4C Improving Sustainability Performance of the Coffee Sector in a Climate Change Era

A coffee news portal CaféPoint (Brazil) published an insightful article on 4C and its path to anchoring sustainability in the entire coffee sector. Here we provide the English version of the article for our international readers. To read the original text in Portuguese, please follow the link.

AT THE PRESENT MOMENT, the coffee sector is facing various sustainability challenges, among them deforestation and pollution issues, human rights infringement and low income for the smallholders involved in coffee production. The list of problems is much longer, however, now we want to talk about the solutions.

4C is a voluntary certification scheme that aims to improve the conditions of coffee production and processing. Currently, more than 400,000 farmers spread across 25 countries are producing 4C compliant coffee. The core of the certification system is the 4C Code of Conduct, which contains 27 principles setting stringent criteria across economic, social, and environmental dimensions. To be eligible for certification, producers must eradicate 10 unacceptable practices, such as child and forced labor, lack of adequate housing and potable water, and cutting of primary forest. Through its principles, 4C supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

To ensure continuous improvement, essential to the 4C certification system, independent audits are conducted by third parties, and improvement plans to correct identified non-conformities are developed. With each 3-year cycle, the requirements for the units seeking re-certification become more demanding. 4C auditor training and calibration programs guarantee that certification bodies can conduct audits according to the latest certification requirements.

Beyond the certification matters, 4C offers tailor-made solutions for identified problems. Based on real and local needs, pilot projects are designed to address particular issues. Project results can be later integrated into the certification process and mainstreamed. Currently, 4C is pursuing the following topics: soil health, land use change, and calculation of greenhouse gas emissions. Actors of the coffee supply chain are welcome to partner and test the developed solutions.

4C is not only improving the business practices of its units but also constantly working on self-improvement. Soon to be published, the new system regulations will provide clearer guidance for the standard, its requirements, the certification process, and other relevant matters, such as commercial reporting and logo use. New tools, including the 4C Classified Advanced Chemicals Tool and the innovative Business Partner Map, which enhances traceability of 4C certified coffee, complement the already existing ones, such as a risk assessment tool to verify land use and biodiversity change and a Transparency Tool based on the “dirty” list issued by the Ministry of Labor in Brazil.

As consumers become more aware of climate change and human rights issues, demand for high-quality eco-friendly coffee produced in humane conditions increases significantly. Therefore, increased visibility to the end-consumer became a new 4C feature. Roasters and final buyers can place the 4C logo on their products to communicate to consumers their sustainable sourcing and thus a positive contribution to the global sustainability agenda.

To further promote sustainability topics in the coffee sector, 4C works in close collaboration with the Global Coffee Platform, actively supports the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, and organizes regional stakeholder and annual global sustainability conferences, where coffee experts from all over the world can learn from each other, work on the most burning issues, and profit from the available networking. The 2nd 4C Global Sustainability Conference will take place in Warsaw, on the 14th of October 2020,  you are heartily welcome to register here: https://www.4c-services.org/events/events/. Participation is free of charge. Let us unite efforts to make coffee production more sustainable and succeed in securing a better future for the coffee sector, people, and the planet.“