As my end-of-the-year travel schedule has wound down, it’s been nice to spend some time reflecting on the progress that we have made this year in the area of sustainable agriculture. Since we launched our new 2020 goal to “sustainably source” back in July, we have spent a lot of time engaging our employees and suppliers to establish current-state baselines, and to understand the work required to meet our targets. Personally, it’s been an exciting year for me as I have taken on leadership for this new commitment. But, it has also been incredibly busy for me and my team! Since August, I have traveled to China (twice), Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Orlando (twice), Boston and Washington, DC.  

Many of our key ingredients come from the world’s most significant agricultural sourcing regions, and we are starting there first. We are building regional interdisciplinary teams across the Company to drive progress on our goal. As part of that process, we have held workshops and have action plans being developed in China, Japan, Mexico, southern and central Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Central America, Europe and the US.

External partners are also central to our work and ability to accelerate progress. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is a key strategic partner in our sustainable agriculture efforts. For example, we recently launched the next phase of our partnership with WWF, including a particular focus on the Yangtze River basin in China, and the catchments of the Mesoamerican Reef in Central America. We are focusing on these regions in particular because of their significance as ecologically important regions for people and biodiversity, and our interest in them from both a business growth and agricultural sourcing region perspective. In addition to these core basins, we are working with WWF in nine additional geographies.

As our understanding of agricultural supply chains increases, we see lessons in some ingredients that can be applied to others. For example, in Colombia and Brazil, we recently visited coffee suppliers and farmers to discuss their perspectives on supply chain sustainability. Much of the focus in “sustainable sourcing” is around first understanding exactly where and how your material is sourced. The coffee supply chain has within its very fabric a focus on supply chain information. Many consumers are in tune with where and how their coffee is sourced. We know there is much we can learn from our coffee supply chain to apply across other ingredients.

We have taken our definition for “sustainably sourced” to a new level, finalizing our Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles and Criteria as the foundation for which we have begun checking our supply chain’s progress. Early in 2014, we will launch a host of tools for our employees and suppliers to use with farmers to implement our long-range plans. Over the course of 2014, we will build a global governance, validation and assurance model that will form the basis for checking and verification, beginning in 2015.

The Company also made a groundbreaking commitment to respect and prohibit violations of land rights across our supply chain. We look forward to implementing this commitment along with our broader sustainable sourcing goal. All of these efforts move us closer to the farm, which is critical to the work that we are undertaking in partnership with our bottling partners, our suppliers and key stakeholders.

As the year has slowed down, I’ve been able to spend more time at home with my kids. My second grader’s class is in charge of his school’s holiday food drive. My son, Jack, has taken a real interest in collecting food for the less fortunate. Every few days, he has given us updates on what’s coming in, how much is being collected, and what the target items are. This experience has presented many teaching moments for us as parents, but it’s also made me stop to think a little bit more about how connected we all are. Feeding nine billion people by 2050 will require improvements in virtually all agricultural supply chains. Whether it’s a second-grader collecting a few cans of food for the less fortunate, or his Dad flying off to China a few times a year to try and make a small impact there, we all will need to work to connect the dots.

Ben Jordan

Ben Jordan is the Director of Supplier Sustainability at TheCoca-Cola Company in Atlanta, Georgia.