synonyms: duty, function, trustworthiness, common sense, maturity, reliability, dependability.
Responsibility. First, an observation — no human economic activity is yet sustainable. It’s a fact that of life that in building something, there will be waste. The continual challenge in striving to be a responsible company is being religious about finding ways to mitigate waste and reduce the effects of economic activity — shipping, packaging, apparel, and all the other tangible things that make a business run. Below is a section of Patagonia’s mission statement:
“…cause no unnecessary harm,”
This is a succinct explanation of our ethos, and a starting place for everything we do.
History. This idea of responsibility is not a new idea, just an unpopular one. With the rise in industrialization followed by mass outsourcing of production to find cheap labor, being a “trustworthy company” lost it’s place at the table to “short-term gains.”
Unfortunately, Western economics and capitalism has shifted the power from thousands of small business owners to a handful of wealthy industrialists. Before this shift, the function of business was to bolster the middle class by offering jobs to the local workforce, which catered to the regional customer base, and acted as a caretaker of the community at large. It was a great formula for many years, but somewhere along the way, money became more important than function, and the company’s responsibility to the stakeholders lost out to the company’s responsibility to the shareholders. Which meant that the bottomline took precedence over the local assembly line, every time.
When money becomes the measure — as well as the means — of all things, the potential for economics and political mischief grows…
- Yvon Chouinard & Vincent Stanley
We believe in building a company that relies on its local roots, no matter how international its branches may reach. We believe in avoiding the potholes of capitalism by not allowing profit and the bottom line to drive our decisions. We want our ideals to transition from dollars and cents to dollars and sense.
Below are the five stakeholders that we are excited to serve and how they relate to our vision at Woodshed Coffee & Tea.
Responsibility to the health of the business. In order to meet our goals of being a company that gives back to the community and to nature, we first must ensure our financial health, that is, we must pay our bills on time and know our cash flow position.
Transparently, we want to be as sustainable as we can. We want to find compostable packaging, labels, glue, ink… et cetera. But we also need to sell tea and coffee, so we cannot put a product package out there that undermines the value of what’s inside. For instance, our larger packaging sizes are compostable — they look great and degrade nicely in a compost pile. Unfortunately, our supplier only makes a couple sizes out of compostable material, so for our smaller bags we are using a non-compostable version. It’s not ideal, but we are trying…
The point? We will be as responsible as possible, but we cannot risk the health of the business for all our ideals — profit is still a conduit to change and market share gives us the power to influence.
Responsibility to the workers. A responsible company should do what it can to reward and care for the people who make its products and provide its services. If we want to be an innovative, inspiring, and productive company, then we need the loyalty, dedication, and creativity of our employees.
What will this look like for Woodshed Coffee & Tea? Well, we will need to grow into this one, as we are a small bootstrapped startup, at this point in time. One thing we are looking at is to offer our hourly employees a “living wage,” which in Oklahoma is about $10/hr. To offset this higher employee wage we’ll focus on efficiency and waste control, to cut costs in the business. We will also ban tipping, as I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t a fair way to compensate employees for their monumental efforts.
Responsibility to your customers. Our responsibility to our customers is simple: offer a quality product at a fair price and don’t bullshit them with covert marketing tactics. It’s about inspiration and sincerity. We want to woo our customers. Romance them into loving our brand, and this takes work, time, thoughtfulness, a listening ear, and moments of delight.
We don’t ever want to conjure up a false image of our company. We will preen a little and take well lit pictures of our product, just like a first date. We will tell stories, and work to build the mythology of our brand, but we will never fog our brand with mystical powers and sayings. I’m sorry, but this is not the Zen you were looking for… it’s just a great cup of tea.
Responsibility to the community. Capitalism is hard on small communities, especially when short term gains are more important than long-term growth. We believe our responsibility extends beyond our own pockets and into the pockets of our neighbors, whether it be through supporting programs for the greater social good, or hiring people in our communities to do the work. This one relies on our responsibility to our financial health, because if we are profitable we won’t have to downsize, cut costs, and cut people. Rather we’ll be able to hire, grow, and give back to the community that supports us.
This responsibility is one of the reasons we’ve always wanted to be entrepreneurs. Revenue and profit allow us to have greater impact on the community, which in turn gives us influence on our culture and our neighbors — influence for good.
Responsibility to nature. We do not own nature. It is not a resource, it is not an asset, but make no mistake, we are liable for its state. Because nature does not have a place on the balance sheet, it gets ignored or at worst, abused by many companies.
Our goal at Woodshed Coffee & Tea is to understand the ecosystem of tea and coffee production, where we can drive for systemic change. This means we will look for ways to reduce our impact, and increase our giveback. This is a continuous process, with long-term implications, and for our kids’ sake, let’s hope others begin to do the same.
Written by Sam DuRegger
Founder, Woodshed Coffee & Tea