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Why independent food and drink businesses should lead the way in combating global warming

By Suranga Herath, CEO, English Tea Shop —There have recently been two major stories suggesting an imminent crisis in global agriculture. Firstly, we heard from Bioversity International that 12 major crops – including potatoes, coffee and chocolate – may become extinct in the not too distant future. 


Then, we heard that, as a result of producing food for livestock, the world is on track to lose two-thirds of its wildlife in the next two years.


So far so bleak…and so predictable. It seems that, despite the recurrence of stories such as these, we continue to keep our heads down by avoiding the big environmental issues – very possibly until it’s too late.


But is it too late?


My business is independent, and this means that my leadership team and I are – by and large – in control of every aspect of operations and supply chain. We find that, actually, there is a great deal within our immediate control to make a positive impact on the world around us. And I don’t mean in terms of a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative – I mean in terms of the very core of how the business operates.


Why independent food and drink businesses should lead the way

Unlike most larger businesses, independent producers tend to be more agile and this makes us more responsive to the world around us. It also gives us the licence to try new things, to disrupt and to innovate. At time when most environmental warnings are disregarded, the leadership and vision of independent businesses has never been more vital.


In particular, I believe that we have the ability – and indeed the obligation – to show how environmentally sustainable practices and long-term business growth can go hand in hand. By doing this, I believe we can lead the way for industry as a whole.


Four ways smaller independent food and drink manufacturers can lead the way in promoting sustainable food production practices


1.  By showcasing the benefits of a transparent supply chain. Thanks to the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act, transparency in supply chains has quickly become one of the biggest topics of the day. Smaller, independent businesses are much better placed to keep their supply chains transparent by adopting models such as direct trade.


2.  By pioneering new ways of working more closely with suppliers such as farmers. Smaller businesses are more able to develop close and personal relationships that reward long-term dedication. In my view, supporting farmers with developing and improving their practices is absolutely crucial when it comes to lessening the impact of food production on the environment. That’s why at English Tea Shop, we build incredibly closely relationships with our tea farmers in Sri Lanka, and offer them a huge amount of advice and support. This helps them to improve their farming practices, it helps reduce the strain on the environment, and crucially for us, it gives us access to exceptional quality tea!


3.  By driving demand for organic. After a lull, consumer demand for organic produce is rising once again and I believe independent companies played a big role in driving and meeting this demand. In my view, to avert environmental disaster, the future has to be organic…independent companies have the freedom to invest in this, placing them in prime position as demand continues to grow. That’s why, this year my company went 100% organic and we haven’t looked back since!


4.  By showing how a focus on sustainable development can lead directly to strong, long-term growth. There’s a common view that sustainability is anathema to growth, but I couldn’t disagree more and I believe that we are entering a new era where sustainably-minded businesses will be the ones to grow most quickly. Smaller independent businesses have a huge role to play in proving to a wider audience that a sustainable business model which shares value through the chain can facilitate fast-growth.


All in all, we can no longer afford to ignore the impact our business has on the environment. It is by pushing our boundaries through innovating products, methods, and structures that we as independents can actively carry the sustainability agenda forward. Together, we are better placed to drive industrywide change – so why wait?


Suranga Herath is CEO, English Tea Shop, a fast-growing company that is also a pioneer of sustainable practices, putting its employees and suppliers’ livelihoods first using the principles of value sharing.


For more information visit www.etsteas.co.uk