Promoting Sustainable Farming with Michiel Leijnse

May 13, 2021

Green Is Good Symbol

From the Green Is Good Archives

Originally aired on July 25, 2009

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John Shegerian: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. And is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices. Please visit

John: Hi. This is John Shegerian. I never could have imagined when we started “The Green is Good” radio show back in 2006, that It would grow into a big podcast called “The Green is Good Podcast”. And now, we’ve evolved that podcast to the impact podcast which is more inclusive and more diverse than ever before. But we did look back recently at some of our “Timeless Green is Good” interviews and decided to share some of them with you now. So enjoy, one of our great “Green is Good” episodes from our archives. And next week, I’ll be back with a fresh and new episode of the impact podcast. Thanks again for listening, I’m grateful to all of you. This is John Shegerian.

Announcer: Welcome to “Green is Good”. Raising awareness of each individual’s impact on the environment and helping to create a more beautiful, and sustainable world. Now, here’s John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of Electronics Recyclers International, and Mike Grady.

John: Hey, welcome to today’s show of “Green is Good”. Mike, it’s so great to see you.

Mike Leijnse: John. It is good to see you. I look forward to doing this show with you each and every weekend what do we’ve got going on, today?

John: Well, you know, let’s tie it into our lives a little bit. You know, thank you for coming today, Mike. I know you’re not feeling your best today.

Mike: Well, you know, I’ve been, it’s been better at, you know, there’s something going around some kind of bug and with the heat and everything. Boy, you just want to stay cool and get better.

John: Okay and you know, we all have, you know, whatever our mom or our grandma used to give us to make us feel better.

Mike: Right.

John: Some people’s waters, orange juice, chicken soup, what’s your choice of beverage or drink that, you know, you prescribed to when you’re sick?

Mike: Well and see, I believe it or not, I’ll use Pedialyte.

John: Oh.

Mike: Do that. Do water, do Gatorade. But I like, when I start feeling better, I like to, I like to drink tea actually.

John: Tea.

Mike: Yeah.

John: I think. Well, that’s great because today, we’re talking about tea.

Mike: Tea?

John: Tea.

Mike: Okay?

John: You know, today is a tea story and it’s one of the great brands that both you and I grew up with and most of our listeners grew up with Lipton tea.

Mike: Okay, I was gonna guess because when I think of tea they’re very first. I think they’re so, they have captured the market at least in everybody’s mind the first if you were to play a game show,

John: Right

Mike: And okay.

John: Right

Mike: We’re playing password.

John: Right.

Mike: Tea, what would you say?

John: Lipton?

Mike: There you go.

John: Tissue?

Mike: Kleenex.

John: There you go. So it’s…

Mike: It’s branded

John: It’s an iconic brand. And so, you know, with the Advent of the organic and sustainability movement, have you tried or started to enjoy other than what we grew up with, which is pretty much straightforward black tea?

Mike: Right?

John: Any of the other flavors that are out there?

Mike: Yeah, actually I have. I really like some of the teas that they make because when I drink tea a lot except if I’m getting over being sick.

John: Right?

Mike: What I like is in the summertime. Nothing beats ice tea.

John: Yeah.

Mike: Yeah. And I like their green teas a lot.

John: Right?

Mike: The iced tea mixes with the raspberry is a real favorite.

John: Yeah. And I’m with you. I’ve started trying the different teas and they’re really delicious. So today, we have and this is a first for our show.

Mike: Okay?

John: It’s going International today.

Mike: Really?

John: We have our guest whose name is Michiel Leijnse. I hope I’m pronouncing it right but we’re actually getting him on the phone and he’s going to be speaking to us from Paris, France.

Mike: Wow. What kind of a time difference if we got there?

John: I think it’s about nine hours or so.

Mike: Well and we better not keep on Michiel waiting.

John: Right? So let’s get the global brand development manager, for Lipton, my collisions on the phone make sure we’re saying his name right and he’s going to share with our listeners today. The story of Lipton tea and the sustainability movement in the Green Revolution.

