Coffee Knowledge Hub

SCA Coffee Sustainability Program Foundation level

This course is designed to offer baseline knowledge of what the term sustainability means and the challenges of acting sustainably across the coffee value chain.

Course overview

Sustainability must be embraced by all actors in the value chain if the specialty coffee industry is to survive and thrive. This course is designed to offer baseline knowledge of what the term sustainability means and the challenges of acting sustainably across the coffee value chain. It is focused on developing a common vocabulary and understanding of sustainability, with a focus on economics, the environment, social issues, and the connections between them. At the Foundation Level, students will be exposed to sustainability terminology, a brief history of sustainability in coffee, and key sustainability challenges across the value chain. They will begin to understand the trade-offs and complexities of different approaches and current practices, and access some of the tools that exist to address a variety of sustainability challenges. The course is designed for people at all points in the value chain. Participants will leave the course understanding the complex, but not impossible, challenges related to sustainability issues, and will begin to recognize some ways to best implement solutions. After Foundation, students are prepared for the Intermediate Level, where they will learn to take preliminary action and make informed decisions on behalf of themselves, their companies, and/or their organizations.


  • Session One: Defining Sustainability - What is sustainability & brief history of sustainable development.
  • Session Two: Political Considerations & Stakeholders in Coffee - Political considerations of coffee sustainability including a discussion of coffee’s colonial history and the complexity of global stakeholders in the coffee industry.
  • Session Three: Economic Sustainability - Overview of challenges and solutions in economic sustainability in coffee, including global price decision-making, economic inequality, & certifications.
  • Session Four: Environmental Sustainability - Overview of challenges and solutions in environmental sustainability, including climate change, coffee diseases, and coffee varietals.
  • Session Five: Social Sustainability - Overview of challenges and solutions in social sustainability, including Intersectionality, gender and youth inequities, and ethical marketing.
  • Final Session: Review of Key Takeaways & Explanation of Exam.


After completion of live online and homework assignments, students will be sent a link to take an online exam independently, which must be completed within 21 days. To pass, students must answer 70% of the questions correctly in order to qualify to advance to the Intermediate Level.

Questions are a mix of multiple choice and true/false; refer to SCA exam policies.

Your Accredited SCA Trainer: Erika Koss

Erika is the founder of A World in Your Cup Consulting, a Nairobi-based education and consulting business focused on sustainability, gender equity, and decolonialization of the beverage crops. Erika is a Research Associate at the University of Nairobi in Kenya; a PhD candidate in the International Development Studies program at SaintMary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; and an Authorized SCA Trainer.

From 2018-19, Erika was a member of the Creator’s Group who wrote the Sustainability Coffee Skills curriculum for the Specialty Coffee Association. The course launched at the 2019 Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston, USA, and since then, Erika has taught hundreds of coffee professionals around the world.

Erika’s coffee career began in 1996 as a barista in San Diego, California. Now as a writer, teacher, and researcher who lives in Nairobi, Kenya, Erika’s work focuses on gender equity, sustainability, climate resilience, (de)colonialism, and global governance of the global coffee value chain. She lives in Nairobi with her younger son.


By successfully completing the Foundation Level, students will be able to:

  • Articulate broad sustainability challenges at different points in the value chain;
  • Discuss possibilities for sustainability solutions and best practices at various levels of the coffee value chain;
  • Explain trade-offs of different sustainability projects and practices.

Upcoming courses

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