Next generation coffee

Sustainable Development in Selo

Globally defined goals don’t exist for institutions alone; they call all of us to action through whatever means we have available—our consumer habits, participation in events, collaboration in an initiative or through the establishments of our own endeavors.
photo credit: UN

With this article we’d like to demonstrate our efforts in connection to global sustainability goals, which are both exciting and persuasive. The hardest part, however, is often the practical application into everyday life, whether in our business or private spheres.

SDGs - Sustainable Development Goals

The United Nations 2030 Agenda designates global sustainability goals. This agenda portrays a wide variety of challenges that must be solved on a global scale so that the future of a sustainable world can be realized. An essential part of the agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which describe 17 core fields and subordinate goals.


The agenda takes particular account of the fact that the problems to be solved can only be tackled globally, through partnerships. Climate change clearly demonstrates this principle; the global climate does not care that Costa Rica draws its electricity from almost 100% renewable energy if the US continues to emit harmful greenhouse gases 2,500 km (1,553 mi) north. Only through global cooperation can measurable successes actually be attained.

Global cooperation means not only the cooperation of institutional spheres, like between countries, i.e. government, but also cooperation between institutional and private actors.


Why do institutions and SDGs (considered private actors) play an explicit role? And why do we feel that way?


Many of the SDGs (not all) refer to countries lying south on our globe, the so-called "developing countries". All SDGs are focused on sustainability issues. Loosely speaking, therefore, all private sector stakeholders dealing with sustainability can be "partners of the SDGs", in particular, the companies which additionally work together with countries of the Global South. This includes not only companies such as Selo, but also global corporations, such as the members of the Global Compact.

While traditional global corporations seek only to satisfy their own consumption needs with their products, other companies go beyond that. The product takes on a life and character of its own. At Coffee Circle, this is embodied in a transparent coffee trade, which focuses on combating the shortage of clean drinking water. The approach underlying this goal remains the same:

Products should not simply be sold, and businesses do business, just to make money. It must go beyond that. A strong example is the project Conflict Food, which sources high-quality products such as saffron from Afghanistan or green tea from Myanmar. They satisfy a need for pleasure, but not exclusively. Instead, they use their products to spread the stories of the people and countries that grow them.

In doing so, they bridge the gap between consumer and the sourcing country, thereby establishing a path, and solution to their problems. They represent the connection between global and institutional goals with everyday consumer behavior.


Our product is not only intended to be a tasty drink and a jolt, but to convey various messages:

that coffee is a global trade commodity on which thousands of small farmers worldwide depend, that we have a general lack of awareness about the products we consume and where they come from, and that entrepreneurial thinking and fair, direct partnerships must not be mutually exclusive.



Together, we as a company create a platform and attention for the SDGs, without which a global sustainability agenda could not be fulfilled.

Of course, we and other companies mentioned are not infallible and are always trying to develop and improve. For example, the production and distribution of our drinks also creates a footprint that we want to further reduce. We are working on how we can use new technologies, like the blockchain, to make our value chain even more transparent. And we're constantly thinking about how to magnify our impact, be it through partnerships or other approaches.


The Impact

How can we create a direct relationship between the SDGs and our efforts?

It’s not enough, simply to look over the list of SDGs and to consider where an effort would really count. Then we would be back to the same old content approach. Instead, we've cast a glance into the logic behind the SDGs.

Every one of the 17 goals are divided into sub goals, called targets. Each of these targets has an accompanying indicator to measure the progress and fulfillment of the target. So, goals are achieved when the indicators reach a predetermined value. These indicators are essential to create a physical dialogue between the work of a company or initiative and the SDGs. To solidify this concept, let’s briefly explore an example using goal 12 to illustrate:


“Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns”

An accompanying target and its indicators follow:

“By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources”


Indicator 1

“Material footprint, material footprint per capita, and material footprint per GDP”


Indicator 2


“Domestic material consumption, domestic material consumption per capita, and domestic material consumption per GDP”


This example embodies the nature of the SDGs: their fulfillment often depends on indicators that are either difficult to address or difficult to measure by individual actors. When we were still allowed to use the coffee cherry, we definitely helped reduce material consumption relative to GDP, but could we measure that impact accurately or conclusively prove that we had contributed to that goal? Not even close.

This is exactly the problem. Most of the SDGs (though not all) are coupled with national indicators. This includes indicators at a macro level, which are altogether difficult to address by small players. Even amidst goals that are slightly easier to address (for example, education for everyone) the glaring question to small corporations becomes "does our individual effort even make an impact in the balance of everyone?" i.e. in the sense of a tangible correlation to the SDGs.

A closer look into the logic of the SDGs shows that small players cannot, or at least only to a minimal extent, contribute to the achievements of the SDGs. Even without referencing a larger, future grasp, companies and initiatives can still rely on the substantive relationship described above to link their efforts to the SDGs.