Next Gen Interview with Bambi Semroc of Conservation International

NCA Next Gen recently had the chance to chat with Bambi Semroc, VP of Sustainable Markets and Strategy at Conservation International. The following Q&A has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Bambi Semroc

Next Gen: How did you first become interested in conservation and sustainability work?  Did your Peace Corps work in Togo help set you on this path?

Bambi: As I was finishing undergrad, I started becoming more and more interested in international development and in working overseas.  One of my professors, however, challenged me, asking what skillset I would bring with me if I went abroad. What can you do that those in your hosting region couldn’t do better?  So, realizing I needed to bolster my skill set, I went back to school to study international development with a concentration on the relationship between gender and successful agroforestry systems. This led perfectly to my Peace Corps assignment in Togo, where I was living in small, rural community located next to a protected area and worked on agroforestry and other community development programs. Returning from Togo, I joined Conservational International (CI), which was just developing its Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, and haven’t looked back since.

Next Gen: You’ve spent most of your career with Conservation International (CI) following your time in the Peace Corps. What about the work and culture at CI keeps you excited and motivated?

Bambi: Well, when I first joined CI, the idea of an environmental NGO working with the private sector was still relatively new. It took some effort to convince the corporations we approached that we were not looking to launch an attack, but rather that we wanted to collaborate with them. It was an exciting time. Overall, CI has a culture of innovation. It allows you to stake a course for yourself, and there always seems to be something new and exciting to work on. 

Next Gen: How has your career at CI evolved and how did you come to lead the Sustainable Coffee Challenge (SCC)? Have you always had an interest in sustainability within the coffee sector?

Bambi: It’s evolved from an internship while in grad school to now leading the coffee program and forming a new Center for Sustainable Lands and Waters.  And while I have worked on coffee the entire time, I don’t actually drink coffee. Rather than a love of the beverage, my drive comes from a love of the coffee tree.  It’s a crop that can grow under a tree canopy and holds great potential for rural development. So, my role at CI is constantly evolving, and coffee is only a portion of the work I do. Leading the SCC, however, is basically a dream job: managing the coffee program, engaging with major corporate leaders, and working closely with local communities.  Can’t ask for much more than that. 

Next Gen: It seems that leading the SCC you wear many hats. Do you have a favorite part of the job?  A least favorite?

Bambi: Overall, I could name two favorite parts. The first would be getting to meet and speak with producers, visit coffee farms, and see amazing natural areas.  The second would be trying to get industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. Seeing this alignment happen is extremely fulfilling and rewarding.  And, well, my least favorite part would be… trying to get the industry participants aligned on sustainability efforts and goals. While seeing the alignment happen is fulfilling, it takes a lot of time and I know that, when it comes to our gravest environmental concerns, time is not a luxury we have. So, I worry about not being able to drive collective action and alignment fast enough.

Next Gen: You’ve taken on a very exciting role within sustainability and coffee industry. Is there anything you can point to that helped you achieve this success?

Bambi: In the first place, you have to find your passion, then you have to work hard. My first role at CI was an internship in which I had one task: research how to grow cocoa sustainably in one region of West Africa. I poured my heart and soul into that internship. As a result, my research grew and grew, and I received recognition within CI for this effort. I’ve been working side by side for the last 18 years with that same manager who took over the cocoa program while I was an intern.

Next Gen: The SCC’s mission is to make coffee the world’s first sustainable agricultural product. It seems “sustainability” means something different to each actor in the industry – what does “sustainability” mean in the context of the SCC?

Bambi: SCC recognized that there was not alignment regarding what sustainability means throughout the industry, so we set out to try to establish a common framework. The framework is based around four compass points: Improve livelihoods, conserve nature, sustain supply, strengthen market demand. We are now embedding carbon sequestration more formally in the conserve nature point. However, in additional to a common alignment on sustainability, we’ve also developed a common definition for success.  But yes, in the end, the question still comes up: What counts as sustainable coffee?

