Sunday, April 23, 2006

Where are we?

It's really been dawning on me lately what little visible presence there is in the online coffee world of sustainability. It seems that because most of the big 'Third Wave' players have embraced sustainability in some form or another that the aggressive analysis of the issues has nearly ceased. In some cases it appears to just be lip service, while other are blazing new paths. Despite the fact that 'fair trade' and 'organic' get a lot of airtime, there seems to be little depth to the discussion of sustainability issues in coffee... especially from the retail perspective.
There are some obvious exceptions to this great void such as the always enlightening wisdom dispensed by Geoff Watts, Mark Inman and Tim Dominick (among others). These folks are always keepin' it real on the boards and have my utmost respect. They really are some of the pioneers in promoting sustainability in the online coffee world(and the real world too). Also there's been some recent discussion about FT issues on green LA girl.
A lot of times, though, discussion around 'sustainability' focuses solely on the grower/buyer relationship. Obviously this is the area where the greatest imbalance (economic,social,political) typically exists, however, what does it mean if you paid a good price to a farmer for a great quality coffee but you serve it in a non-recyclable to-go cup? Or a compostable cup but a non-recylable lid? What about your sugar? Who grew it? How much were they paid? Do you care? Your milk? Your napkins? Are they from old-growth trees? How do you know?
These questions never stop. It seems like a lot of companies only want to ask the hard questions, sometimes. Only when the light has already shined on the issue.
What happens when you ask the tough questions all the time? What kind of business develops? What kind of coffee results? We are just seeing the beginnings.


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