In the lead up to this year's Virgin Unite #VOOM Impact Award we spoke to Tim Westwell, co-founder of Pukka, about his experience with tea, herbs and with using business as a force for good.

Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of how you co-founded Pukka? Pukka began in 2001 after I met my business partner, Sebastian Pole. I had been looking to step out of the corporate world to find a way to combine my passion to contribute to a more positive world with my business skills. Sebastian was an ambitious herbalist who wanted to change the world by introducing people to the power of herbs. We quickly realised we had a shared vision and unique skills and knowledge, which we could bring to the table. Fast forward 15 years and over a million cups of Pukka tea are drunk every day across the world. We also make a successful range of supplements using the same medicinal grade, ethically traded organic herbs we use in our teas.

How important is it to Pukka’s ethos that the business addresses its impact on people and planet? The impact we make on people and planet is really what Pukka is all about. Our mission is to inspire everyone to discover a more conscious life to benefit people, plants and planet. This philosophy starts at the very core of our business and ends up ultimately with the organic and fairly traded teas and supplements, which we sell across the world. This is what I call, ‘doing good through commerce’.  

Virgin Unite, VOOM, Impact Award, Pukka

How is Pukka having a net positive impact on people, plants and planet? We work right across our value chain from crop to cup to have a positive impact on people, plants and planet; from our organic and fairly sourced herbs, to our 100 per cent biodegradable teabags, which are staple free for animal friendly compost. In our operations, we are zero waste to landfill, and have, in the last few years, focused on our carbon footprint. In 2015 we celebrated becoming a certified carbon neutral company through carbon efficiency, switching to 100 per cent renewable energy and offsetting our remaining operational carbon footprint with a Gold Standard efficient cookstove project in Uganda. We’ve carefully selected a project that not only has positive environmental benefits (reducing greenhouse gasses) but also improves the wellbeing of Ugandan communities and supports local entrepreneurship. The project not only subsidises the cookstoves being made, but also helps train people and develop the whole value chain (including the manufacturing, distribution, local sales channels and marketing in Uganda) to create a sustainable social enterprise. You can read more about this, our net positive vision and priorities in our sustainability report. We’re always looking for people to collaborate with to find solutions on our net positive journey.

We work right across our value chain from crop to cup to have a positive impact on people, plants and planet

We also strongly believe that our teas and supplements have a huge positive impact on people’s wellbeing too. The healing and restorative powers of herbs have been used for centuries. Take turmeric for example. There’s a huge body of research (over 6,000 peer reviewed papers), which demonstrates this incredible spice’s anti-inflammatory properties and ability to help a wide range of conditions. We recently launched an entire range dedicated to turmeric using a method called ‘wholistic extraction’ to extract the full potency of the plant. We also launched a new turmeric tea, which is not only packed full of antioxidants but also tastes amazingly refreshing. Herbs do so much more than simply add flavour and colour to our favourite dishes – they are nature’s medicine chest. 

Virgin Unite, VOOM, Impact Award, Pukka

Can you tell us about 1% For The Planet and why Pukka got involved? 1% For The Planet is a global movement of companies donating at least 1% of their annual turnover to environmental not-for-profit organisations worldwide. Although growing in the US, the idea of connecting businesses, consumers and non-profits together for positive change in this way is new in the UK. We’re one of a handful of companies who have joined the scheme, pledging 1% of our turnover to create positive environmental change – supporting schemes and organisations such as FairWild, the Soil Association, Sustrans and the Eden Project to name but a few. Being a member of 1% For The Planet is essentially a way for us to cement our intention to always give back and protect the environment that is the source of our business, as well as our lives, no matter what size we are.

Why do you think it is so important for today’s entrepreneurs to consider the impact of their business on people and planet? We feel strongly that all businesses have a responsibility to consider their impact on the environment. If we are going to address the global problem of climate change there has to be a step change in how businesses behave. Entrepreneurs have a real role to play here as they are the creators of tomorrow’s successful businesses. Reducing environmental impact isn’t something that can be bolted onto a business: it has to run through everything you do, right from the outset.

Virgin Unite, VOOM, Impact Award, Pukka

What’s next for Pukka? Our vision is for everyone in the world to know about the wonders of herbs and how they can help us in our everyday lives. We have set ourselves big growth targets for the next few years to help us get one step closer to this ambitious vision. We're really looking forward to propagating the core belief‎ that Pukka started with; as our profitability grows, so does our purpose and our ability to reach more people.

Stay tuned to find out who the finalists are that we’ll be sending to the VOOM live final on June 28.

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