Next Gen: During your tenure leading the SCC, are you happy with the changes and improvements you’ve seen across the industry? In terms of sustainability, where do you see the industry heading?

Bambi: We have seen a lot of progress but, ultimately, I feel we are never moving fast enough. This is the reason behind forming the SCC:  How do we catalyze more effort? We have major challenges—climate change, deforestation, freshwater degradation, etc.—but we can get there.  Moving forward, we need to see more innovation around sustainability. We need to talk more about living incomes for producers and workers. We need to talk more about capturing CO2. And, in the end, we need to take a very holistic approach and ask what is good for the producers, communities, landscapes, and regions.

Next Gen: What challenges do Covid-19 pose to the work of the SCC and, more broadly, to the sustainability efforts across the coffee industry?

Bambi: Covid-19 brings tremendous challenges to the entire coffee sector. It’s changed where people drink their coffee, which has profound impacts on retailers and roasters in particular. Covid-19 also forces us to recognize the fragility of the coffee industry – from the safety and availability of workers picking the coffee to those milling and roasting the coffee. Then, it also gives us a moment to reflect on why we are so fragile and how we can find a better balance with people and nature. With regards to sustainability in general, Covid-19 only emphasizes how important the work we are pursuing is.

Next Gen: What advice do you have for someone trying to get involved in sustainability within the coffee industry?

Bambi: Again, first you have to find your passion.  If you want to get involved in sustainability, find exactly what it is within the space drives you and gets you excited.  Then, on a very practical level, field experience in invaluable. It gives you empathy and an understanding of the reality on the ground in some of the world’s most vulnerable places.

Next Gen: What changes would you like to see in the coffee industry moving forward? The audience of this interview is comprised of the young coffee professionals that will drive the coffee industry in the future—what message do you have for them?

Bambi: I see so much hope with the younger generations.  These are generations in which the majority actually care about social and environmental issues. So my hope is that this generation sparks a new wave of sustainability in the sector – that harnesses this interest and passion to truly transition the entire sector to a sustainable and resilient future.

5 Key Training Principles For Quality Coffee Service

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Effective training is critical to make your specialty coffee program a success.

By Anne Nylander


Current coffee trends point to an ever-increasing demand in product quality.

Excellent customer service, preparation skills, and organization are rapidly becoming minimum expectations in the café environment.

As coffee quality becomes increasingly important in coffee service, training becomes a critical component of a company’s long-term success. High-quality skills and behavior training remain as one of the industry’s proven methods for increased customer satisfaction and sales growth.

When it comes to training, there are several factors that can impact a trainer’s successes or failures.

In her 2018 workbook, Specialty Coffee Training Consultant Anne Nylander tackles the key training principles organization leaders and educators will need in order to make their program a success.

Here, we briefly cover five of the principles discussed in the book:

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What I Wish I Knew: Advice From Coffee Shop Owners

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The following post originally appeared in full on the Bond Street Small Business Blog

Starting a coffee business is not for the faint of heart. It will bring blood, sweat, and tears (plus a lot of caffeine).

Yet, there’s still something that makes the pursuit worthwhile.

And as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. So what better way to truly learn what it takes to successfully build a coffee business than to turn to those who know best?

The editors at Bond Street asked individuals behind some of America’s best cups  to share what they wish they knew before opening their coffee shops, or other caffeine-infused operations. The result is 33 pieces of advice that all aspiring entrepreneurs would benefit from knowing.

From mistakes made to tricks of the trade, you’re bound to discover at least one nugget of wisdom that will save you time, money, energy, and quite possibly your sanity — or all of the above.

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Coffee Career Center: Jobs of the Week

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Give your job search a jolt and check out the latest opportunities on the Coffee Career Center, the coffee industry’s targeted job board.

Hiring? Find the right fit for your team – learn more about posting a job or internship today.

(Please note that a free account is required to view the listings.)

Premium Post
Coffee and Espresso Service Tech
Lacas Coffee Co.
PA

Premium Post
Director, Commodities Procurement |
Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee
Canada

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Coffee Career Center: Jobs of the Week

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Turn your passion into your profession.

