Three Steps to a Socially Responsible Tea Business


With great tea comes great responsibility, said Maria Uspenski, founder and CEO of The Tea Spot who presented Doing Well by Doing Good in the Premium Tea Industry during the recent World Tea Expo.

Along with other premium products, premium tea occupies a unique niche in the U.S. and is promising to be a fast-growing market, Uspenski noted. Stores are devoting more shelf space to this gourmet product and customers are willing to pay a premium. Long-term annual growth greater than 10 percent is expected in specialty tea alone. This means that the sustainability decisions made today are likely to shape how the industry looks 10 to 20 years from now.

"We can turn the value chain in the values chain," Uspenski said. "Rarely does an emerging market have the opportunity to benefit the community as proudly. Premium tea brings nutritional benefits to the masses and therefore we have an obligation to grow and promote it responsibly."

One way to achieve that is by following overall philosophy of social responsibility that impacts every step of doing business. "Consider people, planet and profits," said Uspenski, referring to the cornerstone of the Triple Bottom Line approach, where financial benefit, natural world betterment and social advantages are equally important.  As a for-profit philanthropic company, The Tea Spot uses only fair-trade, organic product, has cut back on packaging and donates 10 percent of its profits to philanthropic causes, including those helping eradicate women's cancers. 

What can your tea business do to be more socially and environmentally responsible?

Be people-centric. Top brands translate this idea into creating a "joyful culture" at work, offering flexible hours, encouraging community services, just to name a few. Also think about how you are improving the lives of your customers with excellent tea that can be good for them and consider honest and informative marketing efforts as well as education on the benefits of your premium product.

Know the origins of your tea. Only work with fair-trade suppliers that share your values in social and environmental responsibility, engage in sustainable business practices and belong to organizations such as Ethical Tea Trading Institute, Rainforest Alliance, fair trade organizations and organic growers associations. Select partners that focus on reducing their carbon footprint and maybe even offer innovative green solutions such as non-toxic biodegradable packaging.

Do your part. Consider investing in energy-efficient equipment and lighting, recyclable packaging and non-toxic cleaning products. Support charities and organizations that you feel are doing good in your community as well as on a global scale.