Hey, today we’re honored to have, from Paris, we have Michiel Leijnse. Michiel, am I saying your last name right? Or you please say it.

Mike: You’re getting pretty close Michiel Leijnse.

John: Okay. And I’m going to just start-stop with Michiel, Michiel, and he’s the global brand development manager for Lipton. And it’s such an honor to have him with us. First of all, is the first time our show has ever done an interview internationally. That’s number one, but more than that, you’ve been with Unilever since 1995. And your, the global brand manager for Lipton. But before we get to that, I want to ask you about your past, because your past is even, something that our listeners would love to hear about. You used to be with Ben and Jerry’s, the famous Ben & Jerry’s ice cream out of Vermont, which is known for their sustainable practices and other things and tell us what you did there and how you ended up here, and then we’ll start talking more about tea after you tell us a little bit about ice cream.

Mike: Okay. Sounds good, John. No, Ben and Jerry’s need us, spend some time there, Ben & Jerry’s great company to work for is based in Vermont in South Burlington. And yes, you’re right. Ben and Jerry’s is very well known for its, you know, it’s for 30 years. It’s been taken a, you know, a proactive stance on sustainability, you know, having a social Mission.

And I guess when I came to Lipton, I was specifically recruited to bring that kind of thinking to Lipton because Ben & Jerry’s, has really been leading the way and I, you know, I’ve been privileged to firsthand experience that. And the folks at Lipton said, look, you know, we want some of that thinking we want that for Lipton and the best way to do that, of course, is to invite some money in who’s been working on Ben and Jerry’s.

John: God, so that was, that was before really being green was cool. I mean they Lipton had the foresight to go grab you from them. What was one of very few companies in the United States that were already into sustainability and the fair trade movement, they grabbed you early and started you working on this early then? Is that is that correct?

Mike: Well, you know the real thing is that Lipton started working on this. You know about 15 years ago.

John: Wow.

Mike: Because we have our own tea as estates in Kenya and in Tanzania and those are states. Have been run on a sustainable basis. We’ve been practicing sustainable agriculture there for more than 15 years.

John: Wow. So that was early, early…

Mike: And the lion certification which you know you and I going to talk about that is just logical next step.

John: Got you. Okay, so tell us about Lipton is a brand like Mike and I. We were talking, you know before we brought you on the line here. We were talking about how we grew up with Lipton. It’s an iconic brand in the world. It’s so well known. How, you know, tell us about how big the brand really is.

Mike: Well, we are basically present in almost every single market that mean that last count it was more than 150 countries around the world. So, practically everywhere. And, you know, you’re probably familiar in the US we’ve got the tea bags for hot tea, and we’ve got ready to drink iced tea. And we’ve got powder tea sticks, there we’ve got many different products in many markets.

John: In terms of, and I don’t want to give away any secrets or have you give away any secrets. But in terms of bigness, in terms of sales, how big are the Lipton sales.

Mike: Well, we’ve got about ten percent of the global markets in sales so more than 3 billion euros to say more than, you know, close to four and a half-billion dollars.

John: And then what’s your next, you know, so you’re the biggest tea brand in the whole world.

Mike: That’s right.

John: And you’re the head of that. You’re the boss.

Mike: I don’t claim to manage it all by myself.

John: Okay, you’re the one guy in charge of making sure that we get the “I love it”. So wait a second now. So now, 150 countries and four and a half billion approximately so tell us then, 15 years ago or so, Lipton starts getting into the sustainability movement, they go and get you, you know, from Ben & Jerry’s. So what’s the commitment to sustainability? How did it start and show us and explain to our listeners? The evolution of Lipton’s sustainability commitment.

Mike: Okay. Well, so 15 years ago, like I said, we had our own estates we were practicing sustainable agriculture and building a lot of experience, but at the same time, you know, our own estates supply about 10% of RT globally. So, we were doing some really great stuff at our own estates, but we never really talked about it because, you know, it was sort of like a pilot. That was an experiment and it didn’t apply to all the tea we sell and buy local, you know, across the world because we also buy from about half a million farms, third-party suppliers.

