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  • Writer's pictureAOA

Pouring a Cup of Sustainable Business

Nestled on a busy street in the Kenmore Neighborhood of Akron, Ohio sits the Srina Tea House, an organic tea shop that is dedicated to serving tea the right way – with people at the front and center of the mission. Last month, we celebrated the grand opening of the tea shop, a project AOA has spent the last several years supporting.

Srina Tea House's Grand Opening

Srina represents two decades of work and is the culmination of the grand vision of owner and CEO Monaqui Porter-Young. However, the tea shop is much more than a simple local tea store, it’s a purpose-driven community cornerstone that prioritizes social responsibility and sustainability from its roots in Sri Lanka to its bricks in Ohio.

Monaqui Porter Young picking tea on her Sri Lankan tea farm, Paradise Farms, with her team members
Founder, Monaqui Porter Young at the tea farm

Srina Tea House’s mission is directly born from Porter-Young’s perspective on the need for a change in how we view healthy living. After spending time in Sri Lanka learning the art of tea farming from local farmers, Porter-Young returned to the United States looking to build a sustainable business that could answer a simple question “how can we help each other?” Porter-Young was inspired by the local Sri Lankan culture and the women farmers, who are uplifting and supporting their community. In 2002, Porter Young founded MPGlobal Connect – the parent organization of Srina Tea House – and has since been working to further develop partnerships and collaborations with local farmers and international charities in an effort to create organic, sustainable tea.

Questioning how we can help one another as a business has changed how the company views and practices sustainability. Porter-Young describes Srina as a “socially responsible business venture” where the core mission centers around supporting local community through healthy tea and collaborative partnerships.

Sustainability is too often focused on just environmental justice and climate change, which is only one part of the larger story of sustainability.

Porter-Young and Srina Tea House are practicing sustainability differently. The vision is a holistic approach that places an emphasis on economic, environmental, and personal health. As Porter-Young explains, sustainability means to “use what you got”. This mentality permeates the entire culture of Srina from production to employee training and retention to down to the way the shop has been designed.

Local to Global Impact

How do you create sustainability and help lift up a community without enabling gentrifying?

Srina Tea House is located on Kenmore Boulevard, a tired street in an underserved neighborhood in the Akron suburbs, Kenmore. Although the community is facing difficulties, the community is filled with spirit and hope. “Kenmore is a great opportunity for me to go to one of Akron’s underserved communities and create something that would create an opportunity for health and wellness and make it accessible to the people who live there, rather than having to leave your home. We spent the last year really on the ground getting to know Kenmore, to know Summit Lake”, Porter-Young explained.

How do you empower people to live healthy, sustainable, and fulfilling lives when resources are limited? By embracing strategies that give back the power to the local community. It’s about creating systems that embrace and celebrate the people around us. From the beginning, Porter-Young has recognized that by investing in people, you empower people to partake in the process. This puts the power back in the community and allows them to be a part of the solution. When they are a part of the solution, they are also part of the reward. Putting this into practice, Srina Tea House currently has six employees. Of these six employees, five live within walking distance of the shop. As a result, money spent at the tea shop directly invests in the surrounding community and promotes sustainable economic development. This is revitalization without gentrification. This is sustainable development. This is community.

Ethics with a Mission

Fully embracing a holistic approach to sustainability, Srina balances social sustainability and responsibility with environmental protection. Porter-Young and her team have spent the last several years working to develop green farming practices. Srina tea is organically grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. USDA/IMO organic certified Srina® teas contain no artificial flavors or preservatives. One green farming practice Srina is particularly proud of is the use of leeches to put holes in the soil as an alternative. Srina tea bags and packaging are 100% recycled material, all natural, unbleached, and biodegradable. Tropical fruit, spice, and herbal ingredients are grown in Sri Lanka on Paradise Farm and blended by hand utilizing the farm's natural resources.

Porter-Young has partnered with the international organization Worldview International Foundation to create a subsidiary charity, Worldview USA. The charity’s goal is supporting the mission of planting millions of Mangrove trees in the Bengal Bay. To date, over 20.5 million have been planted, and there’s still more to come. Mangrove trees capture five times more carbon dioxide than terrestrial trees. This effort is the largest Mangrove Tree reforestation initiative in the world, and their efforts are tied to blue carbon credits and creating sustainable solutions to combat climate change.

Porter-Young’s mission is truly rooted in goodness. Every cup of Srina tea is not only helping the local community of Akron, Ohio, it’s creating positive change globally.

Pride in Partnering

AOA is extremely proud to have partnered with and supported Srina Tea House over the last several years providing a suite of services and offerings for Porter-Young and her team including architectural, media, graphic, and interior design services. For AOA Chief Creative Executive Tom Acomb, Srina also represented something larger for AOA as well – a drive for supporting projects that are making a difference in the way we live in the world around us. As Acomb explains, “Srina Tea House was the beginning of AOA selecting projects that were purpose driven. It was the stepping off point for us to decide that we at AOA can use our talents for purpose and mission driven work”. In order to achieve Porter-Young’s sustainable and community driven mission, AOA first needed to sit down with Porter-Young to extract all of her dreams for how she envisioned the space to be. Porter-Young recalls that AOA “helped pull ideas” out of her head to make the project a reality. AOA Principal Architect, David Acomb recalls the process fondly.

“Ten minutes into the first conversation with Monaqui it was immediately apparent the true passion she had for this project and the opportunities it had locally and globally. It was a non-stop explosion of optimism and excitement based solely on creating positive change. Every question we asked elicited a response that was so filled with convictions and ideas it was hard to keep up. The first challenge was taking all that wonderful feedback and getting it organized into a focused strategy and concept. This project though physically small in size was immensely large with responsible sustainable philosophy through social urban renewal, adaptive re-use, global environmental conservation and practices and promotion of the benefit derived from a sustainable lifestyle. Why wouldn’t you want to be involved with this client and her vision?”

AOA congratulates all who have helped make Srina Tea House what it is now, and we wish the team the best of luck in their grand opening and beyond. We know that the entire Srina team will work tirelessly to continue to help support and develop the surrounding Kenmore neighborhood. However, this is just the beginning! The lessons learned from this project will encourage the investment in people as a sustainable resource and will be a strong reminder that true sustainability requires a holistic approach.

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