Guayaki, the company known for its yerba mate beverages, has developed a market driven regeneration strategy within its company meant to facilitate a holistic positive impact across the globe triggered with each customer’s purchase. With regeneration of the planet at the heart of the company’s business model, Guayaki is dedicated to obtaining its product through fair trade and organic practices, packaging it in recyclable and/or reusable material and delivering the final product all with little to no emissions and waste. Guayaki’s ambition, explicitness in describing its goals and general platform make it a revolutionary force for sustainability, however certain lapses in the execution of these goals make the company imperfect, at least for the time being. The potential health risks of the beverage are not addressed by Guayaki, nor are certain aspects of the company’s transportation and recycling practices. Furthermore, there are questions regarding how sincere some of their social justice platforms are, especially the program to increasing living wage jobs given complaints about the quality and pay of certain delivery jobs. Despite these major issues, Guayaki’s efforts are still incredibly impressive and a purchase of their product is still an instigation of a positive impact upon the world. Unlike most other companies, Guayaki has established a very clear business model rooted in the desire to rehabilitate the planet both socially and environmentally, however, as with all other companies, there is room for significant improvement. Upon mitigating its current issues, Guayaki will be on its way to becoming an iconic leading corporation in sustainability, one deserving of a 3/3 planet rating.
Yerba Mate is a tea brewed from the leaves of a tree found in the South American Atlantic rainforest. It is a traditional, naturally caffeinated drink whose history and culture Guayaki has tapped into in order to develop its sustainable company. When it comes to the ingredients, Guayaki’s strategy is to protect life on land by sourcing shade growth organic yerba mate as well as green cane-harvested organic sugar.
A given can of yerba mate contains an infusion of different fruit juices supplementing the tea extract itself, as well as organic cane sugar and 150 mg of naturally occurring caffeine. The cane sugar used is obtained from a large regenerative agriculture project named The Green Cane Project. This initiative has replaced the destructive practice of burning sugar fields with green cane harvesting, a practice that regenerates the soil, increases biodiversity, funds reforestation and ultimately increases yield by 20% compared to traditional practices. The result of no agrochemicals and improved soil is quality organic green cane sugar which Guayaki uses to sweeten its yerba mate drinks. Both the sugar and all other ingredients used by Guayaki in their beverages are fair trade certified, and 99.9% of the ingredients are USDA certified as organic, meaning the drink is composed almost entirely of organic (ethically and sustainably grown) ingredients.
A look into the packaging tells a story of sustainable waste management, with the aim of zero waste in the future. More than 90% of the primary and secondary packaging materials used by the company can be reused, recycled or composted with most being made out of abundant bioregional resources. Guayaki’s canned drinks are its most sold beverage, and are 70% recyclable. Despite these encouraging statistics, however, there is a consumer knowledge gap seeing as it is unclear how much of this recycling potential is actually being met. The main issue with packaging is not recyclability but lack of information on post-consumer processing, something that the company could stand to be more transparent about.
The main contention regarding Guayaki’s product relates to the negative health impacts of yerba mate. Many have attributed numerous health benefits to drinking yerba mate, including an enrichment of vitamins and valuable antioxidants, an energy boost, improved mental focus, strengthened immune function and weight regulation. On the other hand, research has been released linking regular and prolonged yerba mate consumption to an increased risk of various cancers. The risk comes from the presence of a carcinogen within the tea, one that is also found in tobacco smoke and grilled meat. Furthermore, drinking very hot mate tea has been potentially linked to a further increase in risk of these cancers. As such, and given that caffeinated drinks generally come with their own common risks, it is concerning that Guayaki does not seem to have any information on the health benefits and/or risks of its product. The website goes into detail about the sustainability of the company but does not have any released health statements. Especially given concerns with the presence of a carcinogen in traditional yerba mate drinks, it is surprising that the company has no information about whether or not the carcinogen is present in its beverages.
Production of yerba mate begins in the rainforests of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, where the trees are shade grown through rainfed, non-irrigated agroforestry systems. The sustainable tree growth has earned Guayaki a regenerative organic certification, signifying organic growth as well as soil health and social fairness. Local farmers and indigenous communities hand harvest the leaves through a practice known as regenerative agriculture, which revitalizes the soil and trees as carbon sinks along with increasing biodiversity, conserving water and helping to restore an endangered forests. One of Guayaki’s most funded projects addresses the restoration of the rainforest. Of its goal to steward 200,000 acres of land and restore ecosystem services by 2020, Guayaki was able to achieve 88%. The company has protected the flora and fauna while cultivating the forests and planting native trees.
Once the leaves are picked, they are dried and ground before being sent to be packaged and delivered in the US. The process of drying the yerba mate leaves is Guayaki’s second largest carbon footprint source following packaging, and as of 2020 the company reported a jump to 51% low emissions for this process, although it is unclear what this means or what the upcoming goal and strategy would be to further reduce these emissions in the upcoming year.
