Laura Jones

Defining alternative: Guayaki Yerba Mate

In Uncategorized on October 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Coffee or tea? Paper or plastic?                                  Guayaki

How about organic yerba mate in a biodegradable packaging?

We’re living in a fairly precarious time socially, politically and environmentally. The nature of the state of global affairs necessitates that we the people to turn the mirror on ourselves, to evaluate our lives, our decisions, and our conventions if we are to find solutions to the problems we share as a global community. Guayaki is a story about alternatives and what happens when you step outside the box in philosophy, in business, in lifestyle.

David Karr, co-founder of the company, held a belief in sustainable business as he studied in college but became quickly disillusioned with American big business methods. He went traveling though Europe for two years, perhaps to do some soul searching, returned to California and started a business in the computer industry. Enter Alex Pryor.  An Argentine native, Alex had made fast friends with David when he moved to California to study food science, talking in Spanish of which David is fluent, enjoying an asada- the traditional Argentine barbeque, and yes, sharing a mate gourd.

Guayaki Founders Alex Pryor and David Karr

Guayaki Founders Alex Pryor and David Karr

After only a couple months of sharing a mate gourd with Alex, David experienced a dramatic relief from allergies that he’d suffered since childhood. He was motivated to improve his diet, his energy and mental clarity skyrocketed and he became impassioned with mate and its naturally invigorating properties. So, he decided to team up with Alex to create a unique, sustainable business model that would bring mate to the United States.

Let me remind you that this is all occurring in the mid 1990’s, an era of the dot com boom, the fast paced rat race and copious amounts of coffee to see everyone through. The health costs of coffee were just beginning to come into discussion, the benefits of green tea were being championed and concern about rainforest destruction was in the air; David said he saw a clear market opportunity. Yerba mate, grown organically in Atlantic rainforests, had the potential to simultaneously provide indigenous tribes a living, enable them to steward their native land through reforestation, and energize the American public with a healthy alternative to fit their lifestyles.

So back to the coffee or tea question.  There are conventional choices, and there are revolutionary alternatives. Consider the mission of the Guayaki company: To restore 200,000 acres of South American Atlantic Rainforest and create over 1,000 living wage jobs by 2020.  They have created a unique business model called Market Driven Restoration that enables consumers like you and I to actively participate in social uplift of indigenous tribes and reforestation just by ditching our Red Bull and opting for mate.

By their model, each person who drinks two servings of Guayaki Yerba Mate every day helps protect approximately one acre of rainforest a year. There are some 100,000,000 coffee drinkers in the United States who spend upwards of 17 billion dollars on the product every year. Imagine the possibilities if…

Well, it’s hard to turn a college student off of their cappuccino if they’re set in their ways. But, Guayaki is giving the mighty bean a run for it’s money with their full product range of bagged and loose leaf mate, bottled flavored teas, matte latte concentrates, energy shots and this really unique coffee-esque  Java mate, not to mention the delicious new canned Lemon Elation.

The organic Rainforest grown yerba mate at the core of these products is chock full of goodness, offering 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids and abundant antioxidants along with caffeine that equates to ¾ a cup of coffee per serving. In short, it’s good for you, and it’s good for the people that grow it, too.  Like many indigenous groups, the Ache Guayaki people suffer from the deforestation of their native Atlantic Rainforest that spans Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Habitat destruction led to food scarcity and the Ache were led to find other sources of sustenance including rancher’s cattle which resulted in hostility and genocide. This tragedy reduced the Ache population to just a few hundred who now live in six communities on a 12,000 acre parcel of government granted forest. Growing the native yerba mate plant empowers the Ache Guayaki to once again be stewards of their land and to earn a profit from the fruits of reforestation that will allow them to once again prosper in their home forests.

The beauty of Guayaki mate products is that they reach across cultural boundaries to connect and empower both indigenous and American people to create change. Karr emphasizes the importance of voting with your dollar as we walk through Stowel Lake Farm, the small organic farming community on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada that he calls home. His lifestyle and his business speak to the power of choice and the importance of accepting responsibility for one’s life, one’s impact and one’s ability to make a difference.

Stowel Lake Farm Greenhouses

Stowel Lake Farm Greenhouses

Traveling to Stowel Lake Farms is a little bit like traveling back in time. You take a long ferry ride from Vancouver that helps shake the bustle of the city from your consciousness and a couple hours later you disembark onto a picturesque island with a bustling little square where artisans abound and friendly hitchhikers walk the calm, woodsy roads. Behind the red gates of Stowel Lake Farm is a veritable utopia and I enjoyed a little giggle at the hand painted sign requesting you drive slowly because there are children everywhere. The grounds are beautiful and bountiful, with flowers overflowing their beds, hand crafted stone walls, and bubbling ponds that Freddie, the farm’s resident Goldendoodle wanders into for a swim at will. Five of the farm’s 120 acres are farmed organically and the remainder houses amenities for weddings, events and yoga retreats and the close-knit collection of families and children that make up the community.

