These days, social and sustainable enterprises are cropping up everywhere. Why? Because entrepreneurs see real value in focusing their creative energies on people and projects that serve communities and nature.

Instead of shying away from imposing challenges like climate change, habitat loss, poverty and equality, innovators see these issues as an opportunity to reimagine consumer culture and develop products that solve global problems.

Turning customers into custodians is a strategy that works well for Guayakí Yerba Mate—a company founded on community. The brand produces ready to drink beverages using organic Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis), a plant with ancient heritage—first cultivated and used by the indigenous Guaraní people and in some Tupí communities in southern Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

Guayaki’s mission is to steward and restore 200,000 acres of rainforest and create 1,000 living wage jobs by 2020.

Guayaki’s Market Driven Regeneration™ business model integrates traditional with modern culture to restore ecosystems and create vibrant communities. The approach creates a community that celebrates and contributes to its culture—making it their own. Giving people the freedom to interpret an indigenous tradition in new ways, allows the company to resonate with a broader generation. It also provides a bridge to connect their values with the challenges we all face even when the impact is not firsthand.

Sipping a fresh brew of San Mateo from a hand-carved gourd, BEJournal caught up with David Karr, co-founder of Guayaki to discuss the brand’s vision. Karr revealed how Creative Collaborations encourage new models for communicating environmental issues, the challenges of integrating sustainable goals as a business, and the value of young voices to building a brand with an inclusive culture.

Yerba mate has the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate.

What compelled you to invest in Yerba Mate as a catalyst for social and sustainable aims?

From the very inception of Guayakí, we have been passionate about stewarding and growing yerba mate in its native forest environment because we believed that wild yerba mate grown organically in its natural habitat would produce the highest quality product. It just happens to coincide perfectly with indigenous community development and their capacity to steward care for the forest which they acknowledge as their home. 

How have you adapted your brands marketing to innovate new models for communicating environmental issues through creative collaborations?

Our messaging has been consistent since we started the company over two decades ago to communicate about our Market Driven Regeneration™ business model, forest stewardship, organic agriculture and indigenous community development. Our packaging has evolved as well as the different product formats available to our customers. 

What is key to integrating sustainable goals and outcomes as a business? 

Because we have always viewed ourselves as a legacy business, we have a long-term horizon and think out many generations about how our business will exist beyond the team today. We are constantly asking ourselves questions about how we can operate more holistically as a business with respect everything that comes from seed all the way to shelf.  Today, this includes sustainable and regenerative agroforestry all the way to delivering our product with electric vehicles.  

What is your message for people hoping to generate interest and impact for vital issues through business? 

I would hope people would view business as a tool to better society, animals and plants that live on earth. It’s not too dissimilar from thinking of us as one big family and what kind of world we want to leave to our kids.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve embraced or hardest truth you’ve had to face developing a viable business that supports people and nature?

Patience and passion have been probably the most valuable thing because it has taken a lot longer and there’s been far more hardships than I ever had imagined, but the process has also been more rewarding. It is just like anything in life, all the best things take time and you appreciate it that much more when the gifts come.  

Which resources have you found indispensable to guiding your progress and empowering your goals?

I have found that growing personally as well as staying connected to my family and friends and community has been the most valuable thing in my life.

Cheers to a little sip of sunshine! Guayaki, a brew benefiting people and nature. Photo: Kylie Fly
Cheers to a little sip of sunshine! Guayakí, a brew with many benefits for people and nature.

Can you tell us about your University Ambassadors initiative – how this is different from other branding models and the value of young voices?

We are simply empowering our University fans to share mate with their friends and community which is the path we’ve been on since the beginning. Except now we’re going directly to students who, in today’s world, are learning a lot more about the social and environmental issues facing mankind so they care even more deeply about our business. 

Do you have a favorite way to drink yerba mate?

I have been a long-time gourd drinker, which is definitely my favorite way because I love the ritual of sharing mate with other people. 

Help shape a culture that supports our future! guayakí.com

Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.