Ethical tea company We Are Tea put doing good at the center of their business. "I'd love to say it all started with a master plan," says co-founder Darren Spence, who launched the business in 2006, "but it didn't. All I knew is that I wanted people to drink great tea."
Now, with 60 Great Taste Awards, a prize for Best Tea at the Quality Food & Drink Awards, and having recently been shortlisted for the best ethical brand at the Telegraph Trade Awards, it's evident that he's doing something right. In fact, the start-up has just been registered as a Certified B Corporation, acknowledging them as a "force for good," says Darren.
The stamp of approval, issued by B Lab based at Workspace's Clerkenwell Workshops in Farringdon, recognises businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance – the for-profits pushing for a more inclusive and sustainable economy and embedding doing good into the ethos of their company.
Pioneers of "guilt-free sipping", We Are Tea have committed to removing single-use plastic from the business altogether by the end of the year. "We are probably 90-95% there already," says Darren, who has opted for biodegradable cornstarch teabags without the string and tags. "Trees before tags is what we've labeled it as," he says.
And with 165 million cups of tea consumed on a daily basis in the UK alone, according to the UK Tea and Infusions Association, a small change to packaging can make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.
"We're proud to say that our teabags are heat-sealed using ultrasound. This way there's no need glue, plastic or staples. You can put them into compost and within 12 weeks they will turn into soil without leaving behind polluting plastic residue," says Darren.
But to truly cast yourself eco-conscious brand, the desire to impact the world positively must come from a place of authenticity, claims Darren. With a team of people who "genuinely love the planet and are massively into sustainability and ethics, what we do goes beyond a box ticking exercise," says Darren. "It's genuinely what we care about and what we know is the right thing to do."
After cultivating a team of passionate people, reaching for B Corp status seemed like a natural - albeit challenging - next step. "They give you a starting point and then the ball's in your court to make yourself better," he says. "It's about how you treat your employees, it's about ethical supply chain, employee diversity, reducing your gender pay gap. It's about balance and pushing the right agenda and starting the right narrative."
They hit the 80-point threshold to earn the B Corp stamp, after scrupulous assessment, and "now my job is to work us towards 90, then 100% B Corp," says Darren. "I'm in the process of giving all the guys an extra day off so that we do charity work - an extra paid day so they can work with a charity of their choice in the community. It's about giving back and going on that continuous journey of improvement."
The company set up base at Workspace's Grand Union Studios initially, overlooking Ladbrook Grove. "We had the best office on the 5th floor but the team were living in South London so we chose to migrate to another Workspace office closer to the city centre. Metal Box Factory fit the bill perfectly," says Darren.
"It's got the original architecture in here - it's funky, it's bright, it's got nice zones," he says. They took an office and moved in December last year. "The beauty of it is that these offices can grow with us or (hopefully not!) shrink with us. I like the fact that we can have a degree of flexibility within the Workspace group."
Being based in a co-working environment has enabled Darren to network with a wide range of entrepreneurs. "I find it fascinating talking to other founders, inspirational people in the building," he says. And looking to the future, things are bright. "We are committed to want to making sure we stay ahead of the dial in terms of sustainability and ethics so it's great to be somewhere talking to thought leaders in their fields."
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