In an upcoming keynote at the highly-regarded annual Sintercafe event, I’ll be shocking some folks with the unpleasant news that we are now experiencing the demise of sustainable development…and I wish I were joking.

I see a broad and deepening failure to address the multiple dimensions of sustainability. Instead we are heading more to an array of well-intentioned specializations with single-issue focus – be it deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), or gender inclusion. Such specializations can certainly be useful and we need them. But putting on the blinders of a single-issue focus is unlikely to generate the comprehensive sustainability that is needed to address the two big systemic realities at origin: the unprofitability of commodity farming (coffee, cocoa, cotton, etc.) and the need for resilient farming systems amidst alarming changes in climate.

We need to be smarter about distinguishing the symptoms from the causes. Low productivity, for example, may not be simply due to lack of training or fertilizer. The illusion that a compliance checklist – just ticking the boxes – equates to sustainability can also dilute real progress. Similarly, a ‘code of conduct’ alone rarely achieves any real results.

It’s not all bad news, however.

Industry platforms are developing common metrics to really learn about sustainability. Some roasters and traders are using new technologies to understand their supply chain and listen to their farmers, creating stronger relationships and better-targeted services. More than ever, farm-level issues are more visible and better articulated…even if some consultancies and some NGOs are still dishing out the same insipid programs that have not worked very well the last 20 times they were applied.

Let us know what you are seeing.

Here’s what we’re doing about this. We are rolling out SMART solutions that have been successfully piloted in leading programs and supply chains with government, sector platforms, and businesses. I would be happy to share how our simple and modular Sustainability Intelligence Systems integrate intuitive technologies to see real risks and opportunities and to facilitate impactful reporting.  

Our commitment to practical approaches remains steadfast. In this fast-changing space, we have recently realigned staff to help create more efficient and more agile workflows.

As always I welcome your perspectives and your partnership to make a real difference,