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Guayakí Yerba Mate - A Powerful Rainforest Experience

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Jul 24 23:45

Guayakí Business Model - Interview with founder David Karr

Guayakí Business Model - Market Driven Restoration


Through brand building, Guayaki drives reforestation and also supports local communities and their culture. Guayaki works directly with growers to deliver unique and beneficial products that enhance personal health and well being. Our goal is to create economic models that drive reforestation while employing a living wage.

Guayakí has pioneered an innovative business model called Market Driven Restoration in which Guayakí serves as a bridge linking consumer purchases of healthy yerba mate products in North America with indigenous communities engaged in sustainable agriculture and reforestation projects in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

Each person that drinks two servings per day of Guayakí Yerba Mate helps protect approximately one acre of rainforest every year. With a passion for mate, Guayakí partners with small farmers and indigenous communities to source mate from the sub-tropical forests of South America. From the simple love of a beverage,

Guayakí drinkers have become a driving force for conservation and community development by paying a fair trade price for rainforest-grown mate. In honor of the Aché Guayakí people native to the mate forest, we bring you Guayakí Yerba Mate.

In my experience, Social entrepreneurs are leveraging the market (consumer demand) to initiate and sustain social change. Social entrepreneurs feel adeep connection to humanity and an obligation to execute on an ethicalbusiness acumen which will limit inequality and bring good fortune to allmembers in the value chain - from seed to shelf.

We measure success by how we sustainably deliver on our mission. In other words, success for Guayaki is restoring thousands of acres of rainforest preserving many more, and leveraging mate as an economic vehicle to drive the restoration of local communities who steward the mate projects.

Our success is also defined by delivering both financial and emotional rewards to our shareholders, employees, and customers. Because we have been in business now for 10 years, we have frequently experienced tension between our bottom line and social mission.

Because we have attracted patient and philosophically aligned financial partners, we have weathered the tough times. Moreover, our financial partners have seen how committed our team is to our mission and how we have continued to build our team, refine our model, grow our business, and deliver on our mission. I must share that I feel social entrepreneurship would be incomplete without recognizing its implicit and direct relationship with environmental stewardship. A people cannot survive or thrive for that matter without a healthy environment. It's not the "chicken or the egg" debate... we know which came first!

Interview with David Karr

11thHourAction: How hard is it for your business to operate sustainably? What are you still working on (if anything) that has to be improved to minimize your footprint?

David: As you note packaging is crucial and I would highlight that though food mileage is a key issue, carbon analysis demonstrates that the amount of rainforest we are conserving/restoring far outweighs the shipping output. The shipping is 3.35 tons per ton of mate, so our 170 tons for the year is about 570 tons of carbon output, but the forest can sequester 3-4 tons/ha, so even at 5,000 hectares, we are talking 15,000 tons!!! We are offsetting all of our carbon in Sebastopol through the Real Goods solar array, so what is left is our co-packer energy, all of our travel, and shipping to our distributors. Alex found his footprint to be 16 tons and that is probably higher than most of us (Patrick may be 30 tons). So if we take 30 teammates at 16 tons that is 480 tons. Our total output has got to be under 3,000 tons and probably under 2,000 (depending on where our "possession" of our products ends for food mileage calcs...that leaves our packaging which we have not analyzed yet. In any case we look very positive.

11thHourAction: How does Guayaki support the local communities in the rainforest? What would it be like if Guayaki wasn't there?

David: Guayaki's purchase of fairly traded, certified organic, rainforest grown yerba mate drives and sustains all of our support for the local communities. This support manifests in many forms including direct technical assisance in organic farming and rainforest restoration, partnership in producing yerba mate for the world market, and community buiding among small farmers in the yerba mate industry throughout Argentina, Parguay and Brazil.

It would be easy to say that if Guayaki were not there, that many endangered tracts of rainforest would be at risk for deforestation and that many communities would not have the opportunity to participate in the world market. Because sustainable, shade-grown yerba mate is an alternative income source to the rainforest, the local communities can produce yerba mate in their forest without the need to deforest for cash from lumber or the cultivation of other crops.

Beyond yerba mate production, the communities feel HOPE as their pride and connection to the land is maintained while producing a valuable commodity for the world market. For a small farmer, working with Guayaki is an opportunity to often move out of poverty and marginal social conditions and forge a lifestyle with new meaning in today's changing world.

While Guayaki only works actively with 7 projects in 3 countries, our momentum continues to build and our business will drive further reforestation and community development projects as our business grows. In the end, Guayaki's involvement and connection with these communities is inspiring positive social and envirmental change and setting a new paradigm for how business can work cooperatively with peoples of the rainforest to create abundance and harmony for all the future generations.