If you are expecting a simple answer — there isn't one.
Working closely with academics and experts, we have learned that there is simply no silver bullet or eco solution that fixes all of the problems of our planet.
We observe everything, carefully. Turning rhetoric into action, we seek to inject true value, without the use of shortcuts.
Since our inception, our enduring love for plants and botanicals has always intrinsically linked us back to nature, with everything we do. Committed to Mother Earth, we look at the entire system with the thought, intention, and respect that it deserves.
The world that we envision is one where we can embark on a moment of connection over a cup of tea. It is about creating a future where this is still possible.
We are constantly striving to make a true and positive impact. To find out how best to do that, we have been on a long journey of examination and discovery, from a diverse array of fields and backgrounds.
In the past many years, we have learned a lot through our partners: Botanical Gardens, Museums, Universities, Scientists, Designers, Foundations, and Not for Profits.
We want to share with you what we have learned.
At TEALEAVES, we believe in blending.
Our story originates in the heritage of blending, being one of the few master-blenders in the world. Meticulously crafting inimitable blends, we draw inspiration from the beauty and brilliance that is ever-present in nature. As long-standing champions of the planet, we believe in a purposeful blending approach that is holistic and respectful of the needs of our ecosystems.
As witness to the growing changes of tea plants and their conditions over the course of 25 years, we are purview to the direct effects of climate change. Inextricably intertwined with the natural world, it is our responsibility, as tea purveyors, to act as custodians of the Earth.
Founded upon an appreciation for the culture, ritual, and traditions of tea, it is our hope to inject mindfulness as a way to reclaim our present. With mindfulness, we can savor the wonders of our Earth, and life itself.
This Earth Month, we are encouraged to look introspectively upon what is most important in life, and appreciate and honor those who care for us all. The Earth is our mother, guiding and protecting us in every moment - offering us fresh water to drink, air to breathe, and healing herbs when we are sick. We and the Earth are one.
“The interesting thing about environmental issues is that they touch every aspect of society. There are roles in solving it for founders, for engineers, for business executives, for bankers, for scholars. Not only is there a role for each of them but if they don’t play their individual roles we’re going to fail.”
Founder of Earth Day
2. Biodiversity Initiatives
Garden of Secrets Origins
Nearly 5 years ago, our respect for nature took on a whole new meaning when we were approached by The University of British Columbia (UBC) Botanical Garden, which planted a seed that grew into something much larger than either of us expected.
Motivated by our belief in continuous learning, TEALEAVES interviewed expert botanists, activists, architects, academics, and designers from around the world. By examining interdisciplinary insights, the underlying link became clear. As Cornelia Krug, Co-Chair of the World Biodiversity Forum states, “simply put, biodiversity is life on earth”. From the air we breathe to the food we eat, our ecosystem health is intimately linked with planetary well-being. Achieving a better understanding of the alarming and unprecedented loss of biodiversity, we soon realized that its ultimate preservation will require systemic and transformative change.
This project opened our eyes to the larger challenges facing Mother Earth. Driven by an urgent need for action, we recognized the important role we could play as blenders.
Born out of our commitment to the preservation of botanical gardens, we created The Garden of Secrets herbal blend, in which 100% of the proceeds are donated to UBC Botanical Gardens. The ingredients of this blend were carefully selected, in partnership with the garden, to ensure its gift to the planet would extend beyond the UBC Botanical Garden, but to Mother Earth as a whole. In this blend, we incorporated raw materials that grow vigorously, including plants that are invasive species, such as mint.
Conscious in every step of our blending process, our raw ingredients are carefully sourced from high-quality growers and gardens that employ sustainable growing practices. Herbs, plants, fruits, and botanicals are selected according to 30+ criteria, including selections based on food safety, quality, and sustainability. Certified Organic Ingredients are non-GMO and free from herbicides and pesticides.
As blenders, we are looking beyond the scope of traditional ingredients, constantly reevaluating our process and assessing impact at every level. Collaborating with Berkeley Open Source Food, we are creating blends using foraged, wild, and feral ingredients that are not only accessible, and healthy, but kinder to the planet.
