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Committee on Sustainability Assessment

Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA)
Cosa 516x192.jpg
FoundedProject of UNCTAD: 2005 Independent Non-profit: 2012
FoundersDaniele Giovannucci, Jason Potts
TypeNon-profit, NGO
FocusScientific measurement of social, economic, and environmental factors affecting agriculture crops and communities.

The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) is a global consortium of development institutions that work collaboratively to advance the systematic and science-based measurement of sustainability in agriculture. COSA applies a pragmatic and collective approach for using scientific methods to develop indicators and tools to measure sustainability through performance monitoring, evaluation, and impact assessment. These sustainability measurements assess the distinct social, environmental and economic impacts of agricultural practices.[1][2]

COSA’s approach and indicators have a basis in international treaties and normative references such as the International Labour Organization eight fundamental Conventions, the World Health Organization Guidelines for Water Quality and the International Finance Corporation. The indicators align with internationally recognized accords including the United Nations Global Compact, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and are benchmarked for consistency and shared use.[3]


The concept for COSA was originally developed in 2005 as a project of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the United Nations International Trade Centre and was focused on the coffee sector.[4] The COSA indicator development process was inaugurated through the International Coffee Organization whose Council unanimously endorsed it, making it the first sustainability assessment system to be formally adopted by a global commodity body.[5][6] The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development COSA project focused on developing a thorough and rigorous cost benefit analysis of sustainability practices in the coffee sector via two primary outputs: a tool for assessing costs and benefits according to COSA-defined criteria and indicators, and training to enable stakeholders to “measure and understand the costs and benefits of undertaking sustainable practices and adopting different sustainability initiatives.”[4]

In 2008, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development COSA project published "Seeking Sustainability: COSA Preliminary Analysis of Sustainability Initiatives in the Coffee Sector".[7] The report summarized the findings of the pilot application of the COSA tool to collect and analyze data to facilitate understanding of environmental, social, and economic outcomes associated with sustainability initiatives in the coffee sector. The six coffee sector sustainability initiatives included were: organic, Fair Trade, Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C), UTZ certified, Rainforest Alliance, and Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices. Three coffee growing regions were included: Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

In 2012, led by its founder and President Daniele Giovannucci, the structure and constitution of COSA was formalized as an independent non-profit organization incorporated under United States law to advance research and training in the field of sustainability.[8] It is as this globally-focused, independent non-profit that COSA continues its work today. Core support has come primarily from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the Ford Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank. COSA is supported half by public grants and half by its advisory services and impact assessment projects.[9]

Working in partnerships

COSA supports institutions to adopt and integrate approaches to sustainability, and includes more than 40 public and private sector organizations. [10][11][12] COSA partners with research and development institutions to adopt, integrate, and build local sustainability measurement and evaluation capacity in the countries where it works, as well as for bilateral learning. Local partnerships to conduct research have included the Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research at the University of Ghana, the Centro de Estudios Regionales Cafeteros y Empresariales in Colombia, the strategic think tank of the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute, and the CGIAR Consortium of research organizations.

The COSA partnership with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, in Kenya and Uganda, led to new processes with the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) for conducting field research to advance the understanding of the challenges faced by smallholder farmers and the roles of their cooperatives.[13] The work, commissioned by the International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance with support of the Ford Foundation, evolved methods for effectively assessing the impacts of multiple sustainability certifications on the lives of farmers, their organizations, and communities. [14] [15] COSA piloted the Grameen Foundation’s Progress Out of Poverty Index in coffee (Guatemala, Mexico, Peru) and cocoa (Nicaragua, Colombia), and adopted them into its suite of indicators.[16][17]

COSA works in development projects with sustainability labels such as Fair trade, Organic, UTZ Certified, 4C, and Rainforest Alliance.[18][19][20][21][22] Private supply chains have utilized COSA to assess and measure the impact of their sustainability efforts, fostered by development agencies such as the International Finance Corporation, USAID, or the Swiss Government, and include firms such as Nespresso,[23][24] Lindt and Sprungli, Mars Drinks, Cargill, ECOM Trading and Mondelez International.[25]


COSA indicators and tools have been widely incorporated, adopted, and adapted by institutions, corporations, and other organizations:

  • The Textile Exchange adapted COSA indicators to create the Organic Cotton Sustainability Assessment Tool to assess the sustainability impact of organic cotton farming.[26][27]
  • COSA led the efforts to establish global metrics for small farmer sustainability for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which commissioned COSA, along with the Grameen Foundation and Soil & More International, to develop the metrics for its Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems Tool.[28][29]
  • The International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Impacts Code is aligned with COSA indicators [30] as is the Shared Framework for Performance Measurement of the Sustainable Food Lab and the Shared Approach to Performance Measurement: Common Indicators and Metrics” that was developed in partnership with Ford Foundation, IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, Seas of Change, MARS Chocolate, Root Capital, International Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance, Nestle, Rainforest Alliance, and Centre for Development Innovation.[31][32]
  • The International Cotton Advisory Committee’s Expert Panel on the Social, Environmental, and Economic Performance of Cotton and the Food and Agriculture Organization Plant Production and Protection Division published a guidance framework for measuring the sustainability of cotton farming systems with indicators that were in part informed by COSA’s decade of work in the field.[33]
  • For the Ford Foundation, COSA designed simple assessment tools and guidelines for Ford Foundation grantees to utilize to improve the design and management of their food crop projects.
  • With the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) Inter-American Development Bank Sustainable Agriculture, Food, and Environment platform, COSA helps funded projects to establish or improve their measurement and evaluation systems to achieve greater levels of scalability and share lessons and knowledge across the funding Platform.[34]
  • COSA also collaborates with multi-stakeholder industry initiatives such as the Sustainable Coffee Challenge led by Conservation International and the Global Coffee Platform led by the 4C Coffee Association.

