As early initiator and driver of the Sustainable Development Goals, Colombia has pioneered the 2030 agenda. The Global Goals are a powerful driver of the country’s National Development Plan or the Peace Agreement and are included and identified within these plans on both national and local scale. Reason enough for research student Bas Evers to do research on the SDGs in one of the most appealing, but at the same time challenging, sectors of Colombia: Coffee. To learn more on Coffee & the SDGs in this context, we asked 3 questions to… researcher Bas Evers.
You are conducting research on the relevance of the SDGs for multinationals and the coffee industry. What is your background?
Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world and the biggest in the field of Arabica grains. Therefore, the coffee sector is very important for this emerging economy, but faces huge challenges such as climate change and social injustices. These issues affect large businesses, including companies like Starbucks and Nespresso. To ensure the quality of the Colombian products, social and environmental investments have to be included. The SDGs enable multi-stakeholder collaboration with the government and civil society, to improve the sector’s positive impact towards 2030.
The issues in Colombia arround climate change, affect large businesses including Starbucks
Besides, the SDGs are universal language for the public and private sector to open the dialogue and join forces, to shape the priorities on socio-economic growth and sustainable development for the country. Luckily, the Colombian government understood this at a very early stage: Colombia was one of the two countries that have proposed the SDG agenda within the context of the UN. The inherent interrelation between Colombia, the SDGs and the coffee industry were main reasons for doing some research.
What can we conclude about relevance of the SDGs; for multinationals and the coffee industry?
Sustainability policies are key for multinational companies, especially in the coffee industry. The SDGs are a good instrument to optimize and communicate these policies in collaboration with the company’s most important stakeholders. Business-to-government (B2G) communication is crucial for a sustainable future in Colombia. But there still are many obstacles, like skepticism. The National Federation of Coffee (NFC) told me that the only way to create fair prices in coffee, is to accept that it must be a ‘financial co-responsibility’ amongst all parties in the supply chain.
The NFC told me that the only way to create fair prices in coffee, is to accept the ‘financial co-responsibility’ throughout the supply chain
The first step towards this realization is to speak with confidence to each other. The SDGs could be the solution to achieve this. Although multinationals are already familiar with the SDGs and built links between the goals and their policies, there’s still a lack of performance measurement or evaluation mechanisms. While this could be the difference between “adopting” the goals and clearly contributing to them in practical achievements. So, the next phase is to evaluate the integrated impact, based on indicators.
In the end, who can blame Starbucks for raising the price of their cappuccino, because they invested in the decrease of water use (for SDG 6)? It’s about true and transparent pricing.
In adopting the SDGs, what recommendations or business cases do you see?
The Sustainable Development Goals are not just a public agenda, but an opportunity to collaborate together in a multi-stakeholder environment. This message must be understood by all multinational companies that want to increase, measure and show their impact in the most accessible and global format in the world: the SDGs.
There are many reasons to adopt SDG, such as marketing tools for management, external reputation or as a framework of reference to structure sustainable investments. However, the main reasons and levels differ between companies and sectors. This was one of the most important conclusions of my study. Also, many organizations can support the integration of the SDGs in existing sustainability frameworks, like GRI or Global Compact. This can be recommended to both multinationals and SMEs, which have a key role in the composition of the Colombian market and coffee industry. The key to success in Colombia is to think in long-term investments rather than in “philanthropy” for the short-term. More than ever, the time for this is now, as Colombia is turning into a safe and optimistic environment with a promising future.
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