season 2 | ep. 10
with Nadia De La Vega
steeping together podcast
- season 2 | Ep. 10
sustainability at davidstea
with Nadia De La Vega
may 2022 Length: 27:54 see all
Marika de Vienne 0:18
Welcome, everyone to a special mini episode of Steeping Together, where we explore a specific topic within the vast world of tea with a tea enthusiast. I'm your tea-obsessed host Marika, and I can't wait to dive right into today's topic. Ahh sustainability–the buzzword du jour it seems, that every company, every product, every social media post these days uses the word so liberally that it's almost lost all meaning. It's easy to make the claim that sustainability is top of mind or the eventual goal of any of the endeavours we undertake as a company. But what does that actually mean? What does it mean to think, or produce a product sustainably? What actions are required, and how can we do more to help protect our environment and help our fellow humans? What steps are required? Where does one even begin? To help us work through these questions together? Today we have the Director of Tea Sustainability and Content, Nadia De La Vega here to give us a glimpse into all the work that she does, and DAVIDsTEA does to ensure that we are in fact a responsible and sustainable enterprise. Welcome, Nadia!
Nadia De La Vega 1:30
Thanks for having me, Marika!
Marika de Vienne 1:32
It is so good to have you again. You are my boss, so I am required to say that for job security.
Nadia De La Vega 1:42
I thought you liked me?
Marika de Vienne 1:47
I do, I do like you but I feel like any compliment I send your way is always gonna be tinted with is she saying this genuinely? Or is she… no, I genuinely am happy to have you here today. I love working with you. You are the Director of Tea Sustainability and Content. You're so much more than that. And for listeners who would have missed your very first appearance on our very first episode of Steeping Together, would you care to reintroduce yourself?
Nadia De La Vega 2:12
Yes. So my name is Nadia De La Vega. As you said it before, I'm the Director of Tea Sustainability and Content here at DAVIDsTEA, and together with my super talented and amazing team, we oversee sustainability initiatives and everything tea content related. From trainings to what we put on email or social, even regulatory. I've had the wonderful opportunity to work in DAVIDsTEA since 2012, and have worked on everything from artwork approval to recipe development, to even being featured in the podcast.
Marika de Vienne 2:52
You are a wearer of many hats, of that we can be sure. Okay so before we start talking about what we're doing here specifically at DAVIDsTEA, in a broader sense, what does sustainability mean? Because I feel like it, like I said at the top of the episode, it gets used all the time. Now I hear people say like, oh, that's not sustainable. And they're not necessarily talking about the environmental impact, or it's just a word that's now become ubiquitous, we use it everywhere. So in a broad sense, what is sustainability?
Nadia De La Vega 3:26
Okay, so in very, very broad terms, like you're saying, sustainability means meeting your goals or our goals without compromising future generations. So keeping in mind, three main pillars: it's the environment like our natural resources, economic, so access to resources, and social–human rights, access to education, to health. It's more of a holistic approach, or like a 360 view on how you conduct business.
Marika de Vienne 3:57
Right. It's interesting because it forces me personally to remember that not all businesses have been sustainable, which is, which is a ridiculous comment, because I feel like it's obvious. But it's true that for a long time in our capitalistic society, and in other societies as well, to be in business was to produce a product so that you could gain immediate wealth and having wealth was the end goal and forget what happens in the future. Forget how much we're polluting, forget how much we're ignoring basic human rights. It was about acquisition of money.
Nadia De La Vega 4:34
I think it’s acquisition of money and also like, humankind, we love to invent. So like you would invent a new product be like, Oh my god, look at my amazing product, it solves this issue. And everyone would just focus on that without thinking Okay, so what is the lifecycle of this product? Like after it gets used or it solves this issue, where's it going to end up? So for example, plastic bags, you know, before plastic bags you'd have to carry things in clay pots or like glass. So it would break, then plastic bags got invented and everyone's like, Oh my God, look, you don't have to spill it, you just put it, doesn't take space, it doesn't break. But now what happens to that plastic bag? You know, it ends up polluting the earth and it takes, I don't know, centuries to degrade, we can see the harm of it now, after many years of it being introduced, but when it was introduced, we're like, oh, we're just focusing on like, the immediate gain.
