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Wine with a Nose for Fairness


Tiffany Tompkin’s pioneering company recycles and buys used, offsets its carbon footprint, donates to U.S. scholarship funds, and supports social development initiatives in Argentina, Chile, and South Africa, where its Fair Trade wines are produced.

When you purchase a bottle of wine at the supermarket, do you know where your dollars go? If you make that purchase a bottle of Etica Fair Trade wine you do. On her Web site, Tiffany Tompkins, owner of Etica Fair Trade breaks it down for you.

From shipping and insurance to tariffs and taxes, you see exactly what goes into the cost of your bottle, including how much goes directly to the wine cellar, farmers, workers, and vineyard. In the countries where Etica does business, a portion of this cost is always used for social development, from helping with health insurance in Chile to supporting a childcare facility in South Africa - where Tiffany is pictured above. We asked her to tell us more about the story behind her Fair Trade wine business.

Co-op America: What does your business do, and what are your most popular products?

Tiffany Tompkins: Etica is a Fair Trade wine importer and distributor based in Minnesota. We import Fair Trade wine from Argentina, Chile and South Africa. Our most popular products are Pinotage from South Africa and Carmenere from Chile.

What makes your business green?

Tiffany: Besides our commitment to selling only Fair Trade wines, we offset our carbon footprints from importing, we buy used to save resources, and we recycle as much as possible. We also donate funds to a scholarship fund. Our country’s youth deserve good educations!

What did you do before you started your green business?

Tiffany: Before starting Etica I worked for the Chinese Government’s WTO office and taught trade policies to government officials and businessmen and women in Beijing. Although not the worst job I have ever had, I did get disillusioned by some of the subjects I was teaching. It led me to find alternative trade and business practices that got me to where I am now. I am really thankful for the experience.

What have been some of the biggest challenges of maintaining high standards of social and environmental responsibility?

Tiffany: As a small importing company, we are faced with the problems of keeping transportation streamlined and costs down. We try to develop the most direct shipping routes to reduce added transportation and therefore an additional waste of fuel. In Minnesota, we share cooperative warehousing and delivery services with another wine distribution company to help with this matter. We work with distributors in other states to buy in larger volumes and in return are more flexible on payment terms. We try to find trucks that are running other products to the same area and have direct shipping routes.

What’s been your proudest moment as a green business owner?

Tiffany: Committing to Fair Trade practices as a company here in the US makes me very proud. Our company supports local farmers, other Fair Trade companies, and community schools and organizations. Whether through wine donations or cross-promotional events, we are all collectively working to educate and impact our communities through healthier lifestyle choices. That drive makes all of our hard work worth it.

What is the most hopeful sign you’ve seen recently in the green economy?

Tiffany: My conservative relatives are talking about the environment and the planet as if they have just discovered the Earth. I know it is a small step for some, but monumental for others. Vocabulary extensions like “energy efficient”, “conservation”, “gas guzzler” and “Al Gore” were 100% missing from any dialogue. Now, these words and their counterparts freely roll off the tongue. Truly amazing!

What advice would you give to green entrepreneurs just starting out?

Tiffany: My best advice to green entrepreneurs starting out would be to stick with your gut instincts. When you have an exciting idea it is easy for everyone to give you his or her opinion. People get excited about what you are doing and want to be a part of it. You have to remember that, although it is good to listen to others, it is you who will make your idea fly. Stick to your guns and be strong.

What’s the next green step you’re working on right now?

Tiffany: Right now I am working on domestic Fair Trade issues and how they can be related to the wine industry. We have wonderful organic and sustainable wines in the US and I think it is about time that we address labor in the same context. True sustainability starts with people in my opinion.

What green product could you not live without?

Tiffany: I am a huge fan of Divine chocolate and Fair Trade coffee and tea, like Peace Coffee and Equal Exchange. I am also really into natural cleaning products, and because I am in Colorado a lot these days, I am drinking New Belgium beer!

In order to be certified Fair Trade, a product must meet the standards of the Fair Trade Labeling Organization, which “set clear minimum and developmental criteria and objectives for social, economic and environmental sustainability.” This set of principles includes the investment of revenues in projects that benefit the community, a dedication to environmental sustainability and to small scale production, and a commitment to fair labor standards. The FLO also sets a minimum price for each Fair Trade product which covers the cost of production and a living wage that is enough for food, shelter, clothing, education, and medical care for workers.

Several advocacy and humanitarian organizations are asking Americans to participate in “reverse trick-or-treating” this Halloween, One World US reports. The campaign seeks to build awareness about inequities in the global cocoa industry and alert consumers to Fair Trade chocolate alternatives. Co-Op America, Global Exchange, and other nonprofit groups are sending free Fair Trade kits to consumers across the United States to build support and raise the profile of Fair Trade chocolate products.


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