Tea consumption has been on the rise in the past few years. In 2020 alone, we consumed 6.3 billion kilograms of green, yellow, oolong, black, and herbal teas. This makes tea the second-most consumed beverage in the world.

High consumer demand has been good for small tea businesses, too. Small shops are popping up around the world and serving up a myriad of steeped brews and sweet teas. 

However, tea can be an energy-intensive product. The average kilo of tea produces 31.5kg of CO2. Preparing a brew can add an extra 15 kg of CO2 to the process, as consumers often add milk or overfill their water when preparing a cup. 

Tea businesses can address these issues by creating a social responsibility policy that improves the efficiency of their in-house operations and minimizes the ecological impact of their supply chain.

Seek Sustainable Certification

Start-up tea businesses need to find a unique selling point (USP) if they want to thrive in the world of cold brews and chai. Ideally, small businesses will find their USP while starting their business before opening a brick-and-mortar store. This ensures that tea companies can build their brand around sustainability without having to worry about profit margins and pre-existing supply contracts. 

Tea shops that do decide to foreground their commitments to social responsibility and sustainability can use S&D Tea Company guidance as an example to select key measurables that reflect their environmental impact. Firms can follow up by searching for guidance using:

  • Fairtrade Certification: As the industry leader in social responsibility certification, gaining a Fair-Trade Certification will push the traders to make operational changes that authentically improve sustainability. 
  • Energy Star: Energy Star certification is awarded to business buildings and products that are high-efficiency and produce a minimal amount of GHG emissions.  
  • Energy Audits: Routine energy audits give businesses a clear understanding of their usage and can help set new sustainability goals. 
  • Rainforest Alliance: Tea suppliers should seek Rainforest Alliance accreditation to validate the sustainability of their operations. The Rainforest Alliances assess factors like pay and working conditions, too.

Recognition from NGOs like Fairtrade can boost a business’ profile and help them clean up their operations. However, all changes should be driven by a clear Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program. 

Adopt Corporate Social Responsibility 

Effective CSR programs keep tea shops accountable by tying business success to goals that are intended to enhance society and the environment. Even major players in the beverage world, like Starbucks, set CSR goals. Starbucks recently announced lofty goals like planting 100 million trees by 2025 and sourcing ethically-produced materials for their brews. 

While small tea businesses can’t rival the scope of Starbucks’ CSR goals, they can set a few achievable goals that suit their business model. For example, small, start-up tea companies can set targets like:

  • Reduce excessive packaging by “x%” by 2025;
  • Track and reduce water waste by “y” gallons;
  • Partner with a community garden to promote urban gardening and increase access to at-home tea cultivation;
  • Host community clean-ups and provide free samples to all who volunteer.

These CSR initiatives are small in scope but can have a big impact on a business’s overall environmental impact. Taking commitments to CSR seriously can also be impactful for your employees – by committing to sustainability you may find that your workers are more likely to feel aligned with your business model and that turnover is reduced. And having high employee retention also has several benefits, including reduced staff turnover, improved employee morale and better company culture. 

Future-Proof With Sustainability

Climate change is putting the global tea industry at risk. On our current path, growing conditions will be reduced by a quarter by 2050, while floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms may undermine global supply chains and make it that much harder to grab a cup of chai. 

Small tea companies can sustainably future-proof their business by implementing tools and technology to reduce waste and make processes more efficient. For example, automation technology, like inventory management and high-tech steeping equipment, can reduce costs. Small tea businesses that use less water and waste less inventory will free up capital to be spent on schemes that renew the local ecology and reward investors who believed in their sustainable business plan. 

Small tea businesses can recycle their waste to future-proof their company, too. Upcycling old tea tins and leaves can provide a useful secondary income stream. Tins can be painted and resold, while leaves can be ground into beauty products and goods like soaps and shampoos. This turns waste into profits and keeps the company’s products out of landfills for longer.  

Future-proofing in this way can also offer a distinct advantage over competitors in the industry. Tea businesses that make these types of adjustments tend to be more sustainable than their rivals and can also embrace flexibility in the face of demanding market conditions.


The tea industry is growing at a rapid rate in the post-pandemic world. However, small tea businesses that want to last need to adopt a sustainable mindset for business growth. Sustainability-oriented firms are innately resilient and will be more adaptable in the face of climate change. 

Even small operational changes, like recycling tins and reducing wastewater, can help tea businesses achieve their CSR goals and bolster their bottom line. Over time, small tea businesses should seek accreditation in the form of Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certification.