By Patrick Kerr, COSA Operations Associate

In early February, COSA staff from all corners of the world – Africa, Europe, North and South America – travelled to Costa Rica for a biannual retreat. It’s is an opportunity for COSA staff to review our work, celebrate our advances, and chart the course for innovative sustainability measurement in 2018 and beyond. This year, our theme was ‘co-evolution.’ To biologists, the term implies two or more species evolving in a mutually dependent relationship. To COSA staff, it was the organizing principle behind our retreat: a conscious recognition that achieving sustainability is a complex problem that can only be solved through partnerships with diverse organizations and groups, working at multiple levels of engagement.

As if to illustrate this point, COSA staff were invited one afternoon on a study tour of a biodynamic farm. In the midst of a wondrously sustainable farm enterprise, Alberto, our guide, suddenly stopped us on a muddy path as a gentle rain slowly petered out. “Look at that tree,” he instructed. “See how the termite hive is beneath the beehive? Unlike most breeds of termites, these termites shelter in trees because the ground is too wet. The bees and termites entered a mutual alliance to survive in the jungle. There’s harmony between them; they’re friends. You either have friends or enemies in the jungle, there is no in-between.”

Confronted with this living illustration of the necessity of mutual dependence for survival, a simple yet profound ‘aha’ moment underlined the COSA experience: in sustainability, collaboration amongst various stakeholders – businesses, communities, government, NGOs, and other nonprofits, is needed on a wide scale to usher in an era of sustainability management and governance. We need to be friends, on a path toward mutual understanding and cooperation, to make sustainable development the norm.

With this in mind, analysis of big data and communicating it in a way that is useful for its intended audience became a frequent refrain during the working sessions. Sustainability assessment is changing because advancements in technological tools are expanding rapidly and empowering more and more people to make informed decisions. In one work session, COSA’s knowledge management team demonstrated how COSA indicators populate robust data systems to measure complex changes across a supply chain. Other sessions refined dynamic, online dashboards that transmit information to the decision-makers who need it to make smarter, evidence-based sustainability decisions. For example, our Producer Organization Diagnostic provides managers with instantaneous information about their organization, eventually including benchmarking to similar POs nearby and in other countries.

“Sustainability cannot occur within one company, one government,
or just one producer organization

Innovation at COSA thrives because everyone in COSA is given equal opportunity to contribute and shape the organization. These exciting and evolving technological processes help us deliver our mission: to make sustainability measurement easy and pervasive and among the most prominent levers of change in our society.

The underlying ethos of organizations like COSA and our sixty-plus partners remains constant. Sustainability cannot occur within one company, one government, or just one producer organization. It is a cooperative process in which its value expands as the network grows. We look forward to sharing our advances with you in 2018, and we welcome collaboration with organizations ready to plan for a sustainable future of mutual dependence and learning.