Marika de Vienne 5:33
Gain and gratification of it. So the lifecycle now, we've been able to see a full generation or two, we've been able to see the impact of what immediate gain and innovation without thinking of the consequences means. So we're at a really pivotal point in our history as a species, to make a massive course correction, we have to make a massive course correction. And we're not going to get into the details of what kind of course correction we have to make globally because this is a 20 minute podcast. But I think it is important for us to define what sustainability means for us here at DAVIDsTEA, what actions we're taking, because, and ot to throw shade on anybody, but I feel like every company now has a sustainability landing page has a sustainability, you know, social media post. It's really important that all companies be held accountable for what, what they're actually doing when they say we are being more sustainable, we want to be more sustainable. And so I'm here to get receipts, Nadia. Okay? I want receipts. What are we doing? But what does sustainability mean at DAVIDsTEA? Because first we have to also define what we're doing.
Nadia De La Vega 6:57
Yes. So sustainability has been a part of DAVIDsTEA for longer than the word has been popular. Even before I became like the Director of Sustainability. I think there were so many things put in place that this seems so natural. Since DAVIDsTEA started, there has been interest in composting at stores, in giving discounts when you reuse the tins, and like all of these initiatives to like take care of our planet. But it wasn't really formalised. Sustainability at DAVIDsTEA really means that our team's decisions are fuelled by our desire to take care of our home, the planet, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to protect the environment, and the people that provide us with the tea that we love. Your question is like, what does it mean for us as a tea company, we know that we're grounded, and the world provides us with this leaf that we love to consume. So we have to keep in mind natural resources, responsible agriculture, fair labour practices. And this is what we at DAVIDsTEA like to call positivitea, where we really keep what's right for both our local and global communities top of mind whenever we're making decisions. So that's in a nutshell.
Marika de Vienne 8:27
Right! It's a global overview. But I mean, I at least really understand what you mean, because we are in such close contact with a product that essentially will not survive if we don't do everything in our power to protect the environment that provides us with it.
Nadia De La Vega 8:44
And it's not only our product, it's, I think us as humankind, as the world, like all industries need to wake up. Because it a lot of the times we put it on just the government or just like people doing like choices, but I think it's also industries need to wake up and be like we can't wait for all these legislations to come into effect. We need to make the change now. Because when you're like in a capitalistic society, you're providing a product. So you're the one that also needs to wake up and provide a better product and make sure that you're keeping environment, economics and social rights, top of mind. So, like I was saying, sustainability is more than just having environmentally friendly packaging, I feel that that's something that is thrown around a lot. Like we're like, oh, we have environmentally friendly packaging. And I think that that is awesome, and this is great. But it's also coming together as an industry to improve and take care of our global and local communities. And that's why our sustainability strategy was built with the UN sustainability development goals in mind, because we think that this way if we all work in global partnership, we can have a bigger effect.
Marika de Vienne 9:56
Yeah no, it's not just about packaging. It's about people. I mean, it comes down to people. I mean.
Nadia De La Vega 10:03
Correct. Like, you can't have this product, this amazing product without the people. And any product, clothing, I don't know, food, any type of food. There's people doing actual work in the ground that you kind of don't think about because you're comfortable somewhere consuming the product. But that's kind of one of the things that I think it's very important when talking about sustainability. It's not just about environment, it's about people.
Marika de Vienne 10:33
Yeah. And it's not also just about fair wages, necessarily, because throwing money at a problem isn't…isn't sustainable. It's just not sustainable!
Nadia De La Vega 10:42
Exactly. It's not, it's not about just throwing money at the problem being like, okay, here, here you have someone, it's not the white saviour type of thing. It's like really going to the communities and seeing what they–they're the ones that know what they need help with, you can come with an idea of like, Oh, I think this is what this certain community or this certain region of the world needs. But it's more like listening and giving people voice and giving people a chance to have an opinion for what it is that they want, or how they can improve their lives.
Marika de Vienne 11:17
Absolutely, yeah, not just hearing, but listening and acting on what people actually need, and not what you think they need. I love it! So we also work a lot with the Ethical Tea Partnership. You work a lot with the Ethical Tea Partnership personally, I feel like you're always on a call with them!
