Image: Gaia’s Botanical Sourcing Map
SHP spoke with Alison Czeczuga, Sustainability & Social Impact Manager for Gaia Herbs, about the value of working with a number of different organizations, especially OSC2’s Climate Collaborative, the Sustainable Food Trust Association, and B Corp/B Lab. These partnerships and the resources they have provided have been invaluable to enable Gaia Herbs to go beyond the status quo. Below are some of the specific ways Alison mentioned these partnerships have helped.
“I couldn’t do my job” Alison said, without the resources provided by Climate Collaborative. “Well, I could. But it would be a lot harder and a lot less fun.”
The Climate Collaborative is a community of natural products businesses that are committed to bringing climate action into core business operations. They offer a number of tools and resources to help catalyze change within the business community. These efforts focus on nine action areas that a company can take: Agriculture, energy Efficiency, Policy, Food Waste, Forests, Packaging, Transportation, Short Lived Climate Pollutants, and Renewable Energy.
In addition to offering webinars and hosting Climate Days at Expo East and West, the Climate Collaborative has developed working groups to enable companies to turn climate aspirations into action — including marketing, sales, finances, executive assistance, and operations. The Rooted Community serves as the Regenerative Agriculture working group within the Climate Collaborative and shares best practices around regenerative agriculture through webinars, guest speakers, and other companies sharing what they have learned. The working groups phone calls provide opportunities to exchange ideas and talk about collaborations and new partnerships. There is a high level of dialogue, which makes these calls stand out.
The annual Climate Days, a free day at Expo West and Expo East, focus on climate action for businesses in the natural products industry. These days are full of inspiration: hearing from companies who have been building climate related programs for 12 years plus from the ground up, as well as networking with other individuals who are passionate about climate change. “It is inspiring to see that it does pay off and that the effort made now can make a difference.”
Overall, the Climate Collaborative puts forward big themes about how companies can respond to climate change which Alison then brings back to others at Gaia to think about how they are working on this issue. This includes everything from incorporating regenerative agriculture into the supply chain or working on Life Cycle Analysis projects. This work takes planning and commitment from the executive leadership and board, and is increasingly being highlighted within company’s annual and long-term strategies.
In January 2018, Gaia became a member of SFTA after having learned of their work through the Climate Collaborative. SFTA is one of the founders of the Climate Collaborative and hosts their regular Rooted Community working sessions. SFTA acts as a consultative arm for Gaia. They provide resources and sustainability experience on a number of issues: conducting a materiality assessment, surveying their supply chain for sustainability, developing a Climate Action Plan, exploring a greenhouse gas inventory, providing online tools in their membership portal, and introducing them to other mission aligned partners.
For a one-person sustainability team, these partnerships are an incredible resource, Alison said. It’s like having an extension to her team, with unparalleled expertise.
With their Meet Your Herbs® Program, Gaia is able to provide consumers transparency and traceability of where their herbs come from, including country of origin as well as the meticulous tests that each herb and product undergo before going on shelf. Gaia may know that their producers are growing organically, but they want to dig deeper into specific agricultural practices at the farm level and develop a score card to begin measuring things that matter for Gaia: soil carbon, biodiversity, and community health.
With the help of SFTA, Alison and the Global Sourcing team are surveying Gaia’s supply chain for sustainability issues. Beginning with the whole botanical level and then moving on to botanical extracts, they are asking: How are their producers managing the soil? Are they trained in regenerative agriculture practices? What do they teach about composting? About labor laws? What about the general operations of their suppliers? What are they doing about renewable energy and water?
This survey is also a way that Gaia can get information about how they in turn can help their producers. How can they partner with their suppliers to go further, positively impacting communities while also strengthening the medicinal herb supply chain? The survey is also a way to stay on the top of their supply chain by mapping out the potential issues, risks, and opportunities.
The resources and advice that SFTA is providing to Gaia is key. But there is still a need for more tools that are specific to the botanical industry, which faces different issues than food companies that source fewer raw materials. There is an opportunity for more good players within the botanical industry to come forward and collaborate on complex issues that botanical companies all face. Companies all benefit from collaborating to build out strong supply networks, to keep and help grow purpose driven companies, and to make positive impacts within communities through social and environmental impact initiatives.
Other key partnerships are the B Corp/B Lab network, where Gaia participates within their Climate Leadership group to strengthen climate action within the B Corp community, as well as general support from the B Lab team. NSF is another key partnership for Gaia to drive sustainability initiatives. They offer an array of sustainability support tools and will be conducting an environmental assessment later this year to set benchmarks and science based targets for environmental improvement. See New Chapter’s case study on working with NSF to create a self-assessment tool.
Partnerships serve as a key for Gaia to be able to scale sustainability efforts. They will continue to play an important role. Like all botanical companies, Gaia relies on natural resources and the communities who manage these. The more networks that can be formed to create mutual benefits for all, the better the industry will be, and the better global health will be.