LAUSANNE, Switzerland — When you think of Nestle, you might not think of high quality, sustainably produced coffee. Even so, Nestle’s brand of coffee makers, Nespresso, is making impressive contributions to the changing coffee industry. Nespresso established its AAA Sustainable Quality Program in 2003 in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance. The program’s three “A”s correspond to its three primary principles: quality, sustainability, and productivity. Nespresso aims to help farmers produce coffee of the highest quality, adopt environmentally and socially responsible practices, and increase their production and profit levels.
Farmers’ progress in the program is self-determined and long-term. This is highly beneficial for coffee growers, especially smallholders. Oscar Daniel Sanchez, an Agronomist with the Alto Occidente Coffee Growers Cooperative, praises Nespresso’s emphasis on “continuous improvement” over most certification programs where “you are either in or out.” The program does give farmers the option of becoming certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which allows them to charge a premium for the coffee they choose to sell to other buyers. In 2007, the company announced its aspiration to supply 80% of its coffee from Rainforest Certified farmers in the program by 2013, a goal that has been successfully achieved.
The program has been widely lauded. Chris Wille, the Head of Sustainable Agriculture for the Rainforest Alliance called it “the most ambitious commitment ever to help smallholder coffee farmers achieve Rainforest Alliance certification and improve coffee quality.” The Rainforest alliance officially recognized the program in 2007 with its Corporate Green Globe Award for businesses that demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to furthering sustainability. The program also received the Leadership Medal of Merit Award for vision and drive in development and leadership from the Coffee Quality Institute.
Recently, Nespresso created its first Sustainability Advisory Board, which will consider way to improve the company’s long-term approach to sustainability. The formation of the board coincided with 10th anniversary of the program’s creation, as well as a series of new partnerships to strengthen the program.
Over the past decade, Nespresso has partnered with over a dozen other organizations, from environmental organizations to business schools. One of its new partnerships is with TechnoServe, a non-profit focused on helping people rise out of poverty through the power of entrepreneurship. The partnership is aimed at developing a more sustainable coffee industry in three East African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Sudan. In Ethiopia and Kenya, efforts will be focused on supporting smallholder farmers by creating stronger and more efficient market systems. Meanwhile, in South Sudan, the partnership aspires to help farmers as they rebuild the coffee industry after decades of instability. This program is especially exciting in that it will help the many African farmers for whom “coffee represents food, clean water, medicine, or the opportunity to send their children to school,” according to TechnoServe President and CEO Bruce McNamer. TechnoServe will aid the initiative by providing training for smallholder farmers that will increase their productivity and the quality of their coffee. The partnership will also collaborate with local governments and other stakeholders to improve the efficiency of coffee market systems in these countries.
Nespresso’s AAA Sustainable Quality Program is an excellent example of how for-profit businesses can and must contribute to the elimination of poverty and the preservation of the environment. The CEO of Nestle Nespresso, Jean-Marc Duvoisin, clearly states that the company has both altruistic and economic motivations behind the AAA program: “Our partnership with TechnoServe represents a major opportunity to improve the livelihoods of thousands of farmers while helping to build an important source of supply for Nespresso.” It is in Nespresso’s best interest to improve the coffee industry in developing nations, to ensure that coffee farmers are continually able to produce high quality coffee, and to guarantee that coffee is being produced sustainably. It is refreshing to see a company that recognizes the role it plays, both in the short-term and the long-term, and aims to act wisely and responsibly. Other companies should consider the long-term effects of their business practices and look to Nespresso for a model of sustainability.
– Katie Fullerton