The next major process is packaging, an area where Guayaki is working towards zero emissions and zero waste. The company is transparent about its water use, reporting 13.6 million gallons of water used to produce its bottles and cans in 2019, 99.9% of which were made in water stressed regions. The company has acknowledged its water manufacturing footprint and, to help mitigate this, supports a project whose mission is to protect the amazon. Beyond this, however, the company was unclear on how it would work to reduce its water use and continue to close the loop with the packaging materials the company uses for its products. In terms of the material of the packaging, Guayaki is using abundant and recyclable material in an effort to close the product loop. Despite using 99% recyclable, reusable or compostable material, in 2019 only 12% of Guayaki’s offices and distribution warehouses implemented such programs, although admittedly it might be difficult to implement such programs in locations with limited resources. Regardless, in the same year waste collection sites were installed in Brazil and Paraguay, signifying a transition toward more conscious sustainability in the company’s partnering countries.
On the distribution end, the company is pushing for a transition to electric vehicles for its delivery, as of 2020 having 68% electric vehicles and 4% completely renewable. One issue here, however, is that many of the vehicles are small and unfit for large deliveries, potentially increasing the amount of round trips and thus amplifying the levels of emissions through electricity use. Furthermore, one major point of transportation in the yerba mate production cycle which is not addressed is the transportation of yerba mate leaves from South America to the US. Though the company reported emissions as a result of air travel, it seemed that these emissions related to company travel. It is thus unclear whether the leaves are flown in or driven, and whether this move is then made by electric or gas vehicles. Beyond this, however, the company reports that 99.9% of packaging was manufactured in the US, reducing transportation costs and emissions compared to buying materials from larger distances.
In an effort to counter all of the company’s current emissions, Guayaki is investing in forests as carbon sinks and renewable energy powered fleets and facilities. The company has also signed onto a net zero by 2030 pledge with other B corporations, although this is a lengthy transition given the level of sustainability of the company’s business model.
Guayaki is a for-profit social enterprise that has rooted its business model in a system called market driven regeneration. Through this system, the company has empowered its customers to have a positive global impact each time a drink is purchased. Regeneration of the planet is at the heart of the company’s business model, and is executed through the company’s ethically-sourced labor and investments in different projects within South America and the US.
Guayaki works in partnership with local indigenous communities of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. By paying high prices above the market level for yerba mate leaves, Guayaki protects the individuals from rampant political and economical pressures and thus promotes the self-sufficiency of over 1,190 family members. This positive impact on farmers is confirmed by the company’s fair trade certification found on all ingredients in the final product. Each input meets the rigorous environmental, economic and social standards established by the certification. Beyond material compensation, Guayaki supports the culture and livelihood of the local indigenous communities by facilitating education programs for the school children and farmers as well as funding soccer teams, health and nutrition aid as well as cultural programs. Though it is hard to confirm that Guayaki is impacting the community as it claims, the company strengthens its credibility by providing descriptions and statistics of its actions as well as bringing insight into its impact through short films that can be found on the website.
Guayaki roots itself in social justice as well, working to rehabilitate members of society by employing formerly incarcerated individuals. Along with this mission came the goal of creating 1,000 living wage jobs by 2020, of which the company achieved 79%. To help sustain this social justice movement, the company also reported establishing relationships with anti recidivism nonprofits and providing job skills training for its employees. Despite this encouraging reporting, however, it is important to note that company ratings from the employees themselves were mixed, especially from delivery workers. Despite the company’s goal being to create living wage jobs, many reported not being paid a sustainable income. Several employees complained about a lack of top-down communication and of poor management, saying that working conditions should be improved and employees provided with more training. This dissatisfaction creates a dissonance between the image of fair labor treatment and social rehabilitation that the company projects and the true execution of such goals. The gap between the company’s and the employees’ reporting should be taken with a grain of salt, but it is a signal that Guayaki has a ways to go in resolving disputes and improving workplace culture and labor treatment at every tier.
Despite some contentions within the company and its labor practices, Guayaki has earned itself an impressive 119.8/200 B-impact score based on its positive impact on workers, suppliers, the community and the environment. Most impressive about Guayaki is the company’s explicit goals upon which the entire business model has been built. The company runs on four major pillars: conscious leadership, partnership with their values, community and culture celebration as well as company footprint responsibility. From these pillars arose the concept of market driven regeneration, which is the ultimate bar of perfection that the company is constantly working towards. Guayaki is making admirable strides to execute an impressive sustainable business model. Though the company has several major bumps, many of them can be attributed to it being a newer company rising to popularity at a rapid rate, and in the meantime Guayaki is still achieving great things and working to iron out its current kinks.
Guayaki’s 2019 Impact Report: https://guayaki.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Guayak%C3%AD-Impact-Report-2019-Web.pdf
Video on Yerba Mate Leave Production in the Company: https://vimeo.com/184927467
Information on Regenerative Organic Certification: https://regenorganic.org/
Information on the B Impact Score: https://bimpactassessment.net/how-it-works/frequently-asked-questions/the-b-impact-score
The Health Benefits and Risks: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/yerba-mate/faq-20058343
Job Reviews: https://www.glassdoor.com/Overview/Working-at-Guayaki-EI_IE391030.11,18.htm