Seth Goldman, TEO of Honest Tea, Talks About Holding to Values While Living in “The Grey”

Dec 4, 2013 10:10 AM ET
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"If anyone sees us backing away from organics, fair trade commitments, call us out. Hold us to it. We have determined to keep the "mission in the bottle." — Seth Goldman, TEO of Honest Tea


I recently interviewed the “TEO” of Honest Tea, Seth Goldman.  A few days later, I received a package with six bottles of Honest Tea and a signed copy of Goldman's book, Mission In A Bottle.  Without thinking about the symbolism, I poured a bottle of the Peach White Tea over ice into a Coca-Cola glass and sat down to read the book:fair trade, organic ingredients—distributed by a multi-national corporation. Maybe E.F. “small is beautiful” Schumacher would be surprised. Maybe big can be beautiful, too. Or maybe, as Goldman puts it, we'll always live somewhere in the grey.

JF:  How did you decide to define sustainability for Honest Tea as 'to nourish and uphold?'

SG: That's the literal, dictionary definition.  But the irony is that here we all operating in a consumer economy. The definition of consume is to devour and destroy.  You couldn't get more opposing definitions. To be a business committed to sustainability, yet operating in this contradiction, it's the grey space we all operate in. Some people are more thoughtful and willing to admit that's where they are and others do it without considering it.

JF:Do you think Honest Tea will always live in that“shade of grey?” Do you think there's ever a point where you can you say you've moved out of the grey?

SG: Yeah, I think we always will [live in the grey]. There are current issues we deal with, and even if we solve one of those issues, we should be moving on to the next one. As long as we are a consumer-based economy, there's no way around it. No way to totally lose that area of grey. If you think you've solved all the problems, you're not stretching yourself, you haven't asked enough difficult questions, and if you think you have, then you weren't ambitious enough. You don't have to embrace the grey, but that's where we are. We wouldn't exist without consumers. We encourage consumers to push themselves, too.

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Julie lives in St. Augustine, Florida and is currently pursuing her MBA in Managing for Sustainability at Marlboro Graduate School in Vermont. She has a background in international development and grassroots organizing and is passionate about equitable wages, labor rights and the global income disparity. If you can't find Julie, don't worry. Grab your board and head south on A1A. She's probably surfing somewhere along Florida's coast.