Sustainability: Why We Offer Living Wages for Our Team

Published on April 25, 2017

At Gaia, our people are our strength, and their passion and commitment are reflected in all that we do. Gaia currently employs 265 employees, with approximately 235 of them located in North Carolina, making Gaia the largest employer in Transylvania County. Responsible for stewarding our products from seed to shelf, our employees possess very diverse skill sets. And while day-to-day tasks may vary greatly, what we all have in common is a commitment to creating the best-quality herbal supplements and nurturing strong relationships between plants and people.

Our team in manufacturing works around the clock in order to produce our more than 200 herbal products. Our fulfillment team packs every order by hand and is responsible for every product that lines the shelves at our partner retail stores. Our human resources team - which we call our "People, Culture and Wellness" as a reflection of our values - supports all employees at every level. Our maintenance team keeps our equipment and facilities up and running day in and day out, ensuring a safe and clean work place for all. Our science teams guarantee the purity, potency and integrity of our products. Our farm workers care for the tilth of the earth by stewarding our herbs. Our operations team works tirelessly to extract and bottle nature's innate herbal wisdom. Our sales and marketing teams help to educate consumers and guide them on the path to wellness.

Without these diverse sets of skills (plus so many more!) and the unique contributions that each one of our employees provides, the growth and success that Gaia Herbs has experienced would not be possible. Our people provide the soul of our business, which is why we have opted to become an official Living Wage Employer, certified by the Living Wage Coalition of Transylvania County, part of Just Economics, which is the nation's largest advocacy group for the fair-wage movement. This designation reflects the values by which we at Gaia Herbs live and operate, and supports our ongoing investment in our people, helping to promote a sustainable and just future for our region.  

"Just Economics is happy to have Gaia Herbs join our growing network of Living Wage Certified Employers," said Vicki Meath, the executive director of Just Economics. "It's our belief at Just Economics that as a community, we have to be willing to make changes so that everyone in our region can have a chance to thrive. By paying a Living Wage, Gaia has taken steps that will help continue the growth of a sustainable economy that works for all, and it speaks volumes about the kind of business and workplace Gaia is." 

Supporting Our People

Just Economics has determined the Living Wage of Transylvania County to be $13 per hour without qualifying employer-provided health insurance, or $10.50 per hour with employer-provided health insurance. The current federal minimum wage, which has held steady at $7.25 since 2009, equates to just $15,080 a year and is not enough to cover the basics of living. The current minimum wage keeps hard-working people in a state of economic uncertainty. We believe employees should experience a healthy, dignified life from a perspective of security. 

We are aspiring to help shape public discourse around the need for a federal living wage, which is why we are a proud member of the Businesses for a Fair Minimum Wage. We join companies like our neighbors at New Belgium Brewing as well as Ben & Jerry's, Dr. Bronner's and Seventh Generation "to support gradually raising the federal minimum wage to at least $12 by 2020. Paying a living wage means that people can get married, start a family, invest in higher education, and contribute more to their community."

Quadruple bottom line: People, Planet, Purpose and Profit

Since 1987, Gaia Herbs has been committed to providing people with the best quality herbal supplements. Our business decisions are guided by our values and our commitment to people, planet and purpose - not by profits alone.

Growth at Gaia goes beyond profit and the typical "bottom line." When looking at overall company success, we ask ourselves: How have we as a company listened to our employees - and how can we do more? How have we grown to give back to the community? How have we grown to care for the earth? This is the growth to which Gaia has aspired, and providing a living wage helps Gaia employees achieve a more sustainable future.

That being said, paying a living wage is in fact a smart business move. Research shows that paying a living wage leads to more productive and engaged workers, and a higher retention rate. In the first 3 months of our certification, Gaia saw this to be true, with employee turnover dropping to zero in the area of our business that had previously experienced the highest rates of departures. As Gaia prospers and grows financially, we want our employees to prosper and grow with us. As a leader in quality herbal supplements, we want to continue to attract a high-quality workforce, and paying a living wage is a tremendous part of this equation.

Supporting our Collective Connection and Unique Contributions

At Gaia, we believe in equality at all levels. Guided yet again by observing the time-tested patterns of nature, equality is pervasive when we observe the patterns of nature. A tiny seed that gives life to a massive oak tree is no less important than the microscopic minerals in our soil that give our vegetables nutrition. The moonrise is equal to the sunrise, with each resulting in necessary light and dark. The song of the sparrow is equal to the howl of a coyote, bringing diverse aspects that keep our ecological system in balance. The ultimate goal of economic justice and equality is to "free each person to engage creatively in the unlimited work beyond economic, that of the mind and spirit," according to the Center for Economic and Social Justice.

As our President Angela McElwee recently noted: "Our people are at the heart of what we do. Paying our team a living wage enables us to attract and retain great employees, making it possible for us to continue producing the highest quality herbal products. Providing a living wage is an essential part of Gaia Herbs' mission, vision, and values: It not only contributes to the financial and emotional health of our employees, but it is a smart business strategy that will enable the continuous growth of Gaia and support our local communities." 

We know that we can't change the world alone, but we are honored to be taking this step. This is why we prioritize our connection with other organizations, like Businesses for a Fair Minimum Wage and Just Economics. We continue to make strides toward creating a healthier world through our connections to both plants and people. Our connection to fostering a healthier world starts with our people. Gaia Herbs is proud to be an official Living Wage certified business, and looks forward to continuing to invest in our teams, as we grow stronger together.

If you are someone you know is interested in working for Gaia Herbs, we encourage you to visit our Careers page to browse current opportunities.