Perspective: 10 Lessons from a Five-Year Sustainability Strategy in the Tea & Coffee Industry

Globally, the subject of sustainability has never had a higher profile, but the sustainability challenges our industry faces have also never been more complex.

As we start to deliver our new sustainability strategy at Finlays – a B2B supplier of tea, coffee and botanical solutions to beverage brand owners – we hope that sharing what we have learned, and how this is shaping our future approach, is useful to others who are facing the very same challenges.

Our recent sustainability report details strong progress in some areas, such as achieving 100-percent traceability in tea, 97-percent traceability in coffee, and reducing Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions by 31 percent since 2018. However, it also underlines areas where Finlays fell short of its targets. You can see the complete report here.

As a result of our efforts, below are 10 lessons learned from Finlay’s recently-concluded five-year sustainability strategy, which launched in 2018 and concluded December 2022. All of these insights will certainly be of value or offer inspiration to other businesses in the industry.

Top 10 Lessons in Sustainability

1. The Need for Focus

Reflecting on our Sustainable Future strategy has shown that its scope was too broad, making it difficult to fully deliver against all six of our objectives – integrated landscape, low impact operations, land stewardship, empowered communities, our people and sustainable supply. To achieve the greatest impact we can, we must focus on the biggest issues facing our industry, the communities we serve, and the world at large.

2. The Importance of Setting Measurable Targets

While most of our objectives had a measurable KPI (key performance indicator), not all of them did nd that made tracking and measurement difficult. Ultimately, without the right quantitative and qualitative targets to hold us to account, it is much harder to demonstrate clear progress, and to understand where we are falling short.

3. If You Don’t Measure It, Did It Happen?

Linked to this, in the early stages of our Sustainable Future strategy, we didn’t track certain data points as systematically as we should have. Collecting data accurately and consistently across a wide range of different businesses in different geographies has its challenges, but is critical to understanding our impact. This is something we have been working hard to improve in the last year, ready for our new strategy, where we hope our carbon net zero ambitions will be approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

4. Sustainability Innovation Can Come from Anywhere

Some of the projects we’re most proud of are those which started with a small team who noticed a challenge or opportunity in the course of their role. In Argentina, for example, we’ve significantly reduced agro-chemical use on our tea farms through our livestock weeding project, which sees sheep eating the weeds among the tea bushes. A great idea identified and implemented by a team at Casa Fuentes. One of our focusses now is on empowering people across our business to identify challenges and innovate solutions.

5. Sustainability Is a “Whole Business” Endeavor

In global agricultural industries like tea and coffee, it’s tempting to focus sustainability efforts on the farming end of the supply chain. Sustainable Future did not have as much focus as it should have on the other parts of our business – tea and coffee extraction, packing, delivery etc. To truly embed sustainability across the business, the strategy needs to be relevant and engaging to all our different businesses/operations and, crucially, delivered locally.

6. The Importance of Moving with the Times

Five years is a long time in sustainability, and it’s clear we could have been more agile in responding to the shifting challenges of sustainable operation. For example, while our focus on sustainable supply was a key benefit during the global supply chain crisis of 2020 and 2021, we haven’t responded as ambitiously as we should have when it came to the critical challenge of climate change which is of course a major threat to tea and coffee growing regions. This is something that will be front and centre of our new strategy which launched this year.

7. The Imperative of Collaboration

No business is an island, and we can only deliver sustainability impact through close collaboration with our suppliers, customers, partners and the wider industry. Some of the best projects we were involved in were collaborations with customers, or through funding independent organisations. This is particularly critical when it comes to ensuring sustainable supply of raw ingredients, and our close, direct relationships with tea and coffee farmers around the world is central to our new strategy.

8. Making Things Right When You Get It Wrong

Earlier this year, we discovered that abuse and harassment had been taking place in our Kenyan tea farm business. This was despite concerted efforts over the years to combat this issue. Management in both Kenya and the U.K. was rightly horrified by this, and quickly took action to prevent misconduct such as this ever happening again. The independent investigation we commissioned is still ongoing – and we are committed to ensuring the remediation plan is implemented in full – but it was a wake-up call that we can never be complacent when it comes to the safety and welfare of people connected with our business.

9. Using Sustainability as a Core Value to Engage and Inspire

In 2018, we made “sustainable” one of our core values. This has served us well over the last five years and helps inform decision making, both strategic and day to day. As we embark on the new stage of our sustainability journey, we need to grow our focus on this value, ensuring that it is always front of mind.

10. Putting Lessons into Practice

Sustainability has never been more important and as we look to the future, we’re rolling out our new sustainability strategy which is partly based on the lessons we have learnt. Threats like climate change and socio-economic challenges in producer regions are existential threats to our industry and any business setting a sustainability strategy now for the medium to long term must ensure that targets are both suitably ambitious, and laser focussed on delivering positive impact.

To learn more about Finlays, visit

Joe Yalley-Ogunro is the group head of Sustainability at Finlays. Since joining Finlays in September 2022, Yalley-Ogunro has played a pivotal role in leading Finlays’ efforts towards environmental stewardship and social responsibility. With 15 years of invaluable experience in the field, Yalley-Ogunro continuously advocates for innovative sustainability strategies, eco-friendly practices, and community engagement initiatives. With expertise in carbon offsets, environmental policy and problem-solving, Yalley-Ogunro and his team are helping Finlays to navigate complex challenges and spearhead initiatives for a more sustainable and responsible future in the beverage industry.

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