggest challenge for the sustainability of the coffee industry is that farmers need to find in coffee a viable livelihood," Rivas said. "Obviously we will not have a cup of coffee to drink if farmers do not see that it's a good business to be in."
Getting farmers on board
The company's coffee network includes roughly 424,000 farmers and 18 origins. So how does Olam get the farmers on board with these targets?
Rivas said the company creates farmer groups so they can keep in touch with the growers they use and understand their needs. He said they work with the farmers on a regular basis to bring them new technology, agricultural practices and seedlings. They also offer trainings on a range of issues, including educating them on the varieties that are more resilient to climate change and how to also get the highest yield.
"Once you know those farmers because you've created these farmer groups, then they know us as well and they trust us, and those are the people that we influence," he said. "Because in the end, they are the owners of the land and they are the owners of activity, but influencing their decision-making can bring practices that will be beneficial to them."
According to Olam, the company had 61,600 farmers receiving sustainability support last year, compared to 1,750 in 2014.
The increased demand for sustainability comes at a time when there is growing concern about the impact climate change has on crops like coffee. A study published in Science Advances last year found that 60% of wild coffee species face the threat of extinction because of human damage, disease and deforestation.
Rivas said the 5 million trees it aims to plant by 2025 will go inside farms to restore the landscape and help protect the crops because, in many places, coffee needs to grow in shade so that the soil can maintain its moisture.
With big sustainability goals and programs come high costs. Rivas said Olam hasn't yet made a budget for LENS, but plans to work with partners, like donors, organizations and customers, to hit these targets. Today in its 18 origins, Olam Coffee has 27 sustainability projects running with a commitment of $25 million. Rivas said that amount will need to increase significantly as they move forward.
Tracking its goals
In 2018, Olam launched AtSource, a program to increase the traceability of its ingredients by showing the full supply chain from the seed to the customer. AtSource can help customers meet their environemental targets because it details where and what went into making the ingredients on the platform. Rivas said the company will be using AtSource to help track these new sustainability goals.
"Obviously once you make those commitments, then we're going to have to track and measure the progress that we're making," Rivas said.
Rivas said the company will publicly report on the progress of these goals annually.
Olam Coffee is a part of Olam Food Ingredients, which has five business units: cocoa, coffee, edible nuts, spices and dairy. It has been working toward more transparency in these other categories as well. Last month, Olam announced that it reached 100% traceability for the cocoa it directly sources.
"We want to help our customers curate their own sustainability journey to meet the increasing demands of consumers," CEO of Olam Food Ingredients A. Shekhar said in a statement.