The Garden of Secrets: A TEALEAVES Documentary
Aligning with our mission to educate, we created a documentary, The Garden of Secrets, to share our learnings with the rest of the world. Our film explores how botanical gardens and the ‘secrets’ they house can inspire different innovators from tea blenders, designers, academics, and more, to build lasting impact on people, society and the environment.
“As a David amongst Goliaths, we are proof that even a small company can make a big difference.”
TEALEAVES Co-Founder and CEO
Premiering our documentary at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian, we wanted to leave viewers with a sense of hope: in a world that feels inundated with problems, we wanted to present solutions. Botanists are stewards for the preservation of not only plant life, but future societal advancements.
Since its premiere, the film has been screened at design weeks across North America, Science Centres, Schools and is permanently available online as a free education resource.
World Biodiversity Forum
In February 2020, we were thrilled to be selected to share these insights at the inaugural World Biodiversity Forum in Davos.
Alongside the UBC Botanical Garden, we introduced a collaborative framework to preserve biodiversity through a network of international organizations. The two-part session (163S) and workshop were presented in partnership with the World Health Organization, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Microsoft, and NSCAD. Together, with these leading organizations, we illustrated the connection between biodiversity and public health, reinforcing the role of botanical gardens as “idea libraries.”
Sustainable Development Goals
Through all of these interactions and initiatives, we have learned how biodiversity touches every aspect of our daily lives. Vital to the survival of Mother Earth as we know it, we must rally together in order to slow the rapid loss of biodiversity and regenerate the planet.
Biodiversity plays a key role in achieving nearly all of the Sustainable Development Goals, as outlined by the United Nations.
In addition to our work combating biodiversity loss, we are also looking closely at our own practices and changes that we can make along our supply chain to lighten our footprint. Through our exploration into biomimicry, and working closely with academics, scientists, and experts in the field, we have learned that there is simply no silver bullet or eco solution that fixes all sustainability-related issues. However, all steps are necessary and needed, no matter how small. In the same way that we reblend our teas for each terroir for a superior cup of tea, we are committed to consistently examining our processes and practices for continuous improvement.
Compostable Teabags (Plant-Based)
One area of improvement we pinpointed was reducing the amount of waste created from teabags. When looking to make changes in our packaging, we deeply examined innovative leaders in this field. NatureFlex, a backyard compostable renewable material, was selected for our Classic Teabags envelopes, in addition to all of our loose leaf tea bags, starting in Q4 2020.
NatureFlex is a material made of Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified birch and eucalyptus wood pulp, an industry-leading innovation in sustainable tea packaging. The NatureFlex envelopes reduce plastic waste while safeguarding the quality and delicate complexity of the tea leaves themselves.
Compared to an estimated 100 to 500 years for petroleum-based plastics, these envelopes will take only a few months to break down in garden compost. For optimal infusion and flavor, the inner sachets are made out of industry-standard renewable Polylactic Acid (PLA). This material is 100% plant-based and derived from corn.
In addition to transitioning to compostable packaging options, we are also looking to reduce the amount of packaging used where possible, and transition to a circular economy model. In 2021 we will be launching a pilot refill program, as recommended by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in their New Plastics Economy. Our initiatives in this area will allow consumers to enjoy the luxury of TEALEAVES with the least amount of carbon footprint.
4. The Future
Packaging, however, is only one small part of the puzzle. We have been fortunate enough to learn from a remarkable community of scientists and subject matter experts. From the Founder of Earth Day to the experts at the World Biodiversity Forum, the message is clear. If we come together, work collectively, share best practices, insights, discoveries, then collectively we are incredibly powerful and able to build a more sustainable future.
“We all need to come to the table under a common vision.”
Ellen MacArthur Foundation
Our goal at TEALEAVES is to bring diverse parties together to work toward achieving that vision, perhaps over a cup of tea. From designers, to botanic gardens, academics, doctors, scientists, architects, we must rally beside them to enact systemic change, and ultimately restore Mother Earth.
It is our hope to generate awareness for and curb future decisions that may harmfully impact our environment, our planet, our well-being. As blenders, we appreciate the gifts of the garden, and encourage all to mindfully appreciate the wonders of Mother Earth herself.
This Earth Day, although a time of instability, it is also a time of opportunity. It is an opportunity for us all to come together, and appreciate the mothers who selflessly care for us all.