They’re a wonderful team.
They are a really amazing team. They do some very, just really amazing work. I love their transparency, their programs, it's not just about landing in a place, quote, unquote, solving a problem and then leaving. They're really there to make like systemic and long lasting change.
Nadia De La Vega 11:59
Yeah, and that is something, one of the things that I love most about working in sustainability, and with the Ethical Tea Partnership is that it's really a partnership. It's not like an individualistic, it's like how can we, as a tea industry, make this better than when we got like, leave it better than when we got here? We know that there are problems that need to be addressed. What is the best way to address them? And the way that the Ethical Tea Partnership, they have regional managers and people in the ground that are working with the local communities to really see what are their needs here. Because their needs, the needs in Kenya are not going to be the same needs that in Sri Lanka, or in China. So I think that that is very important, that they have a say on what needs to be done and how it's going to really create change. It's not, like you said, it's not just about money. It's about legislation. It's about government. It's about NGOs, and having different support from different agencies. And all of us, as the tea industry, joining together will have more impact than just one company being like, oh, I want to do this. Like, it's about the industry. So I think that that's something really we rewarding when you're doing sustainability work.
Marika de Vienne 13:20
Absolutely. Okay. Let's talk about some local and some global projects. Because as I said, receipts, Nadia, I want to know exactly the kind of work that we're doing in sustainability. Like what are we doing?
Nadia De La Vega 13:36
Okay, so let's start with local because that's the one I think that it's more top of mind. There's another podcast about it that people can go listen to: Manoomin Maple. So as many of you are probably listening here, you've probably already heard our podcast with Tea Horse. This collab was so important for us, because as a non-Indigenous brand and company, it's really important for us to share our tea love and amplify Indigenous voices and their businesses. So we were thrilled to work with them and learn about wild rice. Plus, this amazing blend gives back to the Indigenous communities through the Reconciling Ways of Knowing program from the David Suzuki Institute.
Marika de Vienne 14:21
Yeah, no, it was, I said it in the episode, I'll say it again. It was the first time in a long time–I mean, we're a pretty excitable group. We’re a pretty enthusiastic bunch, but working on this tea, working with Tea Horse really, every step of the way, working on this blend and being able to ensure that it gives back either by, you know, giving to the David Suzuki Foundation, as you mentioned, or being in compostable packaging, or being made with a sustainable wild ingredient. There were so many facets of that product that just got everyone on board, like we all got– finance department got excited! You know, it wasn't just the tea team or the PR team, like there was a general kind of elation in the company that, hey, we're working on something meaningful. And if it works, because at the end of the day, we are a business, in order to keep doing these initiatives, it has to work on a consumer level. When it did work, it was like, Oh, my gosh, we can keep doing things like this. And that's so exciting.
Nadia De La Vega 15:33
And it's also showing you that you're doing the right thing. You're doing the right thing, like I feel, and I got it from a lot of people, I feel I'm so overjoyed. And I get really like teary when I talk about this. Because you felt the passion not only from Tea Horse, but from people here and being like, this is why we're in business. Yeah, because we want to do better.
Marika de Vienne 15:53
Yeah. Yeah. Don't cry, don't cry! It’s ok! You're literally tearing up.
I said it…Like haha I tear up.
Marika de Vienne
No, no, no, I mean there's a reason you're the Director of Sustainability, there's a genuine passion and love for this. This is not just, not just a title that we've like, slapped on somebody. And I'm not trying to, you know, suck up to the boss! You are genuinely moved and passionate about these things. I think that's, a lot of the times I'm gonna give you credit. I'm gonna give everyone credit because we all really rally. But you're quite the general when it comes to…!
Nadia De La Vega 16:33
I think I've always been really, like, I don't know, like you said, we’re a very enthusiastic, passionate bunch, but it like I remember. Yeah, I was like this is what I want. This term that people are throwing around? The actual meaning behind it. This is what I thrive, like I said, projects like this are what gets me up every day. And I'm like, Yes, let's go to work!
Marika de Vienne 17:01
Let's do it. Okay. Global projects. We have the Nepal project, right?