Discover new opportunities at growing companies across the industry at the Coffee Career Center. If you’re looking to build your team, find out how you can post a job or internship today.

Premium Post
Senior Traffic Coordinator
| Rothfos Corporation
NY

Premium Post
Financial Analyst, Central & South America
| Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA
VA

Premium Post
VP, Coffee
| Fair Trade USA
CA

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Coffee Career Center: Jobs of the Week

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From baristas to boardrooms, the Coffee Career Center connects companies to top talent across the industry.

Check out this week’s featured job listings – and visit the Coffee Career Center for more. (Please note that you will need to set up a free account to view the full post.)

Premium Post
Senior Traffic Coordinator
| Rothfos Corporation
NY

Premium Post
Financial Analyst, Central & South America
| Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA
VA

Premium Post
VP, Coffee
| Fair Trade USA
CA

Packaging Assistant | Confluence Coffee Company
VA

Sales Representative | Red Diamond, Inc.
MN

Social Media Strategist | Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA
VA

Parts Manager | Espresso Plus Inc
MA

Visit the Coffee Career Center to view more listings, share your resume, or post a job. 

 

Coffee Career Center: Jobs of the Week

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Whether you’re an industry veteran or looking to make a change, there’s never been a more exciting time to pursue a career in coffee.

Check out this week’s featured job listings – and visit the Coffee Career Center for more. (Please note that you will need to set up a free account to view the full post.)

Premium Post
Financial Analyst, Central & South America
| Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA
VA

Premium Post
VP, Coffee
| Fair Trade USA
CA

Education Manager | Toddy, LLC
CO

Food Safety Quality Manager | Toddy, LLC
CO

Machine Technician | La Colombe
NY

Barista | Cafe Grumpy
NY

All positions | Urth Caffe
CA

Branch Quality and Technical Manager | illycaffe
FL

Visit the Coffee Career Center to view more listings, share your resume, or post a job. 

Coffee Career Center: Jobs of the Week

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Stuck in a rut? Start 2017 with an exciting new job in the coffee industry.

Check out this week’s featured listings – and visit the Coffee Career Center for more. (Please note that you will need to set up a free account to view the full post.)

Premium Post
VP, Coffee
/ Fair Trade USA
CA

Social Media Strategist / Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA
VA

Total Office and Logistics Manager / Coffeetec
CA

International Marketing Manager / Coffeetec
CA

Store Manager / Mercurys Coffee Co.
WA

Barista / Blue Donkey Coffee
GA

Coffee Career Center: Jobs of the Week

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The Coffee Career Center job board is intended to be the first career stop for employers and job seekers across the coffee industry. 

To help connect top talent with new opportunities, we’ll be highlighting a selection of job and internship listings here each week. And if you’re looking to hire, it’s easier than ever to post a job – discounts available for NCA members.

Without further ado, here are the Coffee Career Center featured jobs of the week (please note that you will need to set up a free account to view the full listing):

Barista / Cafe Grumpy
NYC

Internship / CNY Roasters Guild
NYC

Assistant Roaster / Ebru Coffee Company
PA

Plant Manager / Philz Coffee
CA

Brewer / Confluence Coffee Co.
VA

Check out the latest listings, post a job, and find more resources at the Coffee Career Center

19 Signs of Executive-Level Leadership

By Bill Murray, NCA, CEO

See the full post on LinkedIn or visit the Coffee Career Center resource page for more leadership tips. 

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With thanks to Laura Freebairn-Smith of the Organizational Performance Group, for permission to cite her findings. 

Ensuring that the right organizational leadership is in place is a task that is so challenging that it has spawned an entire industry.

Whether you search the web or pop into an old-school brick-and-mortar bookstore, the amount of advice on offer about “being a leader” is staggering.

One of the reasons that leadership can be a challenging subject is because it pertains to human behavior. A second difficulty relates to things like stylistic differences, gaps between what is said vs. what is done, and self-promotion.

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