“Tea for two; the environment and you!” –Sustainability at Tea Small Holder Factories.

By Harish Wanasinghe

The John Keells Group focuses on the ‘triple bottom line’ where balance sheet is socially and environmentally sensitised and hence all the businesses of the Group including Tea Small Holder Factories PLC (TSF), places importance on giving back to the communities and the environment in work in.

The Tea Replanting Programme of TSF is one such initiative; where stakeholder engagement was identified as a key element in the sustaining of the company’s business model and the building of loyalty suppliers whist enhancing their livelihood. In this context a pioneering Tea Replanting project to develop unproductive Tea Lands was initiated way back in 2010 and is currently ongoing with 4 Project’s in progress. Project 1 is completed and the tea crop is being harvested, whilst Project 2 is into the final year. Project 3 has entered its 2nd year whilst Project 4 has just got underway. Each project spans a period of 4 years from rehabilitation of land to harvesting. The company provides loans and grants to Loyal Small Holder Tea growers for the rehabilitation of the unproductive tea lands whilst expert advise on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is provided by the Extension Manager and his team of coordinators on the planting process which includes Land preparation, nursery management, fertilizer application, maintenance and harvesting. This initiative has been well received by the Tea Growers and has resulted in improving the supplier base and sustaining the business.

Also, the Forestry Project of TSF  which is a community based reforestation project, was initiated by John Keells Foundation, the CSR arm of The John Keells Group (JKF) and TSF factories in the Neluwa, Galle region together with the Carbon Consulting Company to supply  3000 forest plants to 15 acres of land belonging to Tea small holder suppliers of TSF. The Small Holders livelihood would be improved through this project with the monthly allowance paid to them for the maintenance of the plants in the short term as well as the commercial value of cash crops in the longer term.

Together with the JKF, TSF stakeholder engagement is further enhanced through Eye camps and cataract surgeries awareness programmes on HIV/AIDS.

TSF also launched sustainable energy saving initiatives; energy is a high cost related factor in the production process, hence initiatives were undertaken in the controlling and improving the efficiency of areas such as Automation of the production process , worker Health and Safety, maximizing the usage of Bio Mass and the introduction of power  saving equipment. The Sifting process at Broadlands Tea Factory has been  Semi Automated after a process flow analysis,  which resulted in a Labour saving of 5 workers per shift thus reducing the cost of labour by Rs.3,500/=.

Low cost quick drying firewood sheds were fabricated with UV treated polythene roofs, at Hingalgoda and Kurupanawa Tea factories. The anticipated saving is 500 Cubic meters valued at Rs.750,000/= per annum. The efficiency of the combustion process of all factories was improved resulting in reduced emissions and non-hazardous waste (Wood ash). Energy saving equipment such as Screw compressors (2 No’s) were installed at Karawita and Broadlands Tea factories replacing 10 No’s reciprocating compressors, resulting in a saving of 20 kW per machine which is approximately Rs.5,400/= per day. The lighting systems were changed in some of the factories with the replacement of 80 No’s of 4 ft Florescent bulbs with LED tube lights.

Sustainability and Risk Champions act as vital tools in fully integrating sustainability and risk management within business unit strategies and operations, with the objective being to achieve business unit objectives and Triple Bottom Line performance. Sustainability and Risk Champions are expected to obtain, analyse and provide information and recommendations for management decision making and strategy development.

The duties of these two roles range from tracking sustainability and risk performance, benchmarking, implementation of initiatives, assurance, reporting, supply chain sustainability/risk management, awareness creation and sharing of best practices and knowledge amongst each other.

My experience as a Sustainability champion along with my colleagues who have been equally responsible for the development of the Sustainability initiatives, has been very rewarding as it has benefitted the company in numerous ways thus making the business more viable and ready to meet the daily challenges.