Bala Sarda, founder and CEO, Vahdam India (centre).
Not many get invited to Oprah Winfrey’s high tea. But in 2018 and 2019 when she listed her Favourite Things, the world learnt what she sipped on: Vahdam India’s Tea Trio, elegantly packed in round tins, and its Turmeric Tea Tales snug in a yellow box.
Vahdam India’s Tea was the only Indian brand mentioned in Oprah’s Favourite Things list that is released every year. Such was the rush after Oprah’s recco that Vahdam India, a homegrown, digitally native tea and superfood brand, ran out of stock within three hours.
But Vahdam India’s tale is not about Oprah Winfrey’s and Ellen DeGeneres’ admiration. The six-year-old, Rs 200-crore company is one of the first tea brands in Asia to get a Climate Neutral certificate and Plastic Neutral Certification.
Ask Bala Sarda, Vahdam India’s founder and CEO, why, and he rattles off multiple reasons: his philosophy of "Do Good by Doing Good", of empowering the tea industry, of being mindful of people and planet, of education and health insurance. His most fervent answers are around climate and plastic neutrality.
In 2020, when Vahdam India became one of the first tea brands in Asia to get a Climate Neutral certification, it took the first steps to record its 2019 carbon footprint by measuring emissions under Scopes 1, 2 and 3 as per the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol.
The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard classifies a company’s GHG emissions into three ‘scopes’:
- Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from owned or controlled sources;
- Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy; and
- Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur in the value chain of the company, including both upstream and downstream emissions.
“We decided to offset our carbon footprint by purchasing credits in projects that work at reducing, removing or avoiding emissions or carbon from traditional fossil fuels, and thus help control climate (change),” Bala told moneycontrol.com.
Offsetting carbon footprint
For 2020, Vahdam India’s carbon footprint was 2,954 tonnes (t) of CO2 emissions (Scope 1: 1.1 t, Scope 2: 180 t, Scope 3: 2773.9 t). The company purchased an equivalent amount of carbon credits from India-based projects that are working on clean energy, renewable energy and reduction/replacement of fuel-based energy consumption.
Vahdam India's purchased carbon credits included 954 credits from a biomass power project at Godawari Power & Ispat Limited (Chhattisgarh), 1,100 credits from a wind power project in Madhya Pradesh, and 900 credits from improved wood stoves in Udaipur - Helping Women & Environment.
Carefully calculating the total amount of plastic used in its operations, Vahdam India has been making investments to try and offset its plastic footprint. According to the Vahdam Impact Report (2020-21), the company plans to reduce energy consumption and in turn reduce emission from thermal electricity at its headquarter by 10%, reduce usage of plastic-based packaging material by 10-15%, and shift more than 20% air-shipments to land-based routes.
By 2024, Vahdam India aims to go completely plastic free. The company has joined hands with rePurpose Global (www.repurpose.global), a plastic credit platform, to measure and offset its plastic usage. Through this partnership, the company is transforming Hyderabad’s waste sector. This first-of-its-kind project entails the recovery and processing of low-value, single-use plastic waste such as multi-laminate plastic (MLP). So far, 16,673 kilograms of plastic waste (April-December 2020) has been diverted from oceans and landfills (equivalent to 1,138,974 plastic bottles or 1,423,457 plastic pouches).
Beyond, offsetting carbon footprint and practicing reduce-reuse-recycle, the Noida-headquartered company is investing in the education and health care of its team and their family members. “It is a long road ahead but only through education can we empower people,” says Bala.
Bala was still an under-grad student at Delhi University when he ran two start-ups. He knew he’d never queue up for campus placements, never pursue a management degree. His ancestry is steeped in tea - for 85 years the family has retailed and bulk exported tea - but tea wasn’t brewing in his pot then, the idea of a home-grown, digitally native label was.
Tea finally trickled in - in 2015, he reversed his father’s name (Vahdam is an anagram of Madhav) and set up Vahdam India. Bala was 23 then. In his entrepreneurial heart lay the conviction of disrupting the way Indian tea is sold and consumed across the globe.