A new profit motive

Posted: 3 April 2002

Author: Katherine Kerlin

Author Info: Katherine Kerlin is Associate editor of E.

'Creating jobs with fair wages. Making products that respect the health of the Earth and its people. Protecting land and wildlife. A business that does any one of these things is a step ahead of the rest,' says Katherine Kerlin writing in E/The Environment Magazine. Here she gives two examples of companies that are finding a way to do all three.

In 1995, Mike Korchinsky, CEO of Wildlife Works, sold his management consulting company and went to Kenya. There he noticed the wildlife was in a fragile condition. A growing Kenyan human population competing for scarce resources made for slash-and-burn agriculture and widespread poaching. "When you see the poverty first-hand and see that these people aren't getting any benefit from the wildlife, you wonder why the wildlife has survived so long," said Korchinsky.

Korchinsky decided to make it in the community's best interest to protect wildlife. He founded Wildlife Works, an eco-friendly clothing company, and then bought the 80,000-acre Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary to create a migration corridor within Tsavo National Park. "The only reason we're there is because of the wildlife," said Korchinsky. "We told the people, 'If you don't honour the boundaries, the wildlife will go, and so will we.' They were surprisingly receptive."

Though some T-shirts are being produced at the 20-acre eco-factory at Rukinga, most of Wildlife Works' clothing is made in San Francisco. Once the company has trained more workers, created a solid market demand, and established African sources for their organic hemp, and eco-fleece clothing, production will be augmented in Kenya. Nevertheless, US production and sales pay for the Rukinga sanctuary and the jobs for the people there.

Sporty graphics and clever environmental slogans adorn Wildlife Works' line of clothing, which includes T-shirts, tank tops for women, a safari jacket, lightweight jackets, and men's jersey tees. The clothes can be found in trendy fashion boutiques from $25 upwards.

Matte Matters

Sales of tea made from certified organic yerba matte leaves support a rainforest reserve in Paraguay.When Alex Pryor came to California from Argentina for college, he brought yerba matte, the drink of his country, with him. He began sharing it, and a few years later, he started Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products with a group of friends.

Yerba matte is a tea native to South America. It contains 196 active compounds, nutrients, and amino acids and is touted as a healthful alternative to coffee. Grown on the Guayaki Rainforest Reserve in eastern Paraguay, where Pryor's extended family runs the project, the matte is certified organic, shade-grown, and smoke-dried.

With 272 species of birds and 36 species of mammals, the whole forest reserve is second only to the Amazon for the world's highest biodiversity, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Guayaki aims to make it more economically valuable to keep the standing trees on the land rather than chop them down for timber and cattle grazing.

Guayaki has donated 2,700 acres to the 34 families who live on the reserve. The project also helps provide for the health centre and school in the area. "From the beginning, our mission was to sustain forests," said Guayaki CEO Chris Mann. "Now, it's to cultivate sustainability to preserve the culture of the people while promoting market-driven conservation."

Guayaki is serving up matte lattes and smoothies in stores across America. Plans for a café are in the works, which would incorporate matte-based munchies and other rainforest-grown foods, such as brazil nuts, into the Guayaki mix. The tea is also sold at coffee shops and natural foods stores in traditional, orange blossom, chai, and mint flavours.