If the movement for sustainability is about bringing back the old school style of life, then David Karr is literally walking the walk as he moves about the dirt roads that run through the farm. There’s a very present sense of calm and quiet satisfaction among the Stowel Lake residents. This is a place where meals are made with fruits and vegetables harvested that very morning, where kids run about barefoot, building forts out of bales of hay and where people would simply rather make something themselves before going out and buying it. The healthy bodies and shining faces around the large farmhouse table as everyone shares their weekly community meal is testimony to the benefits of this slower pace of life. Adults and children alike seem more grounded in general, with their family roots as securely set in the fertile soil of the land as their crops. And, in the middle of it all is David Karr, a self-proclaimed businessman who’s graced the cover of Money magazine and even during my short stay, spent hours on the phone with Time discussing details of an upcoming feature in the magazine.

Farm Lunch

Farm Lunch

This modernly unconventional yet timeless agricultural way of life mingling so easily with the business world makes me shake my fists at the widespread acceptance of business as usual. It also makes me want to cheer and celebrate the pure progress that ensues when a couple of college students in California forge their own path to profit that defies big business in defense of humanity and respect for the environment.

Guayaki’s story is a shining beacon of independent thought and passion for responsible business in a murky marsh of the cutthroat profit driven economy. It’s beautiful how closely Karr’s way of life mirrors that which Guayaki Yerba Mate is providing for the indigenous Ache Guayaki people. It’s inspiring to see success reflected in a way of life that is based in simplicity, slow, natural growth, health, family and community. And, it’s incredible to think that all this positivity has grown from a refusal to adhere to convention and a dedication to doing right by people and the planet while you make a profit.

The innovation behind this company’s business model should spark a little fire in people’s minds to think past the confines of convention and reach deeper to find sustainable solutions in a world built on options between paper or plastic. After all, you won’t find either packaging a pound of Guayaki Yerba Mate- you’ll find NatureFlex biodegradable and compostable films printed with water-based inks.

The Official Pardon from Saveagallon

In Uncategorized on September 29, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I knew from the start that this road trip wasn’t the most eco-friendly way to report on the sustainability movement. Yes, it’s been weighing on my conscience and my heavy carbon footprint. That is, until the good guys at Saveagallon issued me this Official Pardon!

I joined the Saveagallon community after college as a fun way to gauge all that carbon and cash I was saving by walking and biking to work everyday. It’s a great way to keep yourself motivated to maintain your alternative methods of transportation, and they make it fun for the whole family. Over the past year, the SAG guys have experimented with projects like SAG eco-allowances for kids, where you can tally alternative transportation savings to offer as incentives for your kids to carpool to soccer practice and more.
This year the organization based in Davis, California has teamed up with Davis Bicycles in a year long project with the Davis School District. They’ve created a mechanism to track participation in an alternative transportation contest by user, classrooms, schools and school districts to generate some real buzz around environmental responsibility, health, and community participation amongst kids.
Just the kind of stuff the movement for sustainability is built upon.

Check our shiny new Official Pardon and sign up to to put a fun twist on all that peddling and pavement pounding you’ve been doing!


Saveagallon Issues it’s first Pardon!

So, you know we are not keen on driving… However, what if a road trip had a net societal benefit?

A longtime friend of SAG has done just that. The Sustainability Across America Tour is sending writer Laura Jones across the country to interview the major players in the sustainability movement.

The reports are honest, eye opening and beautiful.
Two of my favorite so far are:

Trumpets Blaring Certificate Ceremony Time…

Ms. Jones, for all your hard work and dedication to making the world a better place, we at would like to present to you one very cheesy, virtual pardon to drive as much as you need to see this tour through. If anyone give you any trouble about driving and eco-reporting just send them to this link. We’ve got your back!

Check out their site :Sustainability Across America Tour
Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Ignorance is bliss. UNTIL…

In Uncategorized on September 26, 2009 at 2:16 pm


Here’s what Metro Hippie Joshua Foss had to say about educating yourself about sustainability.

“It kind of feels like you’re in the Matrix. You’ve got a red pill, and you’ve got a blue pill, and once you make a choice to find out about the reality of things, there’s no going back.”


