Sustainable Cosmetics Summit 2022 Paris, France
Lush exec: ‘If you want to make change, hire activists’
Cosmetics major Lush – long associated as the pioneer of solid-format shampoos bars and package-free or ‘naked’ beauty products – was, like many, working hard to improve its overall environmental footprint and had its own ‘climate and nature’ plan with various goals in place for the coming years.
But Ruth Andrade, earth care strategy lead at Lush, said the company wouldn’t speak publicly about these goals, because they remained nothing more than a ‘to-do’ list until completed.
“We’re not perfect,” Andrade told attendees at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit 2022 in Paris, France this week. “But we prioritise the environment quite a lot in our decision-making,” she said.
A ‘climate justice’ focus
More importantly, Lush was sharply focused on “climate justice” throughout its business model, she said, and heavily invested in supporting communities and livelihoods linked to its supply chains worldwide.
Since 2009, for example, the company had been working with regenerative materials and in 2016/17 it started mapping out biodiversity hotspots and creating sourcing hubs nearby. Today, Lush had sourcing hubs at critical points on several continents, including in Indonesia, South America near the Amazon and the Mediterranean. It also continued to actively search for projects and partnerships where sourcing of a cosmetic ingredient would offer “an alternative livelihood to poaching or deforestation”, she said.
Over the years, there had been “really strategic thinking” around Lush’s sourcing programmes and ingredient supply chain, Andrade said. And because the company had a lot of vertical integration, making its own fragrances, manufacturing in its own factories and owning all its retail shops, for example, new formulations and innovations could be developed accordingly at speed, she said.
“The good thing is we can embed quickly; we have that dynamism.”
Employee activism for accelerated change
There was also a strong and powerful employee culture at Lush behind this dynamism, she said, with staff owning 10% of company shares via Lush’s Employee Benefit Trust. How Lush recruited also had plenty to do with it, she said.
“If you want to make change, hire activists. This is the one thing Lush has done that accelerates change; hire activists,” she said.
A self-professed environmental activist herself, Andrade said this hiring method was key to creating critical change, not only from an environmental perspective but for other social causes too.
Lush had taken a series of business decisions over the years to take a stance against wider societal issues, she said. The company no longer sold on Amazon, for example, following a court ruling in 2014 related to a trademark infringement lawsuit filed by Lush against the e-commerce conglomerate. Last year, Lush axed all global social media accounts across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, stating they would remain closed until the platforms provided a safer environment for users. And this year, it would be closely following COP27 and “looking at the idea of divestment and removing our money from banks that are funding all the things we don’t want”, she said.
“It’s really great because we managed to retrofit our purpose. When Lush was started, it didn’t start with a purpose in mind, just people really wanting to innovate,” she said. But the company had grown into its strapline ‘leaving the world lusher than we found it’ over time, thanks to various actions from its leaders and employees, she said.
A future of continued consumer engagement?
Responding to an attendee’s question about the rise in environmentalism amongst consumers in recent years, Andrade said there had been “two moments of awareness” in recent years: COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and the Greta Thunberg rising in 2018.
However, the outlook was less certain with the current state of world affairs, she said.
“I worry now we’re going into an economic recession that all this work will be undone,” she said. But the hope was that the sense of activism would stay – at Lush internally and amongst its consumers and the wider public, she said.