Q&A: Body Shop concocts new formula for making money while protecting the planet

Beauty brand The Body Shop is turning 40 next month and has set an ambitious goal of being “the world’s most ethical and truly sustainable global business”.

Founded in England in 1976 by the late environmentalist and rights activist Anita Roddick, The Body Shop was famous for promoting natural, ethically-sourced products and rejecting animal testing.

But the sale of the brand to French cosmetics giant L’Oréal 10 years ago was regarded by some as a sell-out of its green credentials. Results were disappointing last year, with like-for-like sales in the fourth quarter falling 5.8 per cent and 0.9 per cent overall in 2015.

Now the firm has put in place 14 targets to be met by 2020, based around a commitment to “enrich our people, enrich our products and enrich our planet”.

The targets include doubling the company’s community trade programme - a form of fair trade - to cover 40 ingredients, ensuring 100 per cent of its natural ingredients are traceable and sustainably sourced, protecting 10,000 hectares of forest and other habitat, and powering all its stores with renewable or carbon-neutral energy.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation spoke to Jeremy Schwartz, who joined The Body Shop as its chairman and CEO two years ago, to find out how the company plans to put the new commitment into practice.

Q: Can The Body Shop really become the world’s most sustainable business?

Schwartz: I believe the issues of climate change will probably not be addressed by governments, because I don’t think they have demonstrated really serious action to control what’s happening.

I think it is companies that are going to make the difference, because the companies I have worked in, and here, are always pushing against this subject. Because it can make good business sense - cutting water usage and so on - but also because many of us believe we have got to do something about the planet.

The Body Shop, it would be fair to say, pioneered the whole concept of sustainability from a corporate point of view. Community trade was something we created as a concept, and are rated now still as having the most advanced, comprehensive community trade programme of any beauty company.

I want to demonstrate what I think Anita must have experienced at the beginning. She did things people must have laughed at - to say I am going to stop animal testing, or I am going to source stuff from the fields in Ghana directly, and I am going to pay the people a premium.

The Body Shop has a role in this world. We are a small company. We are not going to change everything by ourselves, but what we do is we provoke, we show, we inspire other companies to change their game because we get out on the edge and do things others would hesitate to do.

Q: Is there not a contradiction in running a business that profits from natural resources, and trying to save the planet at the same time?

Schwartz: Probably the biggest challenges are ahead for this planet… so we have got to make our business and the ethics of our business fit for the challenges of the future.

The question is how we are going to retune ourselves for that, and commit to that? And the first thing is to set goals which… are very clear and smart and measurable.

The second thing is that the temptation of many companies is to say we are going to reduce - and we will reduce too, our power use etc. But good though that is, it could still leave the planet growing at this temperature (rise)… and can still mean we are consuming more than we are putting back, and (our new) goals have been designed to address that “planetary boundary” idea of helping the planet flourish.

The way we are approaching it is, how can we source our ingredients in a way that respects the biodiversity of the location we buy them from?

I want to either maintain or enrich the biodiversity of this planet through the things we do.

By the way, I am here to make money, and I unashamedly have a goal to be a bigger, more successful, more sales-driven, more profitable company.

Q: For example, you are planning to build “Bio-Bridges”, where you replant local species of trees to join up two biodiverse land areas. How will that work?

Schwartz: The biodiversity of the animals and the insects is recovered, but also local communities with us - and through us - can create a market for what they can harvest from those trees, which can then allow it to be in their interests to sustain that place because it can support their living, not through destroying it but by harvesting from it.

We believe this is a model for sustainable business that can help the planet flourish and make us money.

One of the goals of our project is around identifying and utilising ingredients from biodiversity hotspots. We are out now searching for new ingredients in these locations which we can create a market for, and through that, give a living to the locals, and through that encourage them to sustain that location.

Q: What kind of ingredients might those be?

Schwartz: There is a nut called Andiroba, which is one of the first new nuts we discovered on my journey (last year) to Brazil… I am putting it into a product which should be coming out in 2017. It’s a nut that a couple of companies use in Brazil, but they don’t use it outside Brazil.

I have employed a brand new person who is now going to hotspots, identifying particular ingredients that may be facing extinction or under threat.

We are going to find some ingredients for which we could