Fair Trade Fortnight: Sustainable sourcing

Suranga Herath, CEO, English Tea Shop
- Leadership - Mar 08, 2019

Suranga Herath, CEO of English Tea Shop closes out Fairtrae Fortnight with a reflection o the duty of companies to ensure that sustainability is always at top of mind, as well as sharing some tips for more sustainable sourcing practices. 

Fairtrade Fortnight (25 February-10 March) is an annual opportunity to celebrate all that the organisation has achieved over the years. In my view, no other organisation has done more to make consumers stop, consider and care where their food, drink, clothes and jewellery come from.

However, as always, there is still more that can be done to ensure that brands can begin to ‘create shared value’ to not only benefit their business, but also the wider society and their respective communities. At English Tea Shop, we have put CSV into practice through our Love, Care, Change philosophy that manifests in a wide variety of environmental, social and financial initiatives. Developing those initiatives over the years has had a massive effect on the environment, our farmers, communities and factory workers.

At English Tea Shop, we make sure that we build incredibly close relationships with our small organic farmers in Sri Lanka and offer them a platform which is supportive of their ambitions and aids with their development. 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.

Inspired by Fairtrade, and consumer demand for ethically-sourced products, there is an emerging trend for manufacturers to develop their own sustainable sourcing models. Even the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s are following suit.

And while a proactive commitment to sustainable sourcing is to be applauded, setting up an entirely new sourcing model – and doing it well – is no mean feat. I speak from experience of converting English Tea Shop to run on a Creating Shared Value model throughout our supply chain from seed to cup. The impact of creating and implementing our own sourcing model has been profound not only for the farmers but for our business and all those in our community, or our Prajāva as we like to call it.

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So, based on my experience over the years, I wanted to share some of the key things I’ve learnt about setting up a sourcing model.

  1. Be clear on your motivations. The very first step should be asking yourself why you’re setting off on this path. Is it to help support and share value with those in your supply chain? Is it to improve transparency? Is it to have a more secure and reliable supply chain? Is it so you can source increasingly high-quality produce? Is it because ethical sourcing is important to your customers? Is it to be better for the environment? Is it all of the above? What’s important is considering what long-term outcomes you want to achieve, both for your business, and for those in the supply chain.
  2. Start small and scale up. Unless you’re starting a new business, it’s likely best to take a long-term approach to sourcing. Having direct relationships with producers is both essential and time-consuming, and building close relationships even more so. It may be best to start working with one producer or co-operative under your model, or on one project, and to grow from there. 
  3. Your business model is only ever as strong as your Prajāva. Prajāva  is the Sri Lankan word for community and taking a wide view of who this includes is vital. Creating shared value throughout a supply chain takes a great deal of thought – and it’s surprisingly easy to do the wrong thing when trying to do the right thing. That’s why close relationships are so important – you have to have an innate understanding of what people want and need, rather than just doing what you think they need. The stronger your Praj%u0101va, the better placed you will be.

A global expert on the tea industry, Suranga Herath is CEO of English Tea Shop, one of the world’s leading organic tea businesses which brings high quality, ethically-sourced tea to customers all over the world. His business has grown 65% annually over the past seven years whilst continuing to instill sustainable practices that enrich the brand’s community. By doing so, Suranga’s visionary leadership has led the way in sustainable practices, inspiring other forward-thinking ethical food and drink companies to follow.

Watch out for a more in-depth interview with Suranga in an upcoming issue of Business Chief.

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