Honest Tea CEO on life as a green entrepreneur (video)

[Correction: This article incorrectly stated that Honest Tea was working toward using a PLA (plant-based polylactic acid) alternative for its bottles. It has been updated to reflect that the company is actually pursuing a PET bottle with 30 percent plant-based content.] 

Honest Tea, an organic beverage company, made headlines when it launched an app to recycle Facebook posts last week and set up a 30-foot-tall inflatable recycling bin in New York City's Times Square on Monday. It's all part of a campaign the 14-year-old company, bought by Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO) last year, calls "The Great Recycle."

The company's goal is to recycle every bottle it produces by 2020. That's a worthy target, especially considering that Honest Tea generates approximately 20 million glass bottles and 60 million plastic bottles annually. It has a long way to go before it's as sustainable as it can be. 

If I could change one thing about the company, it would be to reduce its use of plastic bottles and single-serve juice containers. Studies have shown that plastic bottles leach, and plastic is made of petroleum products, which is not a renewable source. Worse yet is single-use products, which can't be reused.  

To be fair, CEO Seth Goldman argues that, from a packaging standpoint, the pouches have a smaller footprint than glass bottles. As for the arguments against using plastic, Goldman responds that the Honest Tea is considering using Coca-Cola's PET bottles (which are 30 percent plant based) and ultimately aspires to use a 100 percent plant-based recyclable bottle.

I remain skeptical about the environmental advantages of switching from the original PET bottle to a 30-percent-plant-based bottle until further study. Still, Honest Tea is clearly doing its best to stay true to its core ethics. The company strives to “create healthy and honest relationships with its customers, suppliers and the environment.”

Here's a little sip of Honest Tea's many sustainable features:

  • Its products are made with organic ingredients and fair trade certified tea leaves.
  • Honest Tea gave all of its employees bikes to encourage health.
  • The company decreased its packing to create lightweight PET bottles
  • Its bottle and pouches are free of phthalates and BPA.
  • Its corporate headquarters in Bethesda are environmentally friendly.
  • The company partners with Terracycle to give 2 cents to schools for each Honest Kids pouch collected.  Other companies who sell pouch juice drinks have followed suit.
  • Goldman founded Green Bethesda, a green incubator to help foster and support sustainable businesses.

In this short clip of my interview with Goldman, he discusses the company's origins and shares words of wisdom for startups. You can view the longer version, which includes more information about "The Great Recycle," the company's challenges and why Goldman is compromising less, at Green Talk.