Mr. T

Mr. T knows a thing or two about being a hero, and he pities the fool who slurps from the sweat of exploited workers.

The tea business can be pretty ugly. Abuse of workers and abuse of the environment are both rampant.

So a number of tea giants now say they have a plan to get more sustainable and turn tea into a “hero crop” by 2030. What’s a hero crop? According to a report released Friday by Forum for the Future, a nonprofit that’s coordinating the Tea 2030 initiative, a “hero crop is more than just a commodity; it also delivers social, environmental, and economic benefits for all participants within its value chain.”

Aiming for the far-off year of 2030 doesn’t seem all that heroic. Still, here’s more on the initiative from a press release:

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Unilever, Yorkshire Tea, Tata Global Beverages, and James Finlay are among members of the Tea 2030 partnership calling for the sector to find legal ways to collaborate — whilst continuing to compete vigorously — to turn tea from a standard commodity into a “hero crop”, which benefits the millions who work in all parts of the industry as well as the wider environment and economy.

The Tea 2030 partners will now focus their collaboration on three key areas:

– Sustainable production — benefitting the environment and communities where tea is grown;
– Market mechanisms — which deliver greater value to all players in the supply chain;
– Engage consumers — so they both demand more sustainable tea and reduce impacts associated with tea consumption.

Triple Pundit compares the Tea 2030 initiative with ongoing efforts by coffee manufacturers to boost their own performance:

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When it comes to consumer engagement, the new initiative will take some cues from the coffee industry, which has been focusing its consumers on brewed coffee over instant, in Fairtrade and organic products, and in engaging in lifecycle responsibilities such as recycling coffee grounds.

As for direct environmental concerns, Forum for the Future notes that in addition to being hosted by some of the world’s poorest communities, tea production is also located in some of the regions most exposed to the impacts of climate change, and consequently, increased competition for land with food crops.

If all goes according to plan, the new initiative could make a difference in the hardworking communities that tend to the leaves that wind up in our corporate tea bags. We just hope it doesn’t actually take 16 years.

tea mug