Since its creation, COSA’s reach has expanded to seventeen countries: Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam. In addition to coffee, COSA now also works with cocoa, cotton, sugar, and food crops.


COSA has been recognized in the international development and sustainability communities for its "visible and impartial" assessments.[35][36] Following the 2014 publication of the COSA Measuring Sustainability Report: Coffee and Cocoa in 12 Countries, the International Society of Environmental Accreditation and Labeling Alliance called COSA a leader in the "alignment of standards and certification initiatives, showing the potential of harmonizing metrics." [37][38]

External links


  1. ^ Schmitz, Carsten (2014). Voluntary Standard Systems: A Contribution to Sustainable Development. p. 376.
  2. ^ Dalal-Clayton, Barry; Sadler, Barry (2012). Sustainability Appraisal: A Sourcebook and Reference Guide to International Experience. p. 644.
  3. ^ "ISEAL, COSA and Sustainable Food Lab partnering to improve smallholder supply chains".
  4. ^ a b "Information Brief on The COSA Project: A Multi-Criteria Cost-Benefit Analysis of Sustainable Practices in Coffee" (PDF).
  5. ^ "International Coffee Council, Ninety-sixth Session, 25-29 September 2006, ICO Documents on Sustainability" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Decisions and Resolutions adopted at the Ninety-first Session of the International Coffee Council, 22-25 May 2006" (PDF).
  7. ^ "Seeking Sustainability: COSA Preliminary Analysis of Sustainability Initiatives in the Coffee Sector" (PDF).
  8. ^ "COSA listing on".
  9. ^ "COSA listing of organizations providing financial support".
  10. ^ "COSA listing of partner organizations".
  11. ^ "COSA listing of Traders, Brands and Investors".
  12. ^ "COSA listing of Clients and Partners".
  13. ^ "Impacts of Certification on Organized Small Coffee Farmers in Kenya: Baseline Results. April 2016" (PDF).
  14. ^ "Impacts of Certification on Organized Small Coffee Farmers in Kenya: Baseline Results. April 2016" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Research Design and Methods, ISEAL DIPI Project - Three Commissioned Impact Evaluations - Baseline Full Reports and Research Design Documents".
  16. ^ "Progress out of Poverty, A Credible Tool".
  17. ^ "Committee on Sustainability Assessment, Testing the Progress Out of Poverty Index, Update to the 2013-2014 Report" (PDF).
  18. ^ "Fair Trade USA, Impact Management System, November 2015" (PDF).
  19. ^ "UTZ Certification, Measuring Impact".
  20. ^ "UTZ Certification, Commissioned Studies, "Impact Evaluation of UTZ Certified Coffee Program in Columbia"".
  21. ^ "ISEAL Alliance Commissions Three Impact Evaluations in Kenya, India, and Indonesia".
  22. ^ "Rainforest Alliance Certification on Cocoa Farm in Côte d'Ivoire".
  23. ^ "Reporting Performance: Reaching our 2013 sustainability commitments, Nespresso".
  24. ^ "CRECE's Monitoring & Evaluation Study on the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality Program in Colombia" (PDF).
  25. ^ "Mondelez International Pledges Unprecedented Transparency by Inviting Third-Party to Report Impact of its Coffee Made Happy Program".
  26. ^ "Organic Cotton Sustainability Assessment Tool (OC-SAT) website".
  27. ^ "Organic Cotton Sustainability Assessment Tool (OC-SAT) summary" (PDF).
  28. ^ "FAO Sustainability Pathways, SAFA Smallholders App 2.0.0".
  29. ^ "Grameen Foundation, "Collaboration with FAO"".
  30. ^ "ISEAL Alliance Impacts Code".
  31. ^ "Sustainable Food Lab (SFL) Shared Framework for Performance Measurement".
  32. ^ "A Shared Approach to Performance Measurement: Common Indicators and Methods".
  33. ^ "Measuring Sustainability in Cotton Farming Systems: Towards a Guidance Framework" (PDF).
  34. ^ "New SAFE platform seeks to improve links between 150,000 smallholder famers in Latin American and the Caribbean and global value chains".
  35. ^ "Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Coffeelands: Coffee, Impact, and "Big Data"".
  36. ^ "Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Coffeelands: Throwing Haymakers at Fair Trade".
  37. ^ "The COSA Measuring Sustainability Report: Coffee and Cocoa in 12 Countries" (PDF).
  38. ^ "ISEAL Alliance. Measuring Sustainability: Two major studies on the impact of standards now out".

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