Growing up in the West, I loved a good road trip, the kind with unplanned camping stops along the way, arriving at your destination with smears of insect life—orange, yellow, green, maybe a stray wing—evidence of the wildness having been traversed. A lot could be said of the wantonness of smeared insects, and never did I think I would take that for granted.
Today, traversing this same landscape with my 7-year-old and 3-year-old, we arrive with some dust on the windshield and little more to show. I find myself searching for words to explain to them the strangeness of this. It barely registers in their nascent consciousness, and yet I search for a way to mark the loss. How do we protect what we cannot remember?
In this time of change, we need words and stories to help ourselves make sense of this strangeness, of the rapid change unfolding around us. The call to action is strong and clear, and yet the “what” of it remains cloudy, opaque, obfuscated by complexity and unknowns. We hear around us the call for bold action, and in this, a call to radical change.
The urge to turn away, to numb ourselves, is strong, a kind of protective response that covers the grief of loss. And yet we must choose action, choose to remember. Choose to nurture the radical, to root down a new materialism grounded in life.
Products with a Purpose
It’s plain to see we need all hands on deck, every part of our human collective stepping up together, and inventing new ways of being and doing. All parts of our society—citizens, private sector, government, community-based organizations, secular & religious groups—are called into this path. At Numi, we see ourselves in this web, as a private sector company, a producer of goods, a consumer of resources, a customer in a supply network, a tinkerer asking ourselves “what if”?
Yes, fundamentally we sell tea, and within that we also make choices about the ingredients and packaging we purchase, the manufacturing partners we work with, the vision we share with consumers and customers about our values and mission. Our underlying purpose is to create and catalyze change, and we do this by promoting health & vitality, regenerating our planet, and creating opportunities for all people to thrive.
From organic sourcing and plant-based packaging, to Fair Trade certification and building clean water infrastructure, our decisions are guided by the aim to create lasting positive impact for the planet and each other.
Insight, then Action
Our climate strategy is driven by this same deep commitment to transformation. The first step has been gaining a clearer picture of our impact, first by mapping our supply network across all ingredients, packaging inputs, and manufacturing facilities, then using a combination of original data and data modeling to estimate our greenhouse gas emissions across scopes 1, 2 and 3.
This is an annual exercise, involving almost every department of our company to collect the data and report the results. On an annual basis, we review where our emissions have increased, and why, and we identify specific actions within our business activities to reduce our emissions.
For example, our 2020 footprint saw a substantial jump in our packaging emissions, despite our move to plant-based tea wrappers. Drilling down, this was driven by a hefty increase in our consumption of corrugate boxes, driven in turn by increased e-commerce sales (requiring a dedicated shipper format more suitable for the online consumer), and a reduction in the percentage of recycled content in our corrugate due to supply issues and cost control measures.
To address this, we are moving to a more efficient e-comm specific packaging format, and actively searching out higher-recycled-content corrugate. Measurement brings insights; insights inform action.
Amplifying Impact Through Offsets
Only once we have measured and committed to reduction strategies do we turn to offsets. Why offsets? One of the greatest flaws of capitalism is the question of externalities—costs incurred for a given usage that is not ascribed to the beneficiary of that usage, and therefore not captured in costing models. For example, in transporting our raw materials and finished goods, our product rides on diesel powered vehicles that in turn pollute frontline neighborhoods, producing higher rates of asthma.
This externality, the air pollution incurred, is paid for by society, but not captured in the cost of the product. While imperfect and certainly inadequate, offsets are a step in the right direction, making the externality of GHG emissions apparent in our accounting, and incorporating a cost for that pollution into our ledger.
We only offset what we can’t reduce, and we choose high quality credits sourced from critically threatened ecosystems. Since 2018, we’ve purchased credits from the Envira Amazonia project in the Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil. The project is a partnership between a soy and cattle company and the local community, supporting a transition in land ownership from the agricultural company that otherwise would clear and farm the land to the local community. Funding from the carbon offsets supports education, livelihood diversification, and a health clinic. It is rigorously audited every three years by SCS Global Services to the VCS Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standard, with annual monitoring between audits.
In 2020, deforestation in the Amazon amounted to an area approximately equivalent to the size of Connecticut. Scientific research of the Amazon rainforest increasingly points to its central role in regulating climate patterns across the earth. Anything that can be done to make the standing forest, our planetary lungs, more valuable than pastureland can and should be done.
Advocating for a Just and Sustainable Future
Beyond the actions we take, we also speak up and participate in our democracy. Numi is a family-owned, Main Street business, and we want our voice to be heard when legislators are considering new regulation. We support the transition of our electrical grid to clean, renewable energy. We advocate for local and regional initiatives to incentivize zero-emission medium and heavy-duty freight vehicles—the best chance we have to support the frontline communities breathing the exhaust of the transport vehicles.
And we build industry coalitions for action, working with groups such as the Climate Collaborative, J.E.D.I. Collaborative, and OSC Packaging Collaborative, because we know that as a small/medium enterprise, we increase our strength when we work together.
A Different Kind of Model
Each of these actions, taken alone, represents a step towards a new path. And yet the change needed is more radical still. In botany, the radical is the first tender outgrowth from the seed, destined to become the anchor, the root of the nascent plant. Our climate strategy is embryonic, responding to the knowledge and tools we have today, and actively scanning for new opportunities for greater action.
As the challenge of climate change intensifies, our interdependency becomes more apparent. Consumer goods companies must act responsibly towards our suppliers at the farm level; not doing so risks our future viability. And, we must act responsibly towards our consumers, recognizing them as complex, whole beings who strive towards a healthy future for all. This necessitates a radical reimagining of commerce, and a shift away from the extractive, winner-takes-all model in which we currently find ourselves. With radical action and collaboration, we can build a regenerative, responsive model that holds the health of our home planet at its center.
Jane Franch is Numi’s Vice President, Strategic Sourcing & Sustainability.