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“There are incredible materials available, there’s cellulose, there’s plant-based plastics, there’s things that you can substitute or trial. To say it’s not readily available or it’s not easy is not the right thing to do. It’s [better to be] like, ‘What is the right thing to do? Let’s do that.’”
The Australian tea company has just released its second annual sustainability report. And despite the challenges of 2020, the retailer still managed to hit some major milestones.
By the start of 2020, 60 per cent of all tea (Camellia Sinensis) was sustainably sourced, and the goal at T2 is to make that 100 per cent by the end of this year. As of July, all teawares have been ethically sourced; and when it comes to waste, over 250 tonnes is diverted from landfill annually through the use of recyclable bags and compostable materials.
Becoming a B Corp
After last year becoming one of Australia’s largest B Corp Certified retailers, T2 is more focused than ever on delivering positive outcomes for people and the planet.
“The report is like the cherry on the top of the icing on the cake. When we were baking the cake, it was pretty hard,” Smith said of the journey to become accredited.
Attaining B Corp status was an important move to satisfy T2’s key demographic – 25 to 44 years olds who care deeply about responsibility and accountability.
“From an objective point of view, B Corp is quite a tough thing to get. But, we’re proud of it because it is end-to-end. It looks at the whole business holistically and it’s independent, that’s why it’s such a rewarding thing,” she said.
“Our mission has always been to build a brewing force for good and [the B Corp] mission is about building a business force for good. It feels to me like the right family to be a part of.”
T2 is in good company, with Kathmandu, The Body Shop and Koala among the retailers who have also achieved B Corp status. And with businesses required to reapply every two years, the need to improve is constant.
“We know that purpose-led brands tend to be stickier, the customer base tends to be more loyal and more engaged. The tough side of that, though, is that there’s a level of expectation,” she said.
Ethical sourcing is a top priority in the tea business, and can present many challenges given the expansive global supply chain. Smith said T2 has had to be very selective about the suppliers it works with.
“It’s a bit like the butterfly effect but you’ve got to start somewhere and you’ve got to start with your stake in the ground saying, ‘Look, this is what we believe in and we really want to work with you, but we might require you to shift to… work with us to get to a point where we’ve got something that feels right for the planet and right for the rights of people.’
“In that sense, being able to educate and work alongside suppliers, has been really rewarding as well.”
T2’s sustainability work has had a really positive response from consumers, particularly in New Zealand, according to Smith.
“I don’t think that’s surprising, New Zealand is one of the purest places on Earth, but we get a real feeling from customers there that this stuff matters,” she said.
T2 recently celebrated Maori Week in New Zealand, adopting Maori signage as part of its efforts.
“All that stuff is part of our remit. We’re a global company that is so grateful to be able to participate in different cultures, whether it’s from a design point of view where you’re borrowing certain design cues and layering them with others or whether it’s actually a language-based thing. Our people wear badges now to show if they speak other languages,” Smith said.
Recreating the offline experience online
Like most retailers, T2 has noticed a lift in e-commerce, a channel that it is aiming to grow to be 30 per cent of the business. But recreating the store experience online hasn’t been easy.
T2 has focused on communicating the benefits and the beauty of each tea through descriptions and photography, to mimic the knowledge that would be shared by an in-store salesperson.
“We really had to get very focused on lifestyle more so than product and the benefits from an emotive state, to be more relevant to the moment that we’re in,” Smith said.
“We’re looking at it from the vantage point of what it’s going to do for our customers. How are they going to feel and what’s it going to taste like.”
T2 is also exploring wholesale, now ranging in Woolworths and Coles, and is looking at how best to communicate the product with the supermarket shopper, which Smith said has a “totally different mindset”.
Innovation in international
As a global tea business, T2 has faced many different challenges this year. In the UK, city-based stores have seen significant drops in foot traffic as a result of the pandemic and promoted the retailer to form new partnerships.
While in Singapore, the challenge has been around managing same day pick up and delivery.
“It’s been a really interesting shift because Singaporeans are so used to picking up stuff on the spot or getting items the same day and that’s been that’s been really challenging in the past,” Smith said.
“I think it’s about moving to a more sophisticated e-commerce model, [like] click-and-collect, shop-from-store, and understanding that there’s also a space for innovation.”
T2 is also developing more recipe content around its “foodie” teas which have been really popular in Singapore.
For now, the retailer is looking towards Christmas with an extensive sustainable gifting range on the way.
“We’re super excited to look at gifting,” Smith said. “The new range that’s coming out is totally sustainable and we are super proud of it.”