And so about 3 years ago, 2006. We basically, we got together with a group of people, marketing and supply chain. We said, right. You know, we’ve been doing all this work, we’ve been doing it behind the scenes. What can we do next? How can we make this bigger? Because we don’t want to just be able to say positive things about her own Estates. We want to be able to say good things and give guarantees to our consumers about all the five hundred thousand farms that we supply tea from. And at the same time, we want to be able to talk about the good work that we’re doing to our consumers because obviously, this is an activity that costs money. And, you know, we’re a company, at least, spend money on some on something, we need to get something out of it. And as a brand, if you can talk about it, you consumers, that means that suddenly, it becomes an asset and something that is interesting. So what we decided in, at the end of 2006 and we went public in 2007, is that we would start working with an independent certification, the certifier the Rainforest Alliance, and that we wanted to buy all our tea from sustainable farms.

But we made two very practical commitments because, you know, 10% of the world’s tea, that is a lot of tea. So we said, first of all, by 2010 will have, you know, all our Lipton, yellow label in Western Europe for men, first-line certified farms. And by 2010, also, most of the tea bags to be selling in the US will be from Rainforest Alliance certified estates. By 2015, All Lipton tea bags globally will be from Rainforest Alliance certified estates. And, you know, that’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of tea. It’s a lot of farms to be certified but that is really our commitment.

John: And why did you choose Rainforest Alliance as opposed to other certification groups? Why did you choose them? And what makes them stick out and what makes them the best of breed in the certification process?

Mike: Well, I wouldn’t say that the best in certification, there’s a number of goods schemes out there. There’s a part from enforcing lines, there’s fair trade.

John: Okay.

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Mike: There’s a scheme called UTZ certified who are mostly working in coffee but also branching out the other crops and I think all these schemes are good and they’re all independently verified, they’re credible but they’re all slightly different because they come from a different philosophy or to take a different approach. And so depending on the problem that you’re trying to solve, you might choose to work with a different partner. Now, for example, at Ben & Jerry’s, when I was there, we Ben and Jerry’s, chose to work with fair trade, great for Ben & Jerry’s, great for the issues that they were trying to tackle.

For Lipton, we decided that rainforest Alliance was the best possible partner and that’s for a number of reasons. First of all, you know, as I said, we had our own program for 15 years and we really looked at, you know, sustainable agriculture at farm management on the people side of a farm at the planetside, the environmental side and the financial side of running a farm. And the rainforest line system is very much, a holistic in the same way, so it looks at sustainable farm management.

So it was very good fit with their own experience so that we were able to continue in the work we’d already done. Also what’s very important for us, Rainforest Alliance works with small producers as well as with large estates to give you an idea. Our own estate in Kenya employs about 16,000 people. So that is not a small producer that’s the biggest you stayed in the country. At the same time, we source from about 400,000 smallholders in Kenya that have perhaps one or two acres and you can imagine, it’s very different working with smallholders are working with, you know, a large company where you source your tea from.

John: And, and okay. So you chose the Rainforest Alliance and, you know, and we’re going to be going to a commercial break in about a minute here. But so your biggest, most of your tea comes from Kenya.

Mike: That is right, that actually Kenya is the biggest tea exporter in the world. So…

John: Right,

Mike: They export most of the world’s tea, but actually a lot of our tea also comes from India, from Argentina, specifically, for the US and we source tea for every other country, every other tea producing market in the world, including Indonesia, Vietnam China, you name it.

John: Well Michiel when we come back from the commercial break, we’re going to talk about the consumer experience and where the future of tea is going. And we’re so appreciative that you’ve joined us today. From Paris on “Green is Good.”

Announcer: If a little green is good, more is even better. Now, back to green is good with John Shegerian and Mike Brady.

John: Welcome back to green is good and were honored to have Michiel line seen on the phone from Paris, France. Michiel is the global brand manager for Lipton tea, which is gone green and has been green for a long time, but he’s explaining to all the listeners out there. Why green is good with Lipton tea. Michiel?

