Should CO2 emissions the only indicator of sustainability?

  • Vanessa Hernandez


I am going to get a bit academic here :nerd_face:)


Did you know that according to a report by the Bureau for the Appraisal of Societal Impacts for Citizen Information (Coffee, behind the success story, 2018), in Peru and Ethiopia, each dollar linked to coffee exports in 2017 generated between 85 and 90 cents of hidden costs at the expense of these countries and their populations (the “societal costs”)?

So, what is Societal Cost?
Societal cost (according to K. W. Kapp, 1963).
All direct and indirect, present and future losses and expenditure that are borne by third parties or the community as a whole due to the social, health and environmental impacts of production and consumption methods.

According to the Bureau for the Appraisal of Societal Impacts for Citizen Information, societal cost can be divided into 3 categories:

  1. The first component concerns producers’ inability to earn enough income to permit them - and their family - to live in dignity.
  2. The second component of societal cost concerns local government spending on ensuring essential public services (education, healthcare, social affairs, water/electricity, transportation, justice, support for agriculture and environmental protection).
  3. The final component of societal costs concerns the emission of greenhouse gases all along the chain, from the grower to the final consumer.

To at least alleviate these challenges, the proposal is:

  1. Demand a living income for farming communities in developing countries.
  2. Climate change may further marginalise more impoverished producers, as farmers with good access to capital and technology are more likely to manage emerging climate risk.
    So the private sector initiatives should share the costs and risks of climate smart programs.
  3. Lack of transparency around pricing is supported by antitrust laws that protect companies against sharing price information translating into brands telling sustainability stories without an economic element. Consequently, consumer trust in brand stories around farming is distorted as consumers already believe they support farmers’ livelihood, which translates into less willingness to pay more and lower demand for change from the consumer side (SCA, 2019). Hence, demanding full sustainability around pricing is paramount.


We need a framework for sustainability that seeks innovations beyond environmental practices that focus on energy, water, natural resources, pollution and waste management into social-economic inclusion.

Stand with us if you, too, believe that a full-time coffee farmer should be able to make a living income from their farm revenue.

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