Specialty green coffee traders, sourcing from 26 origins on behalf of over 1000 roasters.

'This is an all-hands-on deck moment'

Kate started working in the coffee industry in 2010 and joined Falcon in 2021 with a wealth of experience in Operations, Sustainability, and Project and Program Management. Kate holds a Masters in Community Development & Applied Economics from UVM, with a thesis on sustainability in coffee supply chains. Kate leads Falcon’s global sustainability strategy. As a firm believer that every actor in the coffee supply chain can do good while doing well, she is a proponent of a comprehensive and fast-paced transition to climate-conscious supply chains. 


Falcon’s Sustainability team is a new department. What was the motivation for creating a dedicated team?

That’s true, we now have a dedicated team of four in Falcon, focused on sustainability. There were two things behind that investment: one, we recognised that we have of lot of goals that are going to require significant time and effort and, two, we realised that most of our customers have meaningful goals as well. Our team allows us to give stronger support for both.


What does a sustainability department in a green coffee company do and what kind or areas of expertise does it include?

I almost want to say, “what don’t we do?” – so much of working in an agricultural commodity is impacted by climate change and sustainability. We have multiple projects related to the climate, including emissions measurements, reduction and sequestration, many of which are led by our senior ecologist, Dr. Amanda Caudill and our data analyst, Harry Ablett, who’s also a biochemist by trade. We’re also working on a number of initiatives to go even further in our supply chain traceability and transparency.

Today, 85% of coffee sold at Falcon is certified, verified, or traceable, but we’re looking to significantly increase that percentage in the next 18 months.


Sustainability is a very hot topic right now, especially amongst the specialty coffee community. What are the big issues currently driving the conversations?

I’m really excited by the energy behind climate and water-smart agriculture, regenerative agriculture and biodiversity right now. There’s a growing body of evidence that shows that there are things we can adjust about the way we farm coffee today that will build healthier soils, increase biodiversity, reduce our reliance on fertilisers and more. They are a natural means to sequester carbon, reduce emissions and, when done well, have no negative impact on coffee yields. If we could encourage these practices at scale, it could make a powerful impact on biodiversity and the climate.


What kinds of sustainability efforts is Falcon involved in and how do these support your supply chains?

There is so much fascinating complexity in coffee. Every farmer, every co-op, every roaster is going to have their own priorities in becoming more sustainable and each solution could be unique.

Falcon is actively supporting over two dozen projects globally at any given time, each one a response to a specific need in a specific partnership. There’s an agronomy program tripling yields right now in one part of Ethiopia and we’re exploring mobile technology and blockchain in another. There’s a drying bed project in Colombia and an incredible female producer empowerment program in Central America. We have summaries on a lot of them here – it’s definitely worth checking out! falconcoffees.com/portfolio/


What have been the standout impact points or most meaningful contributions Falcon has achieved over the past year or so?

You can’t help but be inspired by the data that’s coming out of the Technoserve Tree Stumping project we’re supporting in Ethiopia. Our customers have teamed up to support almost three hundred farmer households through a multi-year tree renovation project that is not only increasing their yields and quality, but it’s creating a huge impact on household income.


With emissions reporting and a range of government regulations coming in soon it feels like the topic and the sentiment driving sustainability is changing from being aspirational or voluntary to something more formal and necessary?. Is this a good or bad thing?

Here’s the thing: the reality of the climate crisis right now is that all of our voluntary efforts, incredible though they may be, simply aren’t enough. This is an “all hands-on deck” moment. That’s going to require government intervention, like what we’re seeing now out of the EU and the UK. The downside of new regulation is that it’s going to have unintended consequences and we’re going to have to work together to resolve them. Collaboration will be key.


How will this shift impact coffee roasters and coffee producers, and what will actors like Falcon have to do to support them?

Sustainability regulations, already taking shape in the EU and the UK, and on the horizon for many of the rest of us, are asking for more transparency and due diligence across the industry.

For producers, this may mean creating geolocation data and providing more information on labour practices.

For importers, there will be more data being collected, stored, and tied to our coffee purchases. And for roasters, you may be seeing more questions raised about your sustainability efforts from your lenders or requests to track some of your emissions. I imagine most of us will be impacted in the years to come. We’ve created a resource for our partners called “Regulation Readiness” which has informative summaries, curated resources, and updates on what Falcon is doing to prepare for the regulations ahead.


Despite the impact that reporting and regulations is going to have on coffee roasters and retailers, is it fair to say that it’s coffee farmers who are the ones facing the biggest threats from climate related impacts? What can we do as a community to protect them and preserve supply chains?

There is no doubt that smallholder coffee farmers are among those least responsible for the climate crisis but are disproportionately impacted by it. But we can help and each of us taking meaningful steps toward being more climate-friendly is critical.

If you want to do more and aren’t sure where to start, consider supporting World Coffee Research. They’re doing incredible work toward creating climate-resistant coffee varietals (and more). Falcon is set up to forward customer contributions to WCR and it doesn’t take much: contributions can be as small as 1/10 of one cent per pound. You can learn more here.


Plastic is a big issue in coffee supply chains, not least because of how it’s used in transportation and storage because of the importance of protecting quality. Will it ever be possible to reduce the amount of plastic used for coffee? Is this just a challenge for the industry that will require a permanent trade-off between impact and quality?

I think our focus shouldn’t be on plastic, it should be on the emissions this current method of protection is generating. They seem so innocuous and small individually, but the amount of plastic bags that went through Falcon’s hands last year totalled 30 tonnes of plastic. That’s 144 metric tonnes of CO2e every. Single. Year.

It’s imperative that we find a way to reduce the emissions coming from this packaging, but we’re in luck: bioplastics have made their way to the market and bag suppliers are finding ways to “lightweight” (reduce the amount of plastic) without compromising quality. Falcon is in the midst of a research project on viable alternatives and we’re looking forward to sharing more details soon.


With all this driving an increased interest in the topic, right down to the casual coffee consumer, is there an increased demand for information around traceability and transparency about coffee supply chains? What’s the difference between these two things are why does providing them matter?

This is such an important distinction! Traceability is knowing who your coffee came from, but transparency means economic transparency, that is – knowing who was paid for what and how much. Ultimately, you need both in a truly sustainable supply chain: ensuring every farmer is paid fairly is our industry’s cornerstone.

If we hope to retain coffee’s labour force for our growing demand, we start here. We’re definitely seeing an increase in demand for this information and I hope that continues to grow.