Michael Wienhold is Trader and Sourcing Professional at Rehm & Co., a green coffee importer serving a customer base that is driven by a more sustainable coffee supply. In his work, Michael is sourcing and trading specialty coffee from a large network of farmers across the globe. Thereby, he regularly interacts with the coffee producers in the countries of origin and the roasters who make up the customer base of Rehm & Co..
What is your motivation to work on sustainability-related topics in your company?
As green coffee importers, we have a responsibility to be sustainable, as the commodity we trade is highly sensitive towards social, economic but also climate factors. Non-sustainable sourcing practices would harm both us and the people in the country of origin. It has always been important to me to link my sourcing activities to projects that support our partners in one or all of the above areas.
What is your perspective on the rising information demands around sustainability from customers and other stakeholders?
I welcome it. It is about time that critical questions are asked, that statements about sustainability are questioned, and that proof for those statements is requested.
I understand that these requests mean more work for us, but if the goal is a more sustainable work ethic, I don’t see a problem with it.
What are the biggest challenges in this regard you are facing in your role at Rehm & Co.?
For us, the biggest challenge is leveraging more data in our daily work. Our company has been sourcing coffee for more than 100 years - some partners we work with have been connected to us for generations! Yet the data we collect is not being used.
We need to organize our data, collect it with a clear strategy, and use or publish it to provide information for our customers.
The more transparent we become, the better we can explain why coffee needs to be associated with higher prices.
How do you navigate these challenges in your company?
Until recently, we stuck to a very manual data collection process which was driven by specific and individual customer requests. We used to collect specific data on an ad hoc basis when our customers asked us to provide evidence of our sustainable operations and our partner initiatives. There was no system or structure behind it.
We are currently working on changing this by using Sunhat's software solution, as this can help us to better leverage our data for responding and reporting to our customers.
How do you make sure you stay on top of all your projects and tasks?
By applying manual task management and collaboration tools like Slack - and a lot of post-it notes. : )
How do external demands, for example requirements from your customers, align with your company’s goals?
Both our company and our customers want to be as transparent as possible when selling their product.
Coffee is seen as a mass-consumption product that should be cheap, hot and prepared quickly.
The truth, however, is that behind that cup of coffee you’re drinking are hard working people who need to make a living off their hard work. And without us or our clients being able to share insights into the hard work that is coffee, the consumer behavior cannot change for the better.
Therefore, every request and requirement from our customers is a chance for us to bring about change, and aligns perfectly with our goal to achieve exactly that.
What keeps you focused on your goals?
Visiting the farmers in the countries of origin.
Meeting our producers and their people is an experience that never gets boring. It’s crucial to get perspective on how lucky we are with what we have and how much work still needs to be done. It also shows how much can be done when working with the right people.
What makes you optimistic about the future?
The consumer is becoming more critical. New regulations are in place that make it more difficult for companies to be lazy when sourcing from developing or emerging economies. Information travels faster, people are more connected than ever.
I think all this can be used to bring about change. In the coffee sector, we focus on grassroots projects. We support from the ground up, and in that microcosm we’ve seen great progress.
If we can get more people on board by providing more information through a thorough primary data collection, I am confident that we can change many people’s lives for the better.
What do you think is most important for sustainability teams to focus on when it comes to responding to sustainability requirements?
Providing verifiable data.
Only if the data is verifiable and trust is created will more people be motivated to participate. In the long run, providing such data will make greenwashing a thing of the past.
And lastly, what’s your productivity hack?
Meeting people at the origin. If that doesn't kick-start your productivity, nothing will.