The TH Interview: Craig Sams, Founder of Green & Black's Organic Chocolate
Craig Sams is the author of three books, Chairman of the Soil Association and a very passionate advocate for organic agriculture (he even grows his own organic vegetables). In 1991, he and his wife, Josephine Fairley, founded Green & Black's Organic Chocolate, some of the finest organic chocolate products ever made, including the first product to ever carry the "Fair Trade" label. We welcomed the opportunity to interview Craig here on TreeHugger.
TreeHugger: What's one thing you do to make the world a better place every day, and one thing you wish you could do every day to make the world a better place?
Craig Sams: Every day, except when I'm fasting, I only eat organic food. This is such a no-brainer but it still amazes me that people can care about the future of the planet and support the system that's draining away it's most essential resource, the soil.I wish I could devote more time to stopping the resurgent nuclear threat. I don't mean bombs, they're relatively harmless, I mean the piles of waste that are building up with nobody having the faintest idea what to do with it for the next 24,000 years while it cools down to a lower level of toxicity. Imagine if the Romans had used nuclear power to advertise chewing gum on electronic billboards at the Circus Maximus and we had to devote billions of dollars every year to protecting the waste that was a by-product of their extravagance. We'd hate their guts. I cringe at the thought of my great grandchildren's fury with me for being part of this indulgent and stupid form of energy generation.
TH: You've said that terms and labels like "green," "organic" and "fair trade" are all part of the same thing: "sustainable." How do you define sustainability?
CS: Sustainability means that what we do now doesn't rob future generations of the resources they will need to live a civilized existence. In practice it means using resources at the same rate that they regenerate or, in the case of finite resources, recycling them to the maximum extent possible.
TH: What do you think is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of organic agriculture and organic food exploding into mainstream eating habits?
CS: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The European Union has finally come round to an agricultural subsidy system that rewards farmers for being good custodians of the countryside by paying them for environmental benefits rather than for overproduction. The USDA still rewards farmers for production, with no measure of their environmental benefits. There is a waiting list to join their conservation program but there is no limit on the amounts payable to farmers who are prepared to exhaust the last drop of fertility from the soil. This corrupt system leads to madness such as bio-diesel, ethanol gasoline and corn syrup sweeteners that would never see the light of day if farmers operated in a real market system. Ever since farming was nationalized in the 1940s the government has fixed food prices. This has impoverished America's farmers and those in the rest of the world have to live with unrealistically low food prices set on the Chicago Board of Trade and based on US subsidies that are expressly designed to keep down the price of food for people and feed for the pigs, chickens and beef that people consume too much of anyway. Last year Canada imposed a $1.65 per bushel import tax on US-grown corn to compensate for the fact that their unsubsidised farmers have a higher cost of growing corn. The Mexicans and the rest of the world should do the same; otherwise it will be pork-barrel politics as usual. It's no surprise that the USDA is still trying to dilute organic standards; they have no interest in creating a world where the price of food represents its real cost of production and where people respect this and are prepared to pay for good food cleanly produced in a sustainable way.
TH: After selling Green & Blacks to Cadbury, you said "There was no way we could have taken Green & Blacks to the global status that it deserved," and that Cadbury was able to help expand your organic production. Does the future of green business lie with big businesses slowly turning green, or with small businesses building the green marketplace from the ground up?
CS: Both. Big businesses can't just throw away their existing markets and drag unwilling customers along -- they'd just lose out to their competitors. By acquiring smaller green businesses they can tap into the green marketplace and learn what it's all about and develop the infrastructure to cater to the growing demand for organic and ethically produced food. The future of green business lies with the customer; green businesses will emerge continuously to take advantage of the leading edge of ethical consumerism. The great thing nowadays is that they tap into a much more enlightened market than we suffered just a decade or so ago when people used to ask us dumb questions like "What are you going to do when the organic fad burns out?" Now a savvy entrepreneur can build up a good business, create a brand with value, capture their niche and sell the business or expand it with venture capital. In the old days you just sat and watched as a big company barged in and captured your market -- muesli, yogurt, brown rice and fruit juice sweetened jams are just a few food examples -- and supermarkets knocked you off with their own brands. Green & Black's just caught this wave; if we'd launched it in 1980 we'd never have attained the critical mass to make it a valuable acquisition for a company like Cadbury's.
TH: What's the single most important thing each person in the country/world can do to make it a more sustainable, TreeHugger-friendly place?
CS: Sorry to be repetitive, but in 1993 I cut a rough tape of a song I wrote called "Eat Organic" with the refrain "Eat Organic — Save the planet." It's the single most important thing. Since then we've seen what a difference organic cacao production can make and seen all kinds of other inspiring organic projects that make the world a better place while producing better food, clothing and bodycare products. Once you get the fundamentals right everything else fall into place.