The decision to move deeper into sustainability was a long time coming. Essentially, we had to wait until the market caught up with us to bring out the kind of teas that would really make a difference in the lives of tea workers, preserve ecosystems and make a profit. Even now, the foodservice market is not quite primed, but we feel a deep commitment to these values in meeting the needs of present and future generations of humans. Therefore, we intend to make a concerted effort to lead through this initiative.
In sustainability circles, there’s quite a bit of talk about learning from the past, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Certainly, we must know where we came from in order to move forward. There’s quite a bit of my DNA in China Mist, so in order for you to begin to understand China Mist’s sustainability story, I must first tell mine.
I grew up in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, a relatively small Hudson River town about 35 miles north of New York City in suburban Westchester County. Raised at the edge of a mostly deciduous forest high on the edge of a hill overlooking the vast Hudson River, I grew to appreciate the gifts that nature provides.
We had a fresh water stream running through our back yard and I spent hours sitting quietly watching the wildlife that lived in it and on it. In the summers of my youth, my parents sent me to Camp Treetops near Lake Placid, New York, an extraordinary summer camp in New York’s Adirondack State Park. Treetops was a transformational experience. There, I learned to grow vegetables and care for farm animals and hiked and camped in the wilderness area of the High Peaks Region. Being surrounded by forest, lakes and streams, breathing clear cool air, drinking fresh spring water trickling from mossy mountain outcroppings, void of the thunder of trucks and automobiles, was truly inspiring. Being close to nature and appreciating its bounty is core to my being. But also during those formative years, I was also introduced to the detrimental effects of industry on nature. My first lesson came early. My home town on-the-Hudson had at least two parks on the river and it was my father who first broke the news to me that we were not allowed to swim in it because it was polluted by industrial toxic waste and raw sewage. As a child, I could not understand this.
Then, in middle school, I was introduced to chemical pesticides and their effects on ecosystems through the assigned reading of Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring (1962). In ninth grade at Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut, I met and was inspired by the work of musician-activist Pete Seeger (an alum of the school) in his effort to clean up the Hudson. Through his Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Seeger brought attention to the Hudson and inspired citizens, businesses and governments to restore and sustain the river ecosystem, an effort that continues to this day. And finally, in my late teens, in returning to the High Peaks Region to hike and camp on weekends, I became aware of the ravages of acid rain on my beloved Adirondacks large patches of dead trees, stripped completely of branches, and lakes and ponds too acidic to support life.
I emerged from my adolescence a passionate and informed environmental voter and these experiences and learnings became the foundation of my interest in sustainability.
In the next installment, I will delve into part two of my sustainability journey—my move to Arizona and the founding and growth of China Mist Iced Tea Company.
John Martinson is the Co-Founder and Chief Sustainability Officer for Scottsdale, Arizona-based China Mist Iced Tea Company.