That pretty much encompasses how I’ve been feeling since I dove into this tour with my stack of books on sustainability. I’ve been equating it with the feeling I would get in school when I arrive to class and realize that I didn’t do my homework. You know the feeling, that sinking-impending-doom realization that you blew it, now all you can do is sit back and deal with the consequences. As a citizen of this globe, I think it’s safe to say at this point that I forgot to do my homework for Sustainability 101 and I’m starting to feel like I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a pickle. When I started this journey, I guess I swallowed the red pill and now I’m swimming in the consequences.

My problem is not that I’m wasteful or lazy; my mother taught me to recycle like a good girl. I even wash and reuse my Ziploc bags, a habit that always got me funny looks from my roommates in college. The problem is that- and it hurts to admit this- I’m a… CONSUMER.

Just looking at that word makes me feel guilty. It sounds like a word that should be reserved for referencing garbage disposals or St. Bernards. But, if I allow myself to paint a mental picture, I can see me looking like a caricature consumer, kind of like Cookie Monster but in a woman’s body that tears around malls buying things in a frenzy, leaving a trail of receipts, tank tops, cookie crumbs and other trendy things in its wake. This is not a very pretty picture.

My recent downsize in accommodations (you know, from a house to a van) necessitated a bit of um, spring cleaning. I’m basically living out of a couple stuff sacks worth of clothes, I cook with backpacking cookware, I bought exactly two plates, bowls, cups and sets of cutlery on the road. And, here’s the kicker- I’m doing just fine. I have MOUNTAINS of clothes and boots and jackets and other “necessities” in various places across the west coast of this country and the reality is that I don’t even remember what I own anymore. And I don’t miss anything. I think that maybe I wasted a bunch of money buying a lot of stuff I don’t need.


What I’ve been learning on the road is this novel little concept of hidden costs. I’m a bargain hunter by blood, I love to dig around for the best deals and I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes I think that $5 is just too much to spend on a top. That said, I’m very good at what I do and I can accumulate masses of very inexpensive, very wearable stuff that I love at an alarming rate. Never before have I considered the costs of these things outside of the cost to my bank account. Truth be told, the things I buy are made out of materials that came from somewhere and constructed by people that live somewhere, and that is about as much as I can tell you about that. Since I’ve taken to uncovering the social and environmental costs of all this stuff, I can’t ignore or escape the reality of the impact of my lifestyle.

When I shop for food, I look at ingredients and I read nutrition labels. When I shop for anything else… I don’t. I don’t even think about it. I guess it comes down to an idea I learned from Gifford Pinchot, a kind of hierarchy of concern. People, it seems, are the most concerned with the things that they put in their mouths- it’s very intimate, the consequences of putting bad things in your body are clear, the “danger” is personal. The next tier below that regards things people put on their bodies, this is where clothing comes is, and cosmetics and soaps and things like that. And, the tier below that is just about everything else that we use, live in, drive in, but that we don’t really consider parts of ourselves. I’m embarrassed to think that I didn’t even make it to the second tier of concern while going along my merry way through life.

This tour constantly presents a series of thought experiments, I spend a lot of time driving along thinking, “What would the world be like if…” everything made was “benign by design” so there were no toxic chemicals used, released into the environment, or that needed to be disposed of later; or if people only ever grew and ate organic, natural foods; or if everyone on the planet was meaningfully employed and paid a living wage. I know these are all big “ifs” but I’m coming to the realization that I’m a part of this cycle of ways that things are made and purchased and disposed of- yes, as a CONSUMER, and that my daily actions and purchases contribute to the way the world works. After all, if I can be thoughtless and selfish, why can’t businesses and corporations? We’re all just trying to make a living and enjoy life, right?

The truth is, I have an opinion, I have values, and I have a vote. My vote is my dollar. And, every time I make a purchase I cast a ballot in favor of one way the world should work or another. It’s time that I take a little responsibility for the way I live, shop, spend and vote because it becomes clear when one girl has to sort through veritable mountains of shoes, boots, jackets, sweaters, jeans and bikinis to figure out what she’s going to actually need for a few months on the road that this kind of consumerist lifestyle is really just not sustainable.

So, what’s a bargain shopper like me to do? Ethically produced, environmentally friendly goods and clothing are decidedly not cheap. In fact, they are expensive. I will go ahead and say they are way beyond my means. But here’s the thing, I can spend $100 and buy twenty different items that will clog my cabinets and closet and make moving and packing a real pain- or, I can spend that same $100 on one or two responsible purchases and know that I successfully supported brands that care about people and care about the planet. I like to shop, that’s probably not something I can change. I can, however, change the way that I shop and choose to align my values with my vote. And, you can too.

If you’re not sure you can kick the habit on will alone, just choose the red pill- do a little research. It can open your eyes to a whole other world.