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.

What the Science Says About Common Coffee and Health Myths

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Study after study has found that coffee has a host of potential health benefits. Yet there’s still a lot of confusion among consumers and in the media

Surprisingly, 69% of Americans report that they have not even heard of any studies related to coffee and disease prevention, according to recent NCA market research.

And despite the fact that people already have less than the 3-5 cups daily recommended for optimal physical benefit, limiting caffeine intake was cited as the leading reason to cut coffee consumption.

Here’s a quick glance at some of the most common misconceptions on coffee and health – and what the science really says.

To learn more about coffee, caffeine, and health, join the NCA Science Leadership Council for the Coffee Science Fair at the NCA Convention in Atlanta, March 7-9.

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What the Research Really Shows on Coffee & Cancer

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Coffee may lower the risk of several types of cancer, according to recent studies reviewed by researchers at the American Cancer Society.

The following excerpt was originally posted at the American Cancer Society

AICR has named February Cancer Month. Learn more

To learn more about science, coffee, and why the research matters, join the experts from the NCA Scientific Leadership Council for “The Coffee Science Fair: A Fun Look at a Serious Topic,” a special educational session at the NCA 2019 Convention in Atlanta, GA on March 8.


Scientists have been investigating the links between coffee and cancer for decades. And while our understanding of coffee’s potential health benefits has improved with advances in research, there’s still more to learn.

In 2016, an expert panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) — the arm of the World Health Organization that is responsible for assessing whether certain substances cause cancer — could not conclude that drinking coffee is carcinogenic based on the current evidence available.

Yet the coffee-cancer connection has recently reappeared in the news, due to the ongoing Prop 65 legislation in California to put misleading “cancer warning labels” on coffee.

So, what do coffee drinkers need to know?

In following interview written by Elizabeth Mendes, American Cancer Society researchers Susan Gapstur, PhD, and Marjorie McCullough, ScD, explain what the studies really show when it comes to coffee and cancer, and discuss what other research is still needed.

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Coffee Clickbait Goes Bananas

Banana and coffee for breakfast

New research on coffee and climate change indicates an urgent situation for crops at origin

Behind the headlines on the future of coffee, according to science – and how you can get involved.

By William (Bill) Murray, NCA CEO & President
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Complete with the typical clickbait-style headline, a recent article intoned that the global population is imminently doomed to a world without coffee – and “not much” can be done about this “on a personal level.”

Sounds grim.

But it could be easy to miss the glimmer of hope buried in the last line:

This future could look bleak for morning coffee drinkers, but with the help of farmers and scientists, our cup of joe can be protected.”

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Two Compounds in Coffee May Work Together to Fight Parkinson’s and Protect Brain Health

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New research suggests that coffee’s potential health benefits are about more than caffeine.

via ScienceDaily


Rutgers scientists have found a compound in coffee that may team up with caffeine to fight Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia — two progressive and currently incurable diseases associated with brain degeneration.

The discovery, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests these two compounds combined may become a therapeutic option to slow brain degeneration.

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A Bitter Buzz: The Psychology Behind Our Love of Coffee

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A new study found that coffee drinkers are actually more sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine.

Coffee is a complex beverage – and it’s experienced differently by everyone.

Your appreciation (or not) of coffee is largely driven by genetics, which control a host of factors raging from your caffeine tolerance to sensory perception.

A new study from Northwestern University, recently published in Scientific Reports, found that coffee lovers aren’t less sensitive to the bitter taste of coffee – instead, the opposite is true.

This suggests an interesting psychological phenomenon behind our love of coffee.

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How This Coffee Roast May Protect Your Brain

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Both caffeinated and decaf coffee showed the protective effect against cognitive decline

Drinking coffee has previously been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Now, scientists may be closer to understanding why.

New research from the Krembil Research Institute examines how coffee helps protect against long-term cognitive decline  — and it turns out that the roast might matter.

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New Research on the Chemical Composition of Cold Brew

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From antioxidants to acidity, how is cold brew different from hot coffee?


Cold brew is the hottest trend in coffee: The domestic cold brew coffee market grew 580% from 2011 to 2016, according to research from Mintel.

Now, new research from Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University found chemical differences between hot and cold brew coffee, which may have potential health impacts.

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NCA Cold Brew Toolkit: FAQs

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New! NCA Workshop for Coffee Professionals:

The Business & Safety of Cold Brew | Nov. 6 | Sponsored by: Toddy, LLC


What is cold brew coffee?

“At its core, cold brew is a brewing method, not a serving method,” explains Mark Corey, Ph.D., NCA Director of Scientific & Government Affairs.

Dr. Corey led a team of specialized experts to develop the NCA Cold Brew Toolkit, now available to the entire coffee industry. (Read more background about the report and related food safety considerations.)

The Toolkit offers science-based technical guidance and recommended best practices – visit the NCA website for more details.

While working on the report, we received a lot of questions – from consumers and companies alike – about the beverage market’s hottest trend.

Here are some expert-approved answers to common questions about what “cold brew coffee” really means:

NCA Cold Brew Coffee FAQs

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A “Common Sense” Victory For Coffee Science in California

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“Call it a victory for science — or maybe just for common sense.” – The Seattle Times


It was a good news week for  coffee science in California.

Earlier this month, OEHHA (the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment agency) proposed a plan that would exempt coffee from Prop 65 required “cancer warning labels” in California after the most recent ruling in the ongoing legislation.

The statement was met with resounding support from scientists and coffee lovers alike.

“OEHHA’s Rulemaking is supported by both the full weight of scientific evidence and law,” wrote William “Bill” Murray, NCA President and CEO, in comments filed Aug. 30. The letter commended the decision and laid out the strong case for coffee in a scientific summary signed by Dr. Mark Corey, NCA’s Director of Scientific & Government Affairs, and Dr. Alan Leviton, Consultant to the NCA Scientific Advisory Group.

Simply put, the research speaks for itself: coffee does not cause cancer.

Then this week, in a groundbreaking announcement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter to Sacramento which emphatically set forth their support for this rule.

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