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27 September 2016

#GoneGreen2016 | Day 175 | Sustainable Switch: 8 Eco + Ethical Truths About Tea

Day 175 / 365

When I wrote about the ethical issues and ecological effects of coffee last month, I was astounded how different what I thought I knew was from what actually is. Up until recently, I assumed, that anything that comes from the earth can go back to it, which, for the most part, it can. What I was missing, however, was the prologue of the story, which in the case of product production, is the most important part.

Before anything we purchase reaches our hands, it first passes through the hands of many others. More often than not, those hands are neither treated nor paid fairly. Furthermore, most products we purchase are either tainted by chemicals or derived from a non-renewable resource, meaning the earth, wildlife and numerous small poor communities suffer too.

It’s simple, yet incredibly complex, and most of us (including me) don’t have a clue how wrong it can go. To be a conscious consumer, you have to understand the cradle-to-cradle story to ensure you have the information you ned to buy products which align with your values. My drive to educate myself and share my path towards greater wisdom is why I’m here (almost) every day researching and writing, trying to digest the complexities our world’s commerce works hard to keep hidden from plain sight.

A few months ago I signed up as a brand ambassador for Numi Teaa commitment I would never make as the author of this blog if the brand didn’t align with my personal journey into sustainability and ethical understanding. In my opinion, they’re amongst the greenest and most conscious tea companies out there, working hard to be the change we need to see in the world and sharing their path through the use of transparency. In trying to understand the tea industry, from seed to cup, I decided to use them as exemplary in comparing conventional tea brands with ones that go above and beyond. 

I recently watched a TED talk by Jason Clay from WWF called “How big brands can help save biodiversity” in which he talks about how he believes if 100 of the biggest companies go sustainable, global markets will shift to protect the planet our consumption has already outgrown. He’s basically invited the top 100 companies who basically run the markets to a round table to sit together and agree on green practices as they control the rest of the industry.  In the tea industry, this would be Tetley or Nestle. But they’re not going to change on their own, they’ll change because you demand it. And the only way to demand it is to vote with your dollar for tea brands offering the following solutions to worldwide problems.

[one. CULTIVATION]

PROBLEM(S)
Conventional tea is routinely treated with a broad range of agricultural chemicals which are harmful to farmers and the communities which surround them. These chemicals seep into the soil and waterways, causing a myriad of heath issues to all the plants, animals and humans who dwell there. Agricultural chemical based illnesses include cancer, nervous system issues, reproductive problems, neurological disorders, childhood leukaemia, lymphoma, asthma and more.

The effects of these chemicals aren’t just the problem of those unseen faces far away either. Most conventional teas are air-dried without being washed, meaning the first time the tea comes in contact with water is in your cup … moments before you drink it … allowing the chemicals used to farm the plant to steep into your tea too (same goes for coffee).

NUMI’S SOLUTIONS
Numi supports organic tea cultivation, protecting the health of farmers, their communities, the planet, and you. Their teas are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides which means all you’ll be drinking when you sip their tea … is tea.


[two. EXPLOITATION]
THE PROBLEM(S)
Just like in the coffee industry, the tea industry is rife with slave labour conditions, mistreatment and unfair wages. In a joint investigation by Radio 4's File on Four and BBC News as well as in a report by Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, workers employed by the companies that own Tetly, PG Tips, Liptons, Scottish Blend, Twinings, Tea Pigs, Good Earth (the list literally goes on for ages) earn £2 per day while being forced to live in inhumane conditions, bullied over sick leave, falling ill, or dying due to chemical poisoning from agricultural pesticides, and suffering from malnutrition. They also found evidence of the use of child labour.

NUMI’S SOLUTIONS
Numi works with premium tea producers who believe in the fair trade model's aims of human rights and sustainability. They choose to value people at every step of their business through direct and fair trade sourcing and supply chain audits.

They believe that creating support programs which benefit farmers and workers by utilizing third-party certifications and building direct relationships with their farming partners. This ensures quality and consistency of products, fair treatment for workers, and better living and working conditions. Overall, their goal is to improve the quality of life for families and communities, not reduce it.

Numi is a leading brand purchaser of Fair Trade Certified teas, with more than half of their blends (and 80% of the raw ingredients they purchase) bearing the Fair Trade Certified label. Fair Trade guarantees farm workers are paid a minimum fair wage for their labour and empowers them to lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities.

In their gardens, the worker community votes democratically on how Fair Trade premiums are used to invest in education, health, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. Some programs include: new roads, cooking stoves, mosquito nets, new schools, college scholarships, enhanced maternity benefits, onsite medical staff and life insurance.

