Sasha Chebil

Communications Manager, We Mean Business Coalition

‘It’s just part of our DNA’: Numi Organic Tea on Prioritizing the Climate Across its Supply Chain

Sustainability has been a priority for California-based Numi Organic Tea since its founding over two decades ago. Today, it continues to lead these efforts, modeling why a successful business and sustainability go hand in hand.

When brother and sister duo, Ahmed Rahim and Reem Hassani, founded Numi Organic Tea, they were conscious of the company’s potential to create a substantial amount of waste from their packaging.    

“As a business, you have an individual responsibility to assess how much waste you put out in the world.” Hassani, the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Numi Tea noted. Minimizing the environmental impact of their operations and waste material has been a core part of the business’s ethos since it launched more than two decades ago when sustainability wasn’t typically prioritized in business.

Since its founding in 1999 in Oakland, California, Numi Organic Tea has put this mentality into practice, reducing its waste and emissions at every step required to make a cup of Numi Tea: from attaining the raw materials and packaging to transporting the products to stores and consumers, even down to sourcing the water for steeping. Today, the tea company employs 20 staff members and distributes to more than 50 countries. It is Climate Neutral Certified and an SME Climate Hub member, pledging to measure, reduce and fully offset its carbon emissions each year — a commitment Hassani refers to as “just part of our DNA.”  

Hassani admits that meeting sustainability and climate goals doesn’t happen overnight and comes at a price, often leading to a more expensive but higher-value product. “I always say that sustainability isn’t absolute, it’s a process of making conscientious decisions as you go.”   

This process began with the small step of encouraging their customers to recycle their tea boxes and has since developed to packaging their products in tea boxes made entirely out of post-consumer waste. Today, Numi Organic Tea uses a fully plant-based wrapper, made from eucalyptus and non-GMO sugarcane that can be composted by consumers. This practice has led to the displacement of 14.3 metric tons of virgin plastic every year — an amount equivalent to nearly 32,000 pounds of plastic and has reduced the company’s reliance on fossil fuels.  

Numi Organic Tea, which distributes its brand in major grocers across the country as well as on their own online store encourages sustainability well beyond selling their product. “The wrapper can be composted in your industrial compost bin,” Hassani explained. “Unfortunately, [only] a small population actually has that [compost] bin in their backyard.” That’s why Numi Organic Tea is currently advocating for a policy that would make composting bins more accessible to individual households.   

A cup of tea is not as carbon intensive as a cup of coffee, emitting 0.038 kg of CO2e compared to coffee’s average of 0.209 kg of CO2e. But this doesn’t keep the company from committing to cutting its emissions as much as possible. 

Last year, Numi underwent a carbon footprint audit to better understand its main sources of emissions. Through the SME Climate Hub, businesses can self-measure their emissions through the Business Carbon Calculator. Numi found that 21 percent of their emissions stemmed from their ingredients, 18 percent from their packaging, 12 percent from their transportation and 49 percent from the boiling water used by consumers to brew the product.

In addition to reducing emissions caused by their packaging, Numi works with its farming partners to reduce water usage and promote regenerative agriculture which prioritizes biodiversity and soil health, Hassani explained. The company also strategically consolidates employee travel to reduce emissions caused by travel.

Despite its success on the sustainability front, Numi Organic Tea is not immune to the increasing impacts of climate change. More severe, more frequent and longer-duration droughts in China and India are already impacting the areas where the company sources its teas, forcing it to look for alternative suppliers. Pledging to cut emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050 with the SME Climate Hub can help put these larger climate issues into context, clarifying the company’s individual role in fighting climate change. 

For business’ just starting out, Hassani encourages prioritizing sustainability and the climate right away, just as she and her brother did over two decades ago. “You have to decide whether you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution,” she concluded.