Nadia De La Vega 17:07
Yes. So we have our amazing Nepal Clean Water project. This is a project that's again, very dear to me, because we've been sourcing from Jun Chiyabari tea garden for over 12 years, and we've loved working with them, because they're a very progressive garden. In Nepal, they are very social or conscious of their community. Women in the garden have a leadership position and managerial positions. And they just do amazing tasting tea. And in 2020, we decided to partner with them for a Clean Water project that would initially impact three schools. And then they very generously decided to match our donations, and together now, we're able to provide long lasting clean water to four schools, one of which has two buildings. So it kind of would be five schools. And it impacts the lives of 3200 children and staff. And this is again, going back to you not solving, you not coming up with like, Oh, this is a project I want. It’s like asking the people in the garden, their communities, what is needed, what is needed in the communities. And it was the people at during Jun Chiyabari, our partners that told us you know what, there's a lot of schools here, and they don't have access to clean water. So it was finding the filtration systems that would work and they did just an amazing job with everything. They even used a Nepali filtration water system that came to teach the students in school about sanitation, about how it works, how to repair it. So this is another one of those projects that it's so dear to us, because we saw the impact. And we were so excited that starting March 22 of this year, in World Water Day, we decided, thank you to our leadership, that 1% of the proceeds from our Organic Nepal Black will now support this project, so that it can continue.
Marika de Vienne 19:10
Continuously, it's not just a one day thing that we do on World Water Day. That's amazing. Yeah, it’s like you said, it's the reason you get up–it's not the reason you get out of bed in the morning because sometimes I do feel like just–
Well we have kids.
Exactly! But it makes those long meetings not so bad. Let me put it that way. You're like, Okay, we're gonna get through this, but we're going to do something really amazing.
Nadia De La Vega 19:40
Yeah and it is, and I think one of the things that I'm we are incredibly lucky, I think because I could have this great idea or someone else could be like, Hey, let's go and work on this initiative. But if we didn't have support from our team, and our leadership, we wouldn't be able to effect change. It would just be a nice idea, in an email, in an inbox. You know, so I think that we're really lucky that we work somewhere that also believes that sustainability is a thing.
Marika de Vienne 20:10
It's true. And now we're both, you know, sucking up to the boss. But it's true. I've never once felt that, A – any idea here gets shot down, I think, there's a really big whiteboard, and everyone gets to put their ideas up there. And everybody gets heard and listened to. That's genuinely how I feel about working at this company. I'm not trying to get a raise. But when it comes to sustainability efforts, or efforts of helping the people from whom we buy this product, or just helping people in our own country, I feel like there's more than just hearing. And there's a lot of latitude given to our team to say, Yeah, go for it. Try to make it, make it happen.
Nadia De La Vega 20:55
And like I was saying earlier, it's not just about–because a lot of the time now you see companies, they're like, we're so sustainable. I love, I'm so into, you know, compostable packaging, and any, but a lot of people are like, you see, we're very, this is the only thing that we're doing, or what about the social aspect? What about the people? Well, you know, and I'm not saying this is bad, because I think that it's good that you even mentioned it, because then it gets people thinking about Oh, what is that term that I don't know, the social is very important.
Marika de Vienne 21:25
The social is super important, it's the thought that comes to mind, to me is that I'm an elder millennial, I grew up in the 90s. And in the 90s, there was this huge emphasis on the individual's responsibility towards the planet, we all started recycling at home, we all had to, you know, there were commercials on TV, like don't waste your water when you brush your teeth, it was very much geared towards your individual personal impact on the planet matters, which is true, this cannot be denied. But the emphasis was not put on large productions or large companies to make any kind of effort to stop. And I'm really happy that the conversation has changed in that way to not just include packaging, to not just include the individual, but also for us to look at the social impact that we're having through production of products and things like that to make it more global.
Nadia De La Vega 22:21
Exactly. So what you said, you touched on very important points. So choice, the consumer has a choice. And that is very important. And you can do things individually. Because if we all do it individually, we're going to have an effect. But if you don't hold companies accountable, like I said, then it's just gonna keep happening, because what some one else is going to choose them. You know, like, it has to come at all levels. All around the industry, people, all the levels.
Marika de Vienne 22:50
And it just feels like there's a swelling now towards making those kinds of systemic changes. It's wonderful. Okay, last project I want to talk about touch on is the South Africa homeschool facility.
