Defining Characteristics of a Sustainable Coffee Supply Chain

Client Organization: 
Califia Farms
Client is confirmed: 
Project Location : 
Los Angeles, CA, USA
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives: 

This project will seek to define and quantify what sustainability means for the Califia Farm’s coffee supply chain. This includes looking at the effectiveness of certification and the potential to look at a new approach to ensure sustainable coffee communities. By looking at and identifying a true sustainable price, to farmers, and what are key performance indicators that can be monitored to ensure healthy coffee communities. The team would be tasked with developing a more robust and scalable methodology of identifying sustainable supply chains than the square root methodology used in current certification programs. The project also includes setting a sustainable price for coffee. Finally, the project will entail a consumer-facing aspect to understand how sustainable agriculture factors into a consumer's decision-making process.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance:

In order for coffee farms to be sustainable, these businesses should be economically viable and be passed on from generation to generation. The viability of these businesses are based on many key factors including price, yield, environmental conditions, governance and political environment. By looking at these factors and how technology can play a role, coffee supply chains can become more efficient. Annually hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on certifications and a fraction of that money makes it back to farmers. If technology could improve monitoring some of these funds could be re-routed to coffee farmers.

That is why implications of this project are vast in the broader coffee industry. Current players default to a methodology of sustainability certification that is not reflective of the true labor conditions at coffee farms in developing countries. Additionally, it is unclear as to what the general understanding of this is amongst coffee consumers. The real world impact would be to ensure that companies only source from farms that are truly adhering to sustainable agricultural practices and systematically ensuring more and more farms are meeting these social and environmental sustainability goals.

Specific Activities & Duration:

  1. In the discovery phase (2-3mo), the team will conduct stakeholder interviews with cross-functional members of the Califia team, as well as with Califia’s external stakeholders, think tanks, and supply chain consultants.
  2. Concurrently, students will begin the consumer behavior/education phase of the project, seeking to understand the importance of coffee agriculture sustainability to consumers. This may entail surveys, qualitative interviews, etc.
  3. The team will also conduct industry research by way of industry and academic experts (1-2 mo).
  4. Students will apply the learnings from discovery and research phases to on-site visits of Califia’s coffee supply chain (1 mo).
  5. Students will synthesize their findings into a coherent and robust recommendation for measuring a sustainable coffee supply chain and getting consumers to consider this in their decision-making process (5-6mo).
  6. Experimental implementation will take place and recommendation will be updated via feedback (2-4mo).

Integrative Approach:

This research will require heavy quantitative and qualitative analysis. Students will be required to interact with internal and external stakeholders while representing both the University of Michigan and Califia Farms. It will be important to have students that are passionate about the intersection of sustainability and coffee consumerism and comfortable managing multiple stakeholders. Ideally, one or more students will have backgrounds in analytics, marketing, operations/supply chain, and agriculture. This will allow for a more comprehensive recommendation for both Califia Farms and the coffee industry.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Role for each program area: 

Behavior, Education, and Communication: Knowledge in this area will be critical as we evaluate the challenges of strategically communicating environmental issues to consumers. BEC expertise will help the team use decision-making frameworks to better understand the behavior of Califia Farms target market as it relates to consumer goods choices and our client’s specific brand.

Environmental Informatics: Given its many applications for environmental issues, informatics experience will provide the team with tools that may help visualize data and geographical information for our client. The project’s focus on agriculture creates ample opportunity to leverage informatics to create clear and accurate deliverables.

Environmental Justice: Experience identifying environmental justice issues related to private business is a key component of this project, and skills in that area will help our team evaluate the challenges and opportunities related to social justice issues in the client’s supply chain. Knowledge of the environmental justice implications of various certification schemes as well as the potential to measure progress will be especially helpful.

Sustainable Systems: The interrelated nature of agricultural supply chains requires a systems approach to analysis and problem-solving. Team members with the ability to understand the interplay of various stakeholders and components of coffee supply chains will lead the group to more holistic solutions that leverage the complexity of the clients issues to benefit the environment.

Professional Career Development Benefits: 

Students involved with this project will gain content expertise in the areas of agricultural supply chains, sourcing, compliance and quality management, social and environmental metrics, and sustainable consumer products. They will also be exposed to the manufacturing, marketing, sales and distribution components of a successful consumer brand, and will potentially have networking opportunities within consumer packaged goods and food retail industries.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 


The Master’s Project team will execute the following:

1. Extensive preliminary reporting that includes:

  • Internal stakeholder interviews
  • Analysis of regulatory and coffee certification landscape
  • Literature review of climate-smart agricultural and sourcing practices
  • Analysis of customer and industry expert interviews
  • Stakeholder mapping
  • Supply chain mapping

2. Proposal will include three key components: 1) pricing recommendation for coffee at point of sale 2) scorecard prototypes with 8-12 primary key performance indicators for a healthy coffee supply chain, and 3) recommendations for consumer behavior mechanisms/nudges toward sustainable coffee consumption

3. Pilot implementation plan and metrics for success

4. Analysis for the pilot, summary of findings (for potential publication), and future recommendations


Califia Farms has a relatively simple coffee supply chain relative to the Starbucks and Nestles of the world. There are five major coffee suppliers (Honduras, El Salvador, Uganda, Colombia, Ethiopia), and we would love to be able to roll out the 8-12 key performance indicators to each of the suppliers as guidance for a healthy holistic supply chain. Pricing recommendations will also be taken very seriously by the organization. Additionally, we would love to publish any research or marketing material through the Califia website, expanding the work to a potentially global audience.

Contact full name: 
Chris Jordan
Los Angeles
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Ravi Anupindi
Contact Phone: 
(808) 797-7017
Advisor Confirmed: 
Additional Faculty Advisor(s) Confirmed: 
Contact information: 
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Kathy Tian
  • Dan Partin
  • Lauren Baum
  • Madeleine Carnemark
Project Status: 
In Progress