[three. SUSTAINABILITY]
THE PROBLEM(S)
Over 4 million tons of tea is produced annually around the world. I’ll let you guess how much of that is organic and fairtrade.This means a great deal of land is utilized for growing it. As the demand increases, so does the land required. This means some flora and fauna suffer as they’re displaced from their native environment. The main issue for the plants, animals and humans dwelling near tea areas is pesticides and artificial fertilizers which are often used on tea plantations or conventional tea brands. This results in soil degradation and human health issues. As these chemicals seep into the soil and waterways, they cause a myriad of heath issues to all the plants, animals and humans who dwell there. Agricultural chemical based illnesses include cancer, nervous system issues, reproductive problems, neurological disorders, childhood leukaemia, lymphoma, asthma and more.

NUMI’S SOLUTIONS
Unlike most food crops, tea is only cultivated using the top 1-2 inches of a mature plant, so it is quite a sustainable crop in general as it remains a viable commodity source for up to a century. Numi also supports organic tea cultivation, protecting the health of farmers, their communities, the planet, and you. Their teas are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides meaning all you’ll be drinking when you sip their tea … is tea.

[four. AUTHENTICITY]
PROBLEM(S)
I recently read a blogpost which talked about the popular Canadian tea brand, David’s teas, has been found guilty of using artificial flavouring in their teas. Artificial flavours are synthetically derived chemical compositions which create a certain taste. They come from non-natural sources, meaning it is sometimes a mix of chemicals (not necessarily ‘bad’ for you, but chemicals none the less).

NUMI’S SOLUTIONS
This brand gets its flavours from nature, their teas are blended by farmers using the products from their organic farms, rather than in flavouring labs.  

[five. TEA BAGS]
THE PROBLEM(S)
Most conventional tea bags are only 70-80% biodegradable because they also contain polypropylene, which is plastic #5, the exact thing you don’t want to be consuming, especially when hot (ingesting the chemicals from plastic cause a number of health issues) This includes PG Tips, Tea Direct, Twinings, Clipper Tetley, and pretty much ever conventional tea brand out there.

NUMI’S SOLUTIONS
They use natural, biodegradable filter-paper tea bags rather than nylon or GMO-origin tea sachets.

[six. PACKAGING]
THE PROBLEM(S)
Whether it be coffee, single use tea, or loose leaf tea, packaging is an important part of sustainability. Most tea comes wrapped in shrink wrapped and made up with a lot of unconscious packaging which doesn’t biodegrade.

NUMI’s SOLUTIONS
This brand is committed to minimizing waste throughout their supply chain, most elements of their packaging can be recycled or composted including the tea bags. Their award-winning sustainable packaging uses the most innovative materials available to minimize impact on the environment. They use recyclable, cardboard outer packaging made of 85% post-consumer waste and printed with soy-based inks. They don’t use plastic shrink wrap, and use natural, biodegradable filter-paper tea bags meaning most of their packaging can be recycled or composted.

[seven. MANUFACTURING]
THE PROBLEM(S)
Manufacturing anything inevitably consumes and outputs energy, most conventional companies do this without a second thought.

NUMI’S SOLUTIONS
Numi tea reduces carbon emissions wherever possible and has been tracing supply chain outputs since 2009. They monitor the impact of the logistics for transporting their raw materials from all over the world, as well as their business related travel. They also purchase Carbon Offset Certifications from Carbonfund.org. These funds, though imperfect, support carbon dioxide reduction projects including renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation. They are also a B Corporation, which is meant to indicate which companies are genuinely good, over ones just marketed to be good.

[eight. GIVE BACK]
THE PROBLEM(S)
Most big business, tea brands or otherwise don’t give back in a sustainable way, or don’t give back at all.

PHILANTHROPY
Numi has incredible community programs on top of those provided to the farming communities themselves. They also work within their own community, including ACTION Oakland. They run on the mantra of people, planet, profitability and purpose. The Numi Foundation’s mission is to foster thriving communities by supporting initiatives that nurture art, education, health and our natural environment.



You'll find Numi Tea's selections on their website HERE
*If you know of any other brands who fit this bill of 8, please comment below and I'll link them in here too!*


Photos: Shane Woodward
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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Please Note: I work with Numi Tea's on a (paid) freelance (paid) basis to write two - three posts per month on subjects of my choice - either their blog or my own. I've chosen to do this as the first one on my blog as it is them who have helped me to understand the tea industry and this was one of the subjects I wanted to write about for the #GoneGreen2016 series. All opinions are my own and story direction was of my choosing. You can read other posts I've done for them on their blog, HERE 
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