Tape Measures

Sustainability is defined and achieved in many ways. For two decades, standards and certifications have been the backbone of the discussion. There is also an increasing body of evidence, both pro and con, about how standards and certifications impact communities across the globe in key factors such as productivity or climate change.

Yet, the only evidence-based certainty that we have is that outcomes vary by place and conditions.The lesson: a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. To get results we’ll need more than just checklists, standards, or projects. We need management tools that adapt to the context and inform managers and communities about the levels of sustainability and the month to month progress to determine how these are changing.

The bottom line? Performance.
And just as in any successful business, there is a need for integrated Performance Measurement systems. This means measuring what matters – the key elements that impact sustainability in real-time – and doing it with efficiency, accuracy, and modest cost.

That said, most tools measure the success of their sustainability efforts after the fact. Yet we know that when managers understand outcomes in real time, they can correct their course quickly and are much more likely to achieve the results they want. This is critical if we want to scale up what is working.

Happily, leading global firms and the public sector are starting to take this dynamic approach. They see that it enables a comprehensive view of what is working and what is scalable, and provides the necessary tools for continuous improvement.

As you’ll read below, this is the very spirit that animates our work.

With kind regards,

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Daniele Signature
Daniele Giovannucci

COSA measures itself: 2016 Annual Letter

Our 2016 Annual Letter highlights COSA’s work over the past year. It has focused on putting in place systems that leverage data so that our partners can integrate responsible sourcing practices in their day-to-day business practices and ensuring that sustainability efforts continue to align with new efforts like the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indeed, you will soon see a number of new papers and policy notes like the recent UNFSS publication on Voluntary Sustainability Standards that featured a chapter on COSA recommendations. We look forward to COSA’s growing contribution to better policy through increasing the understanding of measuring sustainability and sharing best practices in order to  grow our collective impact.

We are also expanding to new commodities and areas of work in the coming year. We’ll continue our commitment to sharing common metrics and maintaining the rigor and neutrality we are known for but we are also reaching a wider audience.

Sustainable Nico

Among the expanded topics are: a dedicated set of metrics to understand and influence the Resilience of farming communities; an app and an online self-assessment survey that help anyone associated with Producer Organizations to easily assess their strengths and weaknesses; and an even broader set of tools to help companies Manage Responsible Supply Chains.




>Aligning income metrics to improve farmer livelihoods

COSA, the ISEAL Alliance and the Sustainable Food Lab have come together to share best practices on measuring household income in order to improve the understanding of farmer livelihoods. Partners are collaborating to create consistent guidelines for data collection and reporting across a range of household income metrics that can be applied globally. The work builds on ISEAL’s Guidance on Common Core Indicators, the SFL Shared Approaches Framework, and COSA indicators.

The collaboration around household income metrics, co-led by Jessica Mullan is a vital step informing the global imperative to measure living income – the income an average family in a particular place requires to afford a decent standard of living. Increasingly, it is being used together with poverty metrics because it is better targeted to local contexts and facilitates closing the gap between what a family earns and what it would need to live sustainably.

COSA’s application of living income indicators among coffee farmers in Kenya has been used as a case study by the ISEAL Alliance and the Global Living Wage Coalition. The Living Income Working Group (supported by GIZ) is working toward aligning definitions of living income across measurement systems.

For more information or to get involved, contact Jessica Mullan.


New & Noteworthy

COSA happenings abound – from hosting events to launching new areas of work.


Together with our sponsor SECO (the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs), in June COSA hosted a workshop on building more sustainable cocoa supply chains. Participants included the private sector (Lindt & Sprüngli, Mondelēz), development agencies (GIZ), multi-lateral organizations (ITC), NGOs (World Cocoa Foundation, Swisscontact), and academia (University of Zurich).



In July, we expanded our partnership with S&D Coffee and Tea – one of the leading North American importers of both beverages. Our work will align Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in order to better assess and increase the impact of sustainability sourcing programs on S&D’s farmers and their communities.


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More than one billion world-wide belong to producer organizations, mostly in agriculture. In August we began piloting producer organization (PO) assessments in Kenya, aimed at improving the social, environmental, and economic performance of POs. The work was made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation.


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This summer also saw the advancement of our resilience work. COSA’s Head of Resilience Research Dr. Elena Serfilippi and Research Coordinator for Asia Dr. Gayatri Ramnath have:
1. Expanded the membership of the Working Group;
2. Drafted an initial set of SMART resilience indicators; and are
3. Completing a resilience literature review which will be shared with partners.
For more information, contact Elena or Gayatri.


Head of Measurement Systems Jessica Mullan keynoted the Mesoamerican Workshop on Bio-labelling and Certification.

Sustainable Harvest’s Let’s Talk Coffee 2016 featured COSA President Daniele Giovannucci on the coffee industry’s current crossroads and Saurin Nanavati COSA’s Head of Global Partnerships on measuring what matters.

COSA President Daniele Giovannucci chaired a series of panels on cocoa sustainability at the World Cocoa Conference in May. In July he keynoted @Cumbre_del_Cafe’s Annual Summit #CafeMx summit.


COSA welcomes new staff

This spring we welcomed Renee Bourque as Innovation and Learning Resources Advisor and Dr. Keith Child as Senior Research Advisor.

In July, Chris Sellers, a business executive, technologist and former Chairman of Mobeam, joined as Director of Global Operations.