Wolfgang Weinmann talks about Sustainability: Is Business Doing Enough?

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Business, Corporate Communications, Corporate Social Responsibility, Food & Drink, Sustainability

A week ago the Conversation Society hosted its third debate which looked at Sustainability: Is business doing enough? Is it OK to profit from sustainability?

Next to talk from our panel was Wolfgang  Weinmann, who is the Strategy Director for Cafédirect

 Wolfgang starts off by saying “When I look at the question of; can you profit from sustainability? I thought, well, actually, it’s the other way round.  Sustainability is actually absolutely essential in the 21st century for a business to make profit, because you have to take into account along your supply chain, as Jo explains, are not just a small part what you control as a business, but alongside what do you actually with the stakeholders you engage from the production phase all the way through to the consumer and track the challenges and track the impact and find the solutions around sustainability.”

The production side of Cafédirect business is to engage with the farmers on environmental, social, organisational challenges of their livelihood, to start with, not only the production but how they can produce coffee and tea in a more sustainable way. Once a plan is formulated the final product is tracked to engage with the consumer through sustainable consumption.

It is important to do an environmental footprint and keep it regularly updated. Cafédirect are in the hot beverages sector and in terms of their environmental footprint the biggest impact is preparing the hot beverages. All sorts of issues need to be taken into consideration because he people working within the business might not boil the water correctly or use too much water which can consume a lot of energy, etc.  However, it is up to the people to make a more sustainable product, not just down to a business or the farmer.

Defining sustainability from producer to consumer along the supply chain require clear targets to be set to ensure that the environmental footprint is improved.  Wolfgang states “But then again, it’s not just about the environment, because as a business it really, as a core mission, it’s hard to achieve tangible impact in grower communities in developing countries, you definitely have to put the social elements there of the livelihoods of the farmers there as well and balance that with the environmental and, in the end, in the financial ones, because we are not a charity.  So we don’t do that out of only social reasons, we leave that to Oxfam, they do a better job than us in rolling out programmes in developing countries and communities.”  The organic market in the UK is not where it should be and a lot of us make these type of decisions, “Oh well, it costs 50p more for organic coffee or tea, do I want to spend that?  What are the benefits for me as a consumer?” In this country the organic market is very separate.  Since 2008, because of the recession, it went down by-35%, a massive drop in the organic consumption in this country.  The question is now linking the overall sustainability agenda with a producer who would actually like to go organic, because it’s better for him/her?”

There is a challenge to linking these different elements, but that’s what business modesl should aim to do. Wolgang gives us a tangible example, “I came back two weeks ago from Africa, from a small, tiny island called Sao Tome off the west coast of Africa, where we started three years ago to work with cocoa growers.  So from this scratch to really look, “Well, where can we have the highest impact again?” from production to launching a product in the UK market, where we get the sustainability right, and so working with them really is on improving their quality, because we definitely, when we talk about sustainability, it has to include quality, you can’t sell nowadays a product that is not up to scratch in terms of sustainability. So you have to get that message across with farmers, but also, of course, with the incentives in terms of incentives of training them and incentives of price.  Because our business model does recognise, of course, of shifting them benefits and values, because we are not about profit maximisation but actually about what’s the most sustainable way longer haul business models are, you know, a farmer has to benefit from producing higher quality for producing sustainable products.  So starting on that level we will train the farmers.”

Nestle, Kraft and Cadbury are finally waking up to sustainability and it is absolutely essential to their business model, and  showing engagement along a supply chain to do something about it.

Lastly Wolfgang summarises that second part of the question: Is it enough?  “Well, again, not, because the challenges in sustainability are mounting or they’re changing constantly, they’re not getting smaller, they’re actually getting bigger.  So there’s lots of catching up to do, I think, for many, many companies, and as well for Cafédirect, as I said, we never have all the answers, but we do try hard to find these answers and identify both the new areas of sustainability for farmers and for our business model, and for the consumer in the UK, to push the agenda forward.”

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