Illycaffè was established in Trieste in 1933 by Francesco Illy, a Hungarian World War I veteran. The city, located at the very tip of the Italian Adriatic Sea, has since become a recognised centre for coffee research and testing, and illycaffè is an internationally recognised sustainable producer of high-quality coffee.
Ms Anna Adriani, Director of Global PR and Global Responsibility at illycaffè – and a close confidante of Mr Andrea Illy, the current illycaffè Chairman and CEO and a third-generation Illy – has been instrumental in bringing the illycaffè brand and its dedication to sustainability to new heights. The company’s track record is impressive. Recently, illycaffè became the first company to receive DNV’s new Responsible Supply Chain Process certificate.
Why is sustainability so important to illycaffè?
“When Francesco Illy started the company, he was adamant that it should be a family-run stakeholder company with value creation throughout the chain. Thus, ever since, sustainability has remained at the core of the company’s values. You could say that sustainability is in the DNA of the Illy family,” says Ms Adriani.
“To illycaffè, quality and sustainability go hand in hand – a good quality product is a sustainable product. Today, Andrea Illy brings his grandfather’s vision forward by stressing that sustainability creates value for everyone and that, in order to improve people’s quality of life, businesses should adopt a sustainable approach to their operations.
“In the early 1990s, the company realised that quality requires direct relationships with coffee growers. Thus we started a new production model and quickly established direct relationships with the growers in Central America, South America, Africa and India.”
How does illycaffè work with sustainability?
“To illycaffè, sustainability has three aspects; social, environmental and economic. While economic sustainability is achieved through value creation for all those involved in the supply chain, social sustainability rests on the concept of self-realisation and individual growth. And environmental sustainability implies a respect for the eco-system. In recent years, illycaffè has adopted a four-pillar approach to sustainability.
”First of all we select the best growers. How we do this depends on the country. In Brazil, we established a prize for the best quality espresso coffee back in 1991. Coffee growers submit samples of their best crops and two juries – one in Trieste and one in Brazil – pick the best of the best. The winner receives USD 30,000 and is under no obligation to sell us his or her coffee. Although we hope they will,” Ms Adriani adds with a smile.
“Our second approach to sustainability is our Universitàs del Caffè or centres of excellence for coffee culture – targeting baristas, customers, coffee growers and consumers. The Universitàs are set up to promote and disseminate the culture of quality coffee. And they give us an opportunity to share with our stakeholders 70 years of historical research on the agronomy of coffee,” adds Ms Adriani.
“Our third approach is buying the coffee directly from the growers, paying them more than the market price. During the coffee crisis a few years back, we consistently paid above-market prices. The reason is simply that we want the best quality coffee, and we know that when coffee prices fall, less money will be invested in quality. We hope that our direct relationships with the growers help make their business more predictable.
“Our fourth approach to sustainability is to focus on creating communities. Let me give you an example. A few years back we set up a coffee club in Brazil for growers, baristas, hotel owners, customers and other stakeholders. We wanted to create a community characterised by a sense of sharing, mutual respect and dedication to the quality and excellence of coffee culture. In recent years, I’ve visited some of our coffee club members in Brazil; when I see them proudly displaying diplomas for quality and excellence, I feel like we have succeeded in creating a community where the illycaffè brand has become synonymous with quality. When I hear our suppliers say that when they sell coffee to illycaffè they can sell coffee to anyone, I know we are on the right track,” says Ms Adriani.
“Over the past two years, illycaffè has worked closely with DNV to develop a new innovative standard – the “DNV Responsible Supply Chain Process” standard – which certifies a responsible supply process. In addition to analysing the company’s processes and strategies according to sustainability factors, the standard also covers relations with stakeholders.”
Why did you decide to obtain a green supply chain certificate?
“A product cannot be sustainable if the company itself is not sustainable. What we’re witnessing is a global trend where more and more people care about what goes on behind the product. We wanted a certificate because we needed a third-party witness to document what we do. We’ve worked with DNV before, so we asked them to develop a standard certifying our operations, including stakeholder relations. As opposed to many other certification schemes, we wanted to develop a scheme together where the burden is not on the grower. The standard is now open to all, but in particular to those companies with a specific supply chain involving countries in the developing parts of the world.”
How does illycaffè work to reduce its environmental footprint?
”In addition to focusing on reducing our environmental footprint in our relationships with stakeholders, we do a lot to reduce emissions at our factories. We are setting up solar energy heating, and currently our emissions to air are about 1/20 of what the law allows. We are also looking into a project that will transform energy from smoke and emissions to heating during the winter months and cooling in the summer. We work constantly to develop new technologies that will reduce the environmental impact of our packaging. Today, our coffee box packaging is 100% degradable. Furthermore, we participate in a project that focuses on reducing the carbon footprint of the coffee plantations, both through our coffee universities and through renowned universities such as Oxford.
“These are some of the things we do in order to be a good corporate citizen. What matters is that our operations are sustainable, that our customers and suppliers are happy and that quality and excellence are at the core of everything we do. In the end, it is about the many stories behind every cup of espresso – about quality and sustainability going hand in hand, creating value for everyone.”