What Does Sustainability Mean?

What Does Sustainability Mean?

In Press Release, Sustainability by Joshua Jagelman

Founder of HuskeeCup, Saxon Wright, ponders the husk waste problem in coffee production in Menglian.


Certain words get bandied about in the specialty coffee world with high frequency. Sustainability. Transparency. Relationship. Ask anybody along the coffee supply chain if they support these concepts, and you’ll almost certainly get a resounding, “Yes!”

These concepts are all great. In fact, being against sustainability or transparency sounds akin to being against kittens or education. Nobody worth trusting challenges these universally good things. So, how do we define these terms? This is a challenging but essential exercise.

Matt Bentley and Doc Josh introduced a program at Banka coffee farm to use biochar for water treatment.

Sustainability? Transparency? Relationships?

We don’t (usually) pretend to understand the entire coffee industry. However, we can explain what sustainability and transparency mean to our company, and how we align ourselves with them to be a force for good in the Yunnan coffee industry.

Let’s start by being frank – the historical record of coffee development isn’t shiny. Many origins are still recovering from systems that brought ecological, financial, and social instability. The opportunity to work in an Emerging Origin is a big one, and we don’t take it lightly.

Responsibility? Yes. Opportunity? Absolutely!

Although our mission to continue as a market leader is a commercial endeavor, it comes with a rare social opportunity (responsibility).

Alongside other early adopters, we get to co-write the playbook for sustainable coffee in this region of Southeast Asia.

Sustainable – We position our company for maintaining product quality, ensuring financial stability, and stewarding the environmental. Although we are only guests in Yunnan, it is still the place where we live, work and raise our families. Part of being a worthy guest is leaving the area better than you found it. And while we don’t intend to disappear any time soon, we accept that current actions can affect the future of Yunnan coffee for better or worse.

Transparent – We learn from local farmers, and local farmers learn from us. Together, we seek to understand why things are the way they are. Then, from that understanding, we can identify what needs to change, what needs to remain, and what needs a whole new way of thinking! For example, it’s not uncommon to hear the question: “What’s the farmgate price?” This is a good question, but it’s incomplete.

We prefer, “What is the actual cost of production?” because this recognizes the hard work, risk, and innovation that has been invested in producing specialty coffee.

Understanding the actual costs of production, looking together for new efficiencies, and collaborating on best practices in processing allows for a more sustainable financial model.

Relational – We live here. Locals trust us. We earn this trust by underwriting our coffee partnerships. That trust is now strong enough for us to collaborate on projects, innovations, and events, such as the Best of Menglian competition. Because of this trust, we’ve successfully introduced multi-year contracts (roaster-centric) and swing terms (farmer-centric). We eat and drink (baijiu) together. We celebrate holidays together. We treat each other as family.

Joshua Jagelman from YCT discusses sustainable finance models with Mr Hu from Mangzhang coffer farm.

Values inform decisions

Sustainable. Transparent. Relational.

These words inform our decisions as we navigate the development of this emerging origin in specialty coffee. Yunnan Coffee Traders exports Yunnan specialty coffee – but we don’t do it alone. It is our partnership with farmers, importers, and roasters that makes a difference for good in our part of the specialty coffee industry. Thanks for taking the time to understand more about our journey – the values that guide us and the opportunities that inspire us. We’d love to hear how you engage similar responsibilities and opportunities in your section of the industry. Please feel free to send us a link to your blog post or online article.

Yunnan Coffee Traders sources, produces and exports specialty coffee from Yunnan, China.