From The Organic Report, Summer 2010
By Jennifer Rose
Social awareness and environmental consciousness have been important to Melissa Kushi since she was a child. Growing up on a multigenerational organic farm, she was raised to consider the impact that her actions had both on the land and the people around her.
It should come as no surprise that when Kushi started her own business in 2007, social and environmental well-being were at the core of her corporate philosophy.
Initially, this presented a real challenge. “I had set an incredibly high bar around what I wanted to achieve with my business, as well as how I was willing to achieve it,” says Kushi.
Kushi’s response to this challenge could not have been more fitting. In keeping with her commitment to do well by people and the planet, she began Sustainable Sourcing, a company specializing in ethically sourced products procured in ways that directly give back to the communities where they originate.
Among the many products her company offers are certified organic pink peppercorns from Brazil. Historically, the people living in the regions in which these peppercorns have been harvested have struggled with widespread poverty. “There simply weren’t jobs to keep these people housed, clothed and fed,” she explains.
Circumstances have changed dramatically since Sustainable Sourcing established a presence in these communities. The company has created over 300 jobs, providing local residents with a much-needed source of income and resources to reinvigorate community life.
Sustainable Sourcing’s work has also helped redefine labor practices in parts of Brazil. “We are working hard to make child labor a thing of the past,” Kushi says, adding that her company is committed to “enabling kids to be kids” and providing fair wages for those who are eligible to work.
In addition to promoting social well-being in Brazil, Sustainable Sourcing has done much to ensure the continued viability of the region’s natural environment. Working closely with the Brazilian Forestry Commission, the company has helped protect the health of the coastal forest by limiting the size of its peppercorn harvests. As Kushi explains, “We recognize that the long-term health of our business depends on the long-term health of the environment in which we work. That means setting limits and sticking to them, even when this requires sacrifice on our part.” Plus, by creating conditions under which the sustainable management is profitable for local communities, Sustainable Sourcing helps to combat clear-cutting in Brazil. “By giving people a good return for organic products harvested in a sustainable manner, we give also give them a valuable incentive to keep their natural environment intact.”
The benefits of Sustainable Sourcing’s socially and environmentally sensitive strategies have not stopped here. Through its efforts to procure HimalaSalt artisanal salts and peppercorns, the company has extended its positive reach into several remote regions of the world. In India, for example, Sustainable Sourcing provides housing on its organic estates for company employees and their families. It also donates a portion of its sales to support a school on the estates. “In many ways, the children growing up in these communities are better served than children in the United States,” Kushi says. “They see their parents often because the parents work on the same premises on which the children are educated. Plus, the children receive a lunch made with organic ingredients every day that they are at school.”
Small, salt-mining communities in the Himalayas have been similarly touched by Sustainable Sourcing’s emphasis on social well-being. In the past, these communities have relied heavily on the use of dynamite and child labor to extract their natural resources. Under Sustainable Sourcing’s oversight, these practices have shifted dramatically. The company has not only helped to stem child labor, but has also employed a large population of elderly men, who would otherwise be out of work, to perform quality control, oversee work crews, and manage paperwork. According to Kushi, these men are typically responsible for providing for multiple generations of family members. Thus, by employing them and supplying them with a higher than average wage, Sustainable Sourcing helps to support a much larger portion of the community. In addition, the company donates a portion of its profits to local women’s organizations. This has helped to create an infrastructure to educate and empower women to become viable members of the work community.
Given all that it has accomplished in its first three years of operation, it would be easy to assume that Kushi would see Sustainable Solutions as fait accompli. On the contrary, she says, she has only just begun to bring about the kind of change she had in mind when she started the company.
“The difference now is that I am in a better position than ever to take my hopes and ideas for social and environmental well-being from inception to action.”