David Griswold is president of Sustainable Harvest Coffee, a specialty coffee importer that bring partners together in a sustainable supply chain that serves everyone involved—from the farmer to the consumer.
What does the notion of “leadership for sustainability” mean to you?
For Sustainable Harvest, this type of leadership means focusing not just on traditional financial statements but on creating value across the entire supply chain with the investments we make to bring training, technology, and credit to our suppliers.
In 2010, Sustainable Harvest purchased 14 million pounds of Fair Trade and organic coffee from smallholder farmers at prices averaging 51 percent more per pound than they would earn on the commodity market. We channeled US$8.26 million more to these communities than they would have received working through traditional local middlemen.
We spend more than US$1 million annually—more than half of our net importing income—on farmer capacity-building programs such as food-security projects, water and drip-irrigation programs, organic productivity and agronomy training, and technology tools, and we have still grown at more than 30 percent annually in the past seven years.
In your opinion, what are the most significant sustainable business trends of the last decade?
In the last decade, I’ve seen an increasing emphasis on transparency and traceability in supply chains and ethical sourcing. When companies follow those principles, they can more easily track the environmental, social, and economic impacts of their sourcing. In the coffee and food industries, there has been a rise in third-party certifications like organic or Fair Trade to help businesses ensure accountability and prove their sourcing practices to consumers.
As climate change has became better understood, more companies have also examined their energy use and the externalities they were able to ignore before, such as their carbon footprint. But today we see large companies such as Unilever and Walmart conducting lifecycle analyses of their products and reducing waste and emissions in their supply chains. Leadership on that scale is key to making substantial changes toward sustainability and influencing other companies to follow suit.
When it comes to promising opportunities for sustainable business now and in the next five years, where are you placing your bets?
We’re placing our bets on technology for increased information sharing and transparency. More than ever, people want to know who grows their food and the working conditions of those who create products for consumers.
Information and communications technology is also helping support collaborative networks that can create mutual benefit among business partners. For instance, we’re bringing mobile technology to farmers to give them effective tools and help us scale our work.
Beyond technology, I see a need to distribute capital to those who still do not have access to loans to develop their businesses, especially in rural areas of the Global South. Whether in Latin America or East Africa, we consistently find that farmers lack the traditional forms of collateral to borrow money for inputs like fertilizer or infrastructure improvements.