We were just talking now about where are all the tea comes from and everything, but talk a little bit about our listeners in the consumer experience and, you know, are the consumers aware of Lipton sustainable practices and the Rainforest Alliance certified seal. And what that really means?

Mike: I think so far, you know, they haven’t, they’re not aware of it because we haven’t talked much about it, but that’s going to change or it has already changed and we’ve actually started last year in the number of you European markets where we’ve communicated the extensively about it. You know, advertising, web, PR and now that’s actually that’s coming to the US as well.

And because we want to explain to consumers what it is that we’re doing. We think it’s important that consumers, understand. And of course, you know, let’s be, let’s be fair about it. We also want them to appreciate the work that Lipton is doing so that hopefully, they’ll buy more Lipton tea because that is, of course, an important part of sustainability as well. People Planet Profit.

John: Well, we talked about that a lot. So bright, you talk, while you share with our listeners Michiel, what that means to Lipton in terms of people planet and profit’s and why this, what you’re doing means what that means to their bottom line besides their brand?

Mike: Well for, you mean, our bottom line of what we’re doing and also in terms of people and planet?

John: Oh, everything hit it all, explain how you Lipton’s move, you know, Lipton’s initiatives that you’re running actually hit all three of those of the three Ps.

Mike: Gotcha. So let me give you some practical example.

John: Sure.

Mike: For example, at our tea estate in Kenya, we employ about 16,000 people. Those people are being, they’ve got vibrant, local standards, they’ve got good wages, but very importantly, they also they live on the estate’s because, you know, the estate is quite far from the nearest cities. So we provide housing to our, to our employees, as well, as a family. We make sure of course, there’s clean drinking water. There are schools on the estate that provide education to the kids. There’s a hospital. So basically every employee at Lipton’s tea Farm in Kenya gets free healthcare. Now that’s something I think which the US doesn’t even have yet.

John: No.

Mike: So our employees do have that.

John: Wow.

Mike: So that’s some of the social side.

John: Right.

Mike: On the environmental side.

John: Yeah.

Mike: Kenya has a huge deforestation problem. And, and so, we’ve been planting trees local. You know, indigenous trees on their own estate. We’ve been giving away trees to neighboring communities, to schools, we planted and given away around 700,000 trees. As part of the reforestation program, we have a sanctuary, a Monkey Sanctuary, there’s Wildlife around the estate. We make sure that we keep, area set aside specifically, for wildlife. And so, there’s a whole, you know, number of activities, in terms of protecting the environment, another one I should really mention is that we generate most of our own electricity there, through hydropower so green energy.

John: Wow.

Mike: And then, of course, there’s the financial side, right? Which for us as a company means that, obviously, we hope that consumers understand what it is that we’re doing and that they buy our tea, and that they appreciated, what it is that we’re doing. It’s also important though, for the people for the farmers, The Who Supply us, with their tea because we, by about 90% of our tea from third-party suppliers, and a lot of them, but 405 thousand are small farmers would perhaps one or two acres, they are being trained.

And I was actually in Kenya in March and we’ve been, we’ve been training them in how to farm sustainably, and that’s part of their commitment. You know, they need to become Rainforest Alliance certified as well. I spoke to one of these farmers in Kenya, you know, smallholder that supplies us with the and he’d been part of the training program showed been sharing sustainable agriculture practices and techniques with him. And he was thrilled because he saw his yield.

So the production from his tea field go up by 60 percent versus the year before. And that was thanks to, you know, smarter farming techniques sustainable farming techniques. So not only was he proud that he was looking after the environment near his farm but he also saw a direct financial benefit and I think that’s really important because in the end, you know, that’s the beauty that that’s the profit side of people planet profit.

John: So this was a third-party farmer in Kenya. Now your training and offering the same training to all of your third-party farmers too, right?

Mike: Yes, that’s what we’re trying to do and we do that in partnership with other organizations, but we remake our knowledge and our experience available. We have people whose job it is to specifically, go out and work with our suppliers and make sure that the experience that we’ve built up over the past 15 years that we share them with our suppliers so they can become Rainforest Alliance certified as well.

