Seth Goldman is the President and CEO of Honest Tea, an organic tea company based out of Bethesda, Maryland, as well as a supporter of AVODAH. Along with co-founder Barry Nalebuff and illustrator Sungyoon Choi, Seth recently released Mission in a Bottle, the story of Honest Tea. He was kind enough to lend us a few minutes of his time to discuss the values behind his work, his relationship with AVODAH, and to provide some advice to our corps members.
At Honest Tea we like to say that our mission is in the bottle, so every time we sell a lower-sugar, organic, Fair Trade certified drink, we are making an impact on health, the environment and access to economic opportunity. As a result, we define our success by our sales growth. Since Coca-Cola invested in Honest Tea in 2008, we have expanded our store count from 15,000 outlets to over 100,000. Our purchases of organic ingredients have grown from 800,000 pounds in 2008 to over 5 million.
How do your Jewish values inform your approach to social justice?
One of my favorite Hebrew phrases is “Justice, justice shall you pursue… “ I take the message to mean that it’s not enough to pursue justice, but how you pursue justice is equally important. So if we had a business that gave away our profits to charity but the business was focused on selling an unhealthy or environmentally extractive product, then we would only be performing half of our responsibility. So at Honest Tea, we strive to make all of our interactions – with our consumers, with our suppliers, with the environment consistent with our values. I use the word “strive” because, as the Pirkei Avot quote goes, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work but neither are you free to desist from it.” We should never fully achieve our aspirations – if we do, then we should have aimed higher.
What single piece of advice would you offer to AVODAH corps members and fellows as they work to make an impact on poverty in this country?
Before I offer them advice, I want to first thank them for their service and commitment. Then I would encourage them to make sure they are achieving balance in their own lives. Their work can be stressful and draining. In order to take care of others, they need to take care of themselves. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Take care of your personal, family and spiritual health. If you aren’t laughing or smiling on a regular basis, recalibrate.
What’s exciting to you about the future direction of AVODAH?
Just as Honest Tea has grown from a small local business to a national brand, I have always encouraged AVODAH’s leadership to think about how to scale the organization’s impact. Small can be beautiful, but our society faces large problems that need to be addressed on a larger scale, and I’m excited to see AVODAH step up to the challenge.