Honest Tea’s Path to Social Change

Creating Social Change
Creating Social Change

By John Comberiate

At the Leadership for a Better World – Creating Social Value through Innovation Conference many speakers discussed the ideas around Social Entrepreneurship, how to communicate Social Change, and how large companies need to adapt to survive in a modern business environment.  Often lost in this discussion is the low level view of the steps it takes to make this happen.  Seth Goldman shared what this path looks like and the challenge of the decisions along the way.

Honest Tea

President and TeaEO of Honest Tea, Seth has achieved a level of success producing a healthy line of tea products enjoyed by customers around the world.  With Honest Kombucha, a fermented tea, on its path to distribution and the company exploring expansion into a new Healthy Foods product line, Honest Tea is primed to reach even greater levels of success.  It wasn’t always this way though.

Humble Beginnings

Creating change often is the result of persistence through many missteps and underwhelming results.   Working out of his house and distributing out of his car, Seth started with humble beginnings trying to sell his first line Haarlem Honeybush.  He quickly learned that even if the product you sell resonates with you, it also has to resonate with your customers, a problem he fixed with his next tea, Pomegranate Red.

The three C’s

Clawing your way into an industry requires some creativity.  In order to get the product line out to new customers, Seth started working with cheese distribution companies.  Eventually he garnered the support of Corned Beef distributors and then grabbed a ride with Charcoal distributors.  He calls this ‘the three C’s’ which led to a fourth, distributing through CocaCola.

Constant Innovation

Having reached this greater audience and corporate partnership, Seth has found new ways to keep Honest Tea innovating.  From passing out 500 bikes around the Bethesda community to ease worker commutes, arranging an agreement for using the grease from local restaurants to make biodiesel, he is breaking new ground in sustainable Social Change.  These efforts have not gone unnoticed and more companies are joining in, donating new office space that is being used to help small companies get started.

The process is never easy, as Seth’s example shows.  This is not a deterrent though, just more opportunity to create change and move existing systems to create a better future even when the challenges seem immense.  Like one of Seth’s favorite Chinese proverbs says, “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it”, it’s time to get on board.

John Comberiate is a first year MBA student in the Accelerated Part-Time track at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School.  Working as a blogger and as member of Toastmasters International, he is developing the skills needed to spread the word about Social Value creation occurring in the world and how people can get involved.

The posts on this page are contributed by students from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in conjunction with the newly launched Center for Social Value Creation. The center's mission is to develop leaders with a deep sense of individual responsibility and the knowledge to use business as a vehicle for social change. These posts are a way to continue the dialogue outside of the classroom and share the viewpoints of Smith students on the challenges and opportunities of triple bottom line thinking.

One response

  1. John,

    It’s always a pleasure to read clear writing. I want to know more about Seth Goldman. I like the way the way he is willing to turn over rocks to find what he needs.


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