John: Well, Michiel, you know, I know tonight, you’re sitting in Paris, but you’ve worked in the United States and you travel the world. One thing our listeners like to know is the sustainability movement in the Green Revolution. Can you? Can you educate them a little bit, to the compare and contrast of Europe versus North America versus Asia, which, which continents are really excited about the movement and which continents are yet to adopt, but are going to be coming on board?

Mike: Well, I think, to be fair, I think it’s converging. I think it’s fair to say that, you know, about three years ago, Europe was probably more concerned about these kinds of issues, you know, the fair trade movement was quite strong. Organic picked up in Europe before it started in the US big time, but I think that has changed quite dramatically in the past three years and if you see you know, large companies like Walmart in the US making a move, you know, that you know you’ve reached the Tipping Point same is still true in Europe, I think it’s very much on the agenda. Asia, I guess. In a lot of these Asian countries are still developing. So they have other concerns.

John: Right.

Mike: On their plate as consumers at the same time, I think that’s changing rapidly as well. Because if you see China, where they’ve got huge pollution issues, I think more and more Chinese consumers are getting aware of, you know, how this impacts their personal lives as well if only because they’re confronted with pollution because of the way that you know, businesses operate in a country. So I think those markets are catching up very rapidly. Speaking to somebody, you have just been to Brazil recently and he said, Brazil is really on top of this and that’s something that happened in the last year.

John: Wow. Well you know Michiel. I can’t help but go back to what you said about training that Kenyan farmer in sustainable practices. Now you think of Kenya that too, is a developing Nation. When we talk about countries that are developing, sometimes people can say well you know it’s all well and good for developed nations to reach from the bully pulpit.

If you will about sustainability to countries that are coming up. But when I think back to what you said about that sixty percent yield increase for that farmer by learning sustainable farming techniques. I’m thinking there is a real profit to be made and maybe a better leap ahead for some of these developing countries. If we put the sustainability movement in the forefront.

Mike: Absolutely, you know, there there are real benefits for farmers to switch to better practices and to use better methods and you know, and it does, like I said it she didn’t usually it works both in a financial side as well as an environmental side. So it’s good on both counts.

John: So you know so if what you say is really correct which is exciting to hear that there’s a converging of the movement and the country’s liked Asia and North America are now quickly catching up to what Europe was on two years ago then that’s really your it’s really great to be green right now and it’s good to be green in terms of being a brand development manager for an iconic brand like Lipton.

Mike: Well yes, because consumers are more and more interested in this, you know, and when we, when we talk to Consumers, when we do surveys, we found that, you know, about two-thirds of consumers care about these things. And they would like to be able to buy products from brands and companies that do the right thing. Now, perhaps a not always doing that yet, but they’re, that’s, you know, they’re certain obstacles.

Like, if you can buy, you know, a certified or responsible product in your local shop, then obviously you won’t do that, or if you have to pay a premium, not everybody is willing to do that. The good thing is that you know, what lip the names do is to bring it on our existing range which as you know is very widespread and we’re not going to charge the consumer a premium for it. So we’re making it relatively easy and we really expect consumers to respond very positively to that.

John: So they’re getting a good value. They’re not paying a premium for a high-quality tea that you’re putting out and then also share with our listeners then. What is, where does the money go? What are they helping to support when they buy Lipton tea? That has the rainforest Alliance certified seal, what really happens then?

Mike: Well, it gives them a guarantee about how this tea was produced. And you know, in the end, you could say that every cup of tea is going to be a step towards a better life for the tea farmers for their families

John: Perfect.

Mike: For environment. That is wonderful.

John: And they’re not paying a premium you’re saying, but when they buy Lipton tea, the price is not higher then.

Mike: No. We are not charging consumers, more.

John: That is gorgeous.

Mike: What we’re doing is we’ve committed that’s the only buy tea from the certified farms. So the consumer buying Rainforest Alliance certified Lipton, we buying from those Farms, we are providing in our financial [inaudible] two farms that have demonstrated through, getting the Rainforest Alliance certification that they are really looking after the people as well as the environment.

