Small and medium-sized organisations in the Costa Rican coffee sector are faced with a growing demand from overseas clients to deliver high-quality and safely produced goods and services on time, in the correct quantities and at competitive standards. Moreover, this sector is starting to encounter a wide range of international standards, which are increasingly required for access to international and regional markets.
This paper focuses on experiences in the Sustainable Coffee (SUSCOF) Project in Costa Rica, which aimed to create sustainable production systems within the coffee chain while being flexible enough to adjust to changing requirements. The Costa Rican coffee co-operatives involved have implemented environmental management systems in their coffee mills, based on the ISO 14001 norm, a notable achievement in itself. However, the key term of the ISO 14001 norms is ‘continuous improvement’, which implies that those who sell sustainable coffee will have to improve over and above legislative requirements.
Continuous improvement is greatly helped by generating (preferably) quantitative information on how processes are evolving and whether the stated goals are being met. This type of measurement is scarcely available in Costa Rica. Methods such as defining and measuring environmental performance indicators can be used for this purpose; ISO 14031, a guidance document of the ISO 14000 standards concerning environmental performance evaluation, has been chosen as main reference point for the creation of environmental and other performance indicators. Meanwhile, the cooperatives involved created SUSCOF RL, an organisation that sells the sustainable coffee to the European market. Some of the members are Utz Kapeh-certified, a norm for responsible coffee in the mainstream coffee sector.