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Sustainability: Why are people so important?

Here at DR Wakefield, we are all about producing the right coffee at the right price. However, we are also dedicated to producing it in the right way – that means, by sourcing it responsibly, supporting those at the origins of trading, ensuring that the livelihoods of the farmers and growers are taken care of, and overall by guaranteeing that we are trading coffee in the most equitable, ecological and sustainable way possible.

But why is sustainability in terms of other human beings such a big deal anyway?

Well, human development is a huge part of sustainable practice – and that doesn't mean the construction of apartment blocks and shopping centres. 

According to the Human Development Report 2011 entitled Sustainability and Equity – A Better Future For All: "Human development is the expansion of people’s freedoms and capabilities to lead lives that they value and have reason to value."

These "freedoms and capabilities" are about far more than just giving people the bare essentials that they need to survive.

It's about ensuring that human beings are able to develop and reach their full potential, to achieve their aspirations, not to see aspects of their lives constricted and controlled by factors that are outside of their control and not to be exploited by others.

Put in the context of coffee trading, it's about ensuring that the farmers and those that work extremely hard on the plantations and in processing the beans receive a fair wage for the work they are doing and that they have enough money and support to lead comfortable lives, be able to sustain themselves and their families and to reach their full potential.

The report goes on to say: "Promoting human development requires addressing sustainability – locally, nationally and globally – and this can and should be done in ways that are equitable and empowering."

In investing in such practices, you are helping to empower those who might have been exploited before sustainability came to the fore and to build national and international communities that are in fact mutually reinforcing.

It's also about safeguarding the resources that we have today for the generations to come. Going back to coffee, if we are unsustainable and irresponsible in the way we farm, source and trade coffee, the opportunities – and ultimately the coffee itself – that we enjoy will simply not survive into the future. 

Our children's children will not be able to enjoy the coffee that we do because all of the plantation land will have been built on, indigenous communities will have been driven out, farmers will have been crippled by poverty and trade will be monopolised by a few cruel exploiters. It's truly an apocalyptic vision.

Interestingly, environmentally sustainable practices are intrinsically linked with those that promote human development. This is because more often than not, it is those living in the most deprived areas of the world – those in developing countries who do not have the sanitation, shelter and security that we in the west perhaps take for granted – that suffer the most as a result of the repercussions of dramatic environmental destruction, even if they may in fact contribute relatively little to the problem.

According to the aforementioned report: "The average person in a very high Human Development Index (HDI) country accounts for more than four times the carbon dioxide emissions and about twice the methane and nitrous oxide emissions of a person in a low, medium or high HDI country – and about 30 times the carbon dioxide emissions of a person in a low HDI country."

Currently, around 350 million people globally live in or near forests on which they rely for their livelihood – and yet we continue to cut them down.

Agriculture accounts for about 70 to 85 per cent of all water usage – and still 20 per cent of grain production around the world is not using water sustainably.

Some 45 million people depend on fishing to live – nevertheless, we continue to overfish the oceans and deplete them of stock.

Environmentally sustainable practice aims to counter this – and thereby aid human development as an indirect result.

The planet matters, people matter, and by caring about the world we care for those living in it too. Everything is intertwined and this is why sustainable practice on every single level is so important.