Organization sees sustainability-tracking tool as a potential game-changer
By Chris Ryan

One of the marquee announcements of 2010’s SCAA Exhibition in Anaheim, Calif., was the formation of START, a multi-use tool that measures the impact of companies’ sustainability efforts and beyond. START (which stands for Sustainability Tracking and Reporting Tool) sprang from the efforts of the SCAA Sustainability Council, which wanted to create a project within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), a United Nations initiative focusing on poverty elimination and environmental sustainability. START will allow users to: provide data on their own sustainability-related projects; track their progress based on a series of indicators; generate reports on their own programs for internal and external use; and view a geographical display of where SCAA members are working on MDG-related initiatives.
While SCAA announced the initiative last year, the organization will be formally launching it on April 28, the first day of the 2011 SCAA Exhibition in
Houston. Fresh Cup talked to Sustainability Council member Sarah Beaubien of Portland, Ore.’s Coffee Bean International (CBI) about what to expect from the product unveiling, how the tool works and the project’s potential.

Q: What’s been happening with START since you announced it in 2010?
A: We’ve had members of the Sustainability Council set up accounts and start to log their information over the past six to eight months. So we have quite a bit of information already built in the tool, and the benefit of that is to be able to generate some graphs, maps and reports that we can show as part of the benefits of the tool. Having a set group of people start to enter their information allowed us to see how the tools worked and also work out any kinks or glitches. It’s a pretty robust database, so we basically wanted to make sure it worked before we launch it into the industry. There’s a nominal fee of $150 to sign up, which is basically just to cover administrative costs for the tool. This type of tool is tens of thousands of dollars for a large corporation that wants to build it for its own use. So it’s a benefit for members of the coffee community to be able to use it at a cost of $150. (The SCAA member rate is $150, $300 for nonmembers.)

Q: How will START be showcased at the SCAA Exhibition?
A: We’re going to have members of the Council who know the tool well at the SCAA booth, and they can walk people through the registration process and show them around the tool. We’re also going to have three lectures called Measuring Our Impact where we’ll give some history on the project, as well as some education about the tool and its benefits.

Q: So you’ll be focusing on getting companies signed up?
A: Yeah. Last year was kind of a tickler that the tool is coming. And now it’s time to get registered and get your data in. One of the things that I found really intimidating about the data part is that there are a lot of pieces. There needs to be somebody from the company—probably from accounting—who has access to the trash hauler bills and the electric bills, so that you can get the data on how much trash you’re generating, how much electricity you’re using, etc. All of that information has to be gathered by a company to be able to populate the tool. So we want to help people through that because that can be an overwhelming project if you don’t have a game plan for it.

Q: What sort of initial feedback are you getting on the tool?
A: It’s a pretty intimidating idea, and it’s progressive. A lot of companies—including us—have gone out on their own and done a similar project where they want to measure their impact to be able to set their own reduction goals. This is going to allow us to fold all that information that we’ve already collected into a different tool that’s part of a larger universe of data. So it’s going to be more useful to everyone.

Q: How are you persuading companies to sign up?
A: The most compelling thing about this is that it’s a perfect example of network effect. The more people that get involved with it and enter their data, the more powerful a tool it becomes. If we had every player in the industry from growers to retailers entering their information, then we’d have a really amazing view of what the industry looks like from a sustainability standpoint.

Q: What potential impact do you see this having?
A: I think we can talk in circles about the issues that we’re facing as an industry regarding quality, and some of the major issues of poverty and water shortages. But until we measure what our impact is and actually have a baseline for that, then it’s really an impossible task to try to tackle those issues. It’s really about getting that data gathered so we can start to tackle some of those larger issues that we’re having as an industry.

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