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Celebrating our Pukka Partnership - 6 years and counting!

Pukka and TreeSisters have been partnered for 6 years now and it’s been a mutually treasured partnership. We spoke to Eleanor Jeffrey (Sustainability Manager) and Georgia Phillips (Head of Impact & Sustainability) from Pukka to explore some of the highlights and learning from this important partnership.


Going back to the beginning, can you tell us what made you choose to work with TreeSisters? 


Pukka originally discovered TreeSisters through Clare Dubois. In November 2017, Clare visited our office in Bristol for a Pukka ‘Nourish team lunch’ and shared her experiences in nature that inspired her to co- found TreeSisters. It was such a heartfelt and inspiring story that everyone in the room that day felt called to support. What Pukka would have spent on sending Christmas cards that year was donated to TreeSisters instead. We shared this digitally with the Pukka community and introduced them all to TreeSisters’ great work, and so the partnership began. 


Today, the alignment between Pukka and TreeSisters remains as strong as ever due to TreeSisters’ approach of empowering women and communities, and advocating and connecting with nature through forest restoration. These are two topics that have been at the heart of the Pukka business and social and environmental impact work.


(C) Health in Harmony, Borneo


There is so much to be celebrated about our partnership, amongst other things over 1.6 million trees that have supported communities, women and restoration. What were some of the key projects and campaigns that supported making this a reality?  


Pukka embedded ‘TreeSisters giving’ as part of our strategic commitment with 1% for the Planet giving, of which we’ve been a member since 2015. Pukka & 1% for the Planet both share the view that it is valuable for companies to build relationships with environmental organisations into their business models. This approach was so that environmental giving became part of day-to-day processes and would scale in line with company growth. 


The Pukka People team were also very proactive in the way they led with activations to increase Pukka’s TreeSisters giving. They arranged for budget for a tree to be funded with every job application received each year from 2018 – 2022 and made sure that three trees were funded for every annual staff survey completed, as an incentive for the team to complete these. By embedding giving to TreeSisters in People team processes, it helped TreeSisters spread into Pukka’s culture and for TreeSisters to be widely recognised as a key Pukka partner. TreeSisters would also periodically offer talks at our Nourish Team Lunches and Pukka life days (quarterly team get togethers) which kept the Pukka team inspired and engaged throughout the years of our partnership. 


In 2018, Pukka led a ‘Let’s make Black Friday, Green’ campaign and donated 100% of online sales over the Black Friday weekend to TreeSisters. At that time, very few companies were making this type of commitment and Pukka was delighted to donate to TreeSisters in a way that hopefully inspired some of our consumers to think differently about consumerism. 


In 2019 – 2020, the Pukka UK Sales team instigated an ambitious and industry-leading in store campaign called ‘Buy a tea, plant a tree’ which ensured that for every box of Pukka tea that people purchased during the campaign, a tree was funded by Pukka. The campaign ran in Waitrose, Ocado, Holland & Barrett, Planet Organic, Sainsburys, various independent

health food shops and also ran with some retailers in Germany & Nordics.

In more recent years, Pukka has made TreeSisters one of its two carbon balancing partners. 




(C) Aquaverde, Brazil


That takes us into carbon offsets and certification which has been a big topic of contention for businesses. Can you share your decision-making process and what made you take a mixed approach by choosing TreeSisters projects that are uncertified? 


Getting to net zero is our ultimate aim and yet we know that investment in nature and “beyond value chain mitigation” is desperately needed now. There is too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today and major efforts must be made immediately to remove it and safely store it in plants and the soil. This is why, in 2021, Pukka’s Mission Council and Leadership Team felt it was important for Pukka to develop a carbon balancing strategy and programme, supporting nature-based projects to balance our crop to compost emissions each year. 


