The TH Interview: Nikhil Roychowdhury, Tea Merchant Gone Green
When he started The Simple Leaf, Nikhil Roychowdhury wanted to sell tea, not save the planet. A few months into business though, and he saw just how aligned these two goals were. Four months ago, he partnered with Carbonfund.org to offset all parts of his business, and was bitten by the green bug- he's been working to make his business even more sustainable since then. We spoke with him about tea's connection with climate, childhood inspirations, and going carbon-neutral.
TreeHugger: Did you originally intent for The Simple Leaf to be a carbon-free business?
Nikhil Roychowdhury: When I started The Simple Leaf, I knew that I wanted to build a socially responsible company, but eliminating our carbon footprint wasn't at the top of my list at the time. Then I found Carbonfund, and their mission immediately struck a chord.TH: Why is that?
NR: Growing up in Calcutta, the dangers of climate change hit very close to home. I remember days when I saw boats going by my window, paddling through flooded streets. Just the other week, my mom called me and said that she and most of the city couldn't go to work because of extensive flooding. Pollution and overcrowding were right out my door as well. In a way, Calcutta was a preview of what most cities will be like if climate change continues.
TH: So is lowering your impact on the environment simply the right thing to do, or is there a business advantage as well?
NR: Well, if climate change continues, there will be no tea business. Tea requires very specific conditions to grow: healthy rainfall, good soil, a precise temperature and amount of sunlight. When a tea harvest fails because of drought, the human toll in the region is enormous- the many people who would normally be harvesting the tea crop are out of work, which impacts every other sector of the economy as well. Internet tea merchants are no exception.
TH: What percentage of your customers decide to pay the 50¢ to offset their shipping?
NR: Right now, around 2% of customers choose the offset. I want to get that up to 15% or 20%, but its hard to explain to customers what exactly they're buying when they add 50¢ to their order. Carbonfund is doing a good job demystifying offsets, but there needs to be more transparency in the industry as a whole. I think that as a standard is developed and people know where their money is going, offsets like this will become more popular. I think its a good way to get people interested in reducing their footprints without preaching to them.
The Simple Leaf is based in Chicago, and they specialize in seasonal teas from Assam, Darjeeling, The Dooars, Himachal Pradesh, The Nilgiris and Nepal
See also: ::How to Green your Coffee & Tea