Repair Interview: Seth Goldman of Honest Tea & “The Great Recycle”by Leah Koenig | April 27, 2012 | 1 comment
What happens to a bottle after it gets recycled? Well, on Monday, April 30 in New York City, tens of thousands of bottles and cans will be deposited in bustling Times Square…in a massive blue recycling bin (think: 30-foot-tall)
And what does tea that’s just a tad sweet, with a lot of soul have to do with it? It’s all part of Honest Tea’s new campaign to boost recycling rates called – what else – “The Great Recycle.” The eco-friendly beverage company hopes to recycle 45,000 bottles and cans in their big blue bin next Monday – the same number of products they sell everyday in NYC. Meanwhile, they plan to give away great prizes to participants and raise awareness about the importance of recycling.
Seth Goldman, the President and “TeaEO” of Honest Tea, is also a board member here at Repair the World (and an all around cool guy). Seth found the time amidst preps for The Great Recycle to speak with Repair the World about where those 45,000 bottles will end up, what businesses can do to encourage sustainability, and his own deep commitment to tikkun olam.
Can you tell me about the inspiration behind The Great Recycle?
As a company, we’re always looking for ways to connect with consumers and have them connect with our mission. We’re also mindful of our role as a business in encouraging people to think about sustainability. We’ve done other sustainability projects before – like our Honest Kids program where kids send in their used drink pouches and our partner organization TerraCycle upcycles them into things like tote bags and pencil cases.
With The Great Recycle, we wanted to think about ways that we could get adults engaged on the same level as we have kids – and take the idea of recycling and make it into more of a community event. So we’re building this huge recycling bin in Times Square and giving people incentives to come recycle. The event itself will be lots of fun, and there are opportunities for people to earn rewards for their recycling efforts.
What will happen to the 45,000 bottles?
We’re partnering again with TerraCycle and working with the New York City public schools to install a garden made from the recycled plastic. Anything that doesn’t get used for that project we’ll give to our partner recycling company.
What role should a business play in protecting the planet, and how can businesses and consumers make a tangible difference?
The definition of “sustain” is to nourish and uphold life. Meanwhile, we live in a consumer economy and the definition of “consume” is to devour and destroy. So we all exist in this contradiction where most of us devour more than we sustain, just by human nature. So I don’t think it’s entirely credible for any business to claim that they have a net positive impact on the planet.
That said, there are lots of opportunities for consumers and businesses to make a difference. For us it starts with how our tea is grown. We’re the first company to make organic and fair trade bottled tea, which benefits the planet, the consumer, and the workers picking the tea leaves. The next step is packaging and thinking about how we can lightweight it, use more renewable materials and make it as sustainable as possible. And finally, we think about what happens to a package after its consumed. The national averages of recycling rates are pretty low, so we really have the opportunity to raise people’s awareness about and involvement with that.
How did you get involved with Repair the World, and what inspires you about the organization?
I have been involved in the field of national service for a long time. I ran a program called the Summer of Service that was part of the lead up to President Clinton signing the legislation to create the Corporation for National and Community Service. I have also been a leader in the world of socially responsible business. So, when I was approached by Repair the World about joining the board, it seemed like a natural fit, and a chance to connect my long standing values around sustainability with my Jewish heritage.
How does your background influence your desire to change the world for the better?
My parents always instilled a sense of broader awareness about the world and the expectation that it’s our obligation to do something about the issues we care about. I’ve taken that with me throughout my life, choosing jobs – whether they were in the private, public, or nonprofit sector – that enabled me to do something I believe in.
How do you think families can pass the values of repairing the world on to their children?
I have three boys, aged 19, 18, and 14, and I think modeling is the key. My wife, Julie Farkas, really works in the trenches of social justice work. She worked at a homeless shelter for seven and a half years and has also worked at a foundation that supports social justice work. For the past 10 years on Martin Luther King Day, we’ve gone out as a family to serve with City Year, so I think our kids understand where we’re coming from. Our middle son recently finished up a year with Operation Understanding in D.C. It’s a program that pairs 12 Jewish high schoolers and 12 African American high schoolers for leadership building and cross cultural conversation. It was a great experience for him.
What are some other ways people can get involved with Honest Tea’s green efforts?
Well, for New Yorkers, we’d love to see them at The Great Recycle event on Monday. It’s going to have really fun, festival-like atmosphere. And for people who can’t make it, they can also participate online by making a recycling pledge. In addition to that, we have all kinds of other sustainability programs. For example, we’re partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation to engage kids in helping us plant 50,000 trees across the country. And finally, there’s the simple idea of making conscious choices as consumers, and remembering that our purchasing power – no matter what we’re buying – can make a difference.
Find out more about Honest Tea’s The Great Recycle event, and how you can get involved here.
(And check out this random bonus clip of Seth’s wife Julie’s amazing “mobile folk art” car here).