In choosing the right carbon removal initiatives to support, we spoke with a number of NGOs, including TreeSisters, to understand the challenges and opportunities of certification. We heard about the barriers that smaller, community-led projects face in receiving funding and gaining certification; the devastating impacts that projects can have (especially on indigenous populations and access to land) and that the majority of traditional carbon offset projects prioritise ecosystem protection, over restoration, when both are needed. It was clear to us that certified credits were only part of the answer. 


We researched and reviewed more than 40 nature and biodiversity projects around the world and assessed projects against a set of key criteria, such as additionality, permanence, governance and the methodology used.  In recognition of Pukka’s reliance on ecosystems and local communities for the raw materials that we depend upon as a business, we also chose projects with strong social and environmental benefits, located in some of the countries that we source herbs from.


Pukka has a long history of championing certification but we recognise its limitations and claiming to be carbon neutral was not a driver for us. Therefore, we selected partners that we trust, choosing a mix of certified and uncertified projects that are aligned with Pukka’s mission and deliver positive impact in ways that go beyond a rubber stamp. We simply believe these projects have an important role to play alongside our emissions reductions work, which remains our priority.  

 

You’ve mentioned before to us that working with TreeSisters played a pivotal role in informing your carbon balancing strategy. Can you walk us through this journey? 


As a global leader in restoration, TreeSisters has been a great source of inspiration for Pukka over the years. When developing Pukka’s carbon balancing programme, TreeSisters’ approach to ecosystem restoration, women's empowerment and addressing land rights for indigenous communities helped inform our approach to this complex topic.

(C) International Tree Foundation, Uganda.


Through our long-standing partnership and engagement with TreeSisters, we saw what best practice looks like with regards to reforestation projects, moving away from a traditional transactional relationship and developing projects that are truly inclusive and community-led, with the needs of local indigenous or other community groups placed at the heart of each project. 


TreeSisters’ ‘Position on Carbon Credits and Offsets’, which opposes the monetisation of nature provided us with the opportunity to reflect on Pukka’s carbon balancing strategy and the role that businesses can play in protecting and restoring nature around the world, working with trusted partners to sensitively and respectfully work in this volatile and contentious field. The deep listening process that TreeSisters led with other NGOs and Original Peoples is an outstanding example of ethical leadership and intense collaboration that has led to the development of a pioneering ‘’Rooted in Ethics: The Community Tree Stewardship Framework’’, putting the rights of nature alongside those of humans. 


It’s been a fascinating journey of learning and connection with our friends at TreeSisters and we are immensely grateful for the opportunities to have honest and challenging conversations with the team over the years. 


What decisions would you encourage other organisations to be making and thinking about in this crucial decade of climate action? 


All businesses need to holistically consider climate, nature and people together, rather than continuing to take a siloed approach to each of these vitally important topics - and take rapid action now. 


At Pukka, our social and environmental impact strategy has worked as a guiding purpose and structure, helping to set out long-term goals and annual metrics for the business which we have reported against in Pukka’s impact reports. Some examples of putting people and planet first include Pukka’s long-standing Soil Association Organic, Fair for Life, FairWild, 1% for the Planet and B Corp certifications as well as bold goals and commitments for our packaging.


We would encourage businesses to apply a nature lens to existing climate transition plans and ensure that the communities impacted throughout a company’s supply chain are engaged with and included from the beginning. It’s not a quick thing to realise and at Pukka there is still lots to do. We know that we can’t do it alone and partnerships with organisations such as TreeSisters are crucial in navigating these complex topics. 


Pukka is at a time of rapid change having just been acquired by Lipton Teas & Infusions. What do you imagine for its future and the evolvement of the partnership with TreeSisters? 


Pukka is in a time of transition as it finds its place in the new Lipton Teas & Infusions company, a group of over 30 tea brands LIPTON Teas and Infusions: The tea global leader. It's an exciting opportunity for Pukka to influence and inspire this larger community of tea brands as Lipton develop their own sustainability strategy and pathway forward. We hope that the long-standing relationship with TreeSisters will remain at the heart of future work, as the tea industry sets bold ambitions for its social and environmental impact. 




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