Defining Characteristics of a Sustainable Coffee Supply Chain

Client Organization: 
Califia Farms
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
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Ravi Anupindi
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Kathy Tian
  • Dan Partin
  • Lauren Baum
  • Madeleine Carnemark
Project Status: 
In Progress