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Honest Tea Ramps Up Commitment to Fair Trade

Words by Leon Kaye

Honest Tea, the funky bottled iced tea company that employs 112 people and scored $75 million in sales last year, recently issued its latest corporate social responsibility report. With all the niche RTD (ready-to-drink) teas now on the market, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery as Honest Tea now marks 14 years in business.

In addition to boosting its fair trade purchases, Honest Tea has also consolidated its production facilities and is revamping its packaging. Some of the company’s recent highlights include:

Fair Trade investment: Honest Tea became embroiled in last year’s dust-up when Fair Trade USA announced it was separating from its then-parent organization, the Fair Trade Labeling Organization. The company briefly mulled its own fair trade certification, but scored more transparency about how fair trade premiums are spent. To date, Honest Tea claims it has generated $350,000 in fair trade premiums since 2003.

Organic agriculture: Part of Honest Tea’s commitment to fair trade is its increased purchase of tulsi, or “holy basil,” a crop in one of the company’s brews that is grown in Bangalore, India. Of course, most of the organic products Honest Tea purchases are the tea leaves themselves. Last year, the amount of organic goods the company purchased reached 4.4 million pounds.

Sustainable packaging: The reduction by 0.56 ounce in one of Honest Tea’s cartons resulted in the conservation of 354,000 pounds of material, not to mention the decreased fuel consumption needed to haul all those drinks from plant to store. Those incrementally smaller cartons, which encased the Honest Tea’s drink pouches for kids, was the equivalent of the amount of trash that 300 people produce in one year. As for those pouches, Honest Tea partnered with TerraCycle to upcycle them into consumer products.

Consolidating production: Honest Tea will shutter two plants in Oregon and will replace it with a new facility in northern California. The reduced transportation hauls, according to the company, will net an average 10 percent reduction in emissions for its PET product line and six percent for the glass line.

Last year Coca-Cola completed its acquisition of Honest Tea, to which many critics pointed during the fight over California’s Proposition 37. While Honest Tea took the opposite stance of its parent company on the GMO labeling initiative, it spent no money on the yes-on-37 side--in part because the company was barely profitable. CEO Seth Goldman says his goal is to change Coke from within; the jury is out whether the company’s wavering fans will believe this in the long run. Most likely consumers will forget about the controversy; and with Honest Tea now sold in over 100,000 stores, the company’s impact on fair trade and agriculture could be a massive plus in the long run.

View the entire Honest Tea “Mission Report” here.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: Honest Tea

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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