Nadia De La Vega 23:04
This is a project that we haven't like, really shouted out. But if you're a DT consumer, you probably know Wild Grown Rooibos. And this, oh my god, this is an amazing forge read rooibos, that is harvested by Izak, a sheepherder, and then it's processed in Johan’s facility. We partnered with Johan to build a safe space for children of tea farmers so that they can get together and study. They have bathrooms and a kitchen. And it's, Johan also contributed to this project. And it's, it's amazing to see that it's not just coming from one person. It's a lot of people waking up and being like, hey, we need to wake up. We need to do better. You can't, you can't have this one dimensional view of like, Oh, I'm making money, I'm succeeding in life. You know, you are a community. you are a local community. And you're also part of the global community. And we only have one house, one home. So we need to take care of it.
Marika de Vienne 24:13
We kind of don't have a choice, you know. You don't want to put it in those terms, but it's like, why be sustainable? Because we'd have no other option. I mean, it's a good thing, and it's going to lift everyone up. But at the end of the day, where are we going to go? There is no plan B. Okay, you brought the receipts. Thank you very much. I know you can't spill the beans on everything. Not yet. I know that you work on so many different aspects of sustainability here at DAVIDsTEA, and content. Can you give us kind of what your wish list of things that we could implement in the future would be like?
Nadia De La Vega 25:00
Oh my god, I think, I don't know if I can give you the wish list because then… well I dunno, but I can spill some tea! I can spill some tea. So there's a very exciting global pilot project coming this summer with the Ethical Tea Partnership. So that is something to…
Marika de Vienne 25:20
Check our blog for!
Nadia De La Vega 25:22
I can’t wait to talk more about. We're also working on packaging initiatives, a lot of packaging initiatives. Seeing opportunities to improve and transitioning our packaging to compostable materials wherever possible. And there's so much that we're doing in-house, you know, because it's not, we're not a new business. So there's a lot of things that you need to put in place to make sure that you have those, that you're hitting all those targets of environmental, economic and social sustainability. So I can tell you that we're working a lot behind the scenes, and there's definitely more to come.
Marika de Vienne 25:59
I'm so excited. I'm so happy to be on this team. I'm so happy that DAVIDsTEA is taking an active role in what sustainability means as much as we can. I don't want to put it on the consumer. This is not me putting it on the consumer. But honestly, if you're listening, if you consume DAVIDsTEA, and if you have ideas of initiatives that we should take, absolutely 100% send them to us because we can’t have our eyes on everything. And the consumer has the power to pressure, like you said, has the power to pressure companies to be better, to do better.
Nadia De La Vega 26:38
You're totally right. And what I feel when you're with other companies that work on sustainability, like companies want to do better. They want–and they're working together and partnering and collaborating. To see like, hey look, there's this innovative thing that you can also implement here. And it's just lifting us up because we are all realising that we all need to work together to make that change.
Marika de Vienne 27:03
Absolutely. Well, Nadia, thank you so much for giving us all, spilling all the tea, giving us the receipts, telling us what's happening with sustainability. I know this is not your last time on the podcast, just based on the amount of conversations we have off mic. Thank you for listening to today's episode. If you would like to reach us with comments, questions or suggestions on how to improve sustainability at DAVIDsTEA or new initiatives that you think we should take. Please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our website davidstea.com. Have a great week and happy steeping everyone.
Thank you for having me.
Thank you Nadia!
de la vega
about the guest
Nadia De La Vega's tea journey has been anything but linear. Growing up in Mexico, tea was not a common beverage... but luckily for Nadia, her mother would brew loose leaf black tea every morning. She completed her science degree in Montreal, where her love for food pairing and recipe development came to be. Joining the DAVIDsTEA team in 2012 (and we are SO glad she did!), she put her superpowers to use to help develop tea-based recipes. As the Director of Tea Sustainability and Content at DAVIDsTEA, Nadia and her team primarily oversee sustainability initiatives and tea knowledge across the brand while ensuring all tea information is authentic, fun and relatable. You can normally find her drinking a cup of Orange Pekoe or Organic Jasmine Black Pearls, while working on impact initiatives and indulging in some serious tea talk!