John: That’s amazing. And so, now the consumers that our listeners want to know, then what’s coming, what’s coming later, this summer and fall and what’s coming in the future for Lipton, what other brands are you rolling out and what are the flavors, are you rolling out that we can all get excited about?

Mike: Well, the first thing that’s coming of the first thing that started in the US is our, some of our green tea products, tea bags. So those are on the market they’re certified what’s coming right now which I think is very important because like I said, we want to explain to consumers. What it is that we’re doing is that we’ve partnered up with National Geographic Global media their National Geographic. I’m sure you’re familiar with.

John: Sure and we’ve created with them or they have created really you know, specific contents about to explain to consumers. What are these what we’re doing? And basically, they came to our tea estate in Kenya. They had full access they videoed, they took photographs, etc. and so there’s a huge there’s a wealth of material available on the National Geographic website. Of course, we also link to that from the Lipton website, there will be on the National Geographic TV channel. That will be attention paid to this. And so that’s ready to help consumers in to explain to consumers what it is that would do. So National and ty little pun with T-E-A not with t-y.

John: Okay.

Mike: If you just Google Lipton the National Geographic consumers can see for themselves and actually make a little trip to a, Rainforest Alliance certified tea estate.

John: Wow. And what other brands are coming out besides the green teas, and later this, let you know right now. What else, what else do you have in the works? That’s that our listeners can get real excited about.

Mike: Well, there’s pure leaf, which is a ready-to-drink bottle tea, which I think it became available in US stores earlier in June. So about a month ago so that’s there and we basically we’ve got the whole range coming you know by 2010. All of Lipton tea bags will be from Rainforest Alliance certified farms and all of our purely ready-to-drink tea as well.

John: And so…

Mike: That’s going to happen pretty soon within the next, you know, year and a half.

John: So, you know, right now where is your biggest market for selling these, and when you dream about what markets you haven’t penetrated enough yet, where is the future for you in terms of getting your Global brand developed even more?

Mike: Well, the US is our biggest market.

John: Okay.

Mike: Number two Market is Japan.

John: Oh.

Mike: And so in both those markets, we are present with Rainforest Alliance, certified tea. Another big market is France which we’ve been working with Rainforest Alliance for about a year. I would really like to go into Russia and Poland which are other important markets for us. And we haven’t started there yet with Rainforest Alliance certified tea, but we will because you know those countries are included in our commitment that all our tea bags will be certified.

John: That is just amazing. And have you been to Russia before, and do you feel that that community and that country would be welcome? Welcome your products, with open arms?

Mike: Lipton is a big brand and it’s growing very rapidly. And like I said, in a lot of these emerging markets that used to be less concerned about the environment and sustainability. I think they’re getting more and more concerned and they’ve seen parties through the economic crisis. What happens when you act irresponsibly and this is a chance to show we can act responsibly.

John: So…

Mike: And if you do something good.

John: Michiel and we have about a minute left and we always like our, our guests to leave our listeners with a couple of green tips. So do you have for both business owners or consumers? You have one or two or three favorite green tips you want to share with our listeners as we say goodbye and goodnight?

Mike: Yeah, I have a really good and a very practical one.

John: Go ahead.

Mike: Dear listeners. Because we all know that, you know, carbon emissions and of course you know, if you make tea there’s carbon emission as well. Now, 80% of those carbon emissions associated with having a cup of tea are created by the consumer brewing, the water. And typically they brew, or they boil too much water. So if you fill-up the kettle, to make a cup of tea, make sure you fill up just the right amount that way your water will boil quicker. You use much less energy and you have a much smaller carbon footprint, and that’s a small difference that everybody can make without second making any sacrifice.

John: And that’s a perfect way to end today and Michiel we are so honored that you joined us from Paris, we’re going to have you come back in a year or so and tell us more what’s happened with Lipton tea and you are just another living great example with your great brand Lipton. “Why green is good.”

John: This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform. Revolutionizing, the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes celebrities entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent for speeches custom experiences live streams and much more. For more information on Engage or to book Talent today. Visit