There is plenty to be skeptical and worried about in the business world, but the tea industry seems to have its share of altruism to balance out the greed and aggression that define today’s international commercial scene.  I wonder if tea business owners will continue to cultivate this altruism, so that as the industry grows, they can reap the dividends of investment in a better world.

I started my morning tour of the news with a story about a coal ship that ran into the Great Barrier Reef while on an illegal route from Australia to China, causing some four tons of heavy fuel oil to leak into the protected reserve and popular tourist destination.  Unfortunately, stories about corporations taking shortcuts at the public’s and Earth’s expense are common – so common that journalists have started giving regular updates (see, for instance, “This week in comically evil corporate behavior,” by Jonathan Hiskes).

So far, in my job covering the specialty tea trade, I hear at least as much news of business people trying to make the world a better place as of evil executives applying a take-no-prisoners philosophy to corporate growth.

In recent weeks, I’ve reported on a Tucson company being financially rewarded for its commitment to supporting small farmers at countries of origin; a new Pennsylvania tea company whose business model is built on educating and employing children and women in Kenya; and various efforts U.S. tea companies made to help victims of the Haiti earthquake.  I’m currently at work on two more such heartening stories – one about a Texas RTD maker whose mission is to offer healthy beverages to school children, and the other about a Vancouver company whose tea sales raise money for community projects in Nepal.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a journalist, carefully taught to be skeptical.  I know there’s plenty of corruption going on in the tea world too.  (Take, for instance, the misdeeds only hinted at in the recent USDA report on organics.)  But my instincts and experience tell me the budding specialty tea business has attracted a higher-than-average percentage of people who genuinely care about the welfare of the world and the human race.

Whether I’m right or wrong, the real question is whether all the charity will continue as the industry grows, businesses boom, and big money starts to flow.  We’re only starting to see major outside investment in tea companies.  It will undoubtedly increase as the economy improves and consumers start spending again.  With outside investment come stockholders, boards of directors, bottom-line interests…

It will be interesting to see whether the tea world’s investors in the future of the planet and its peoples survive this.  And if so, how they pull off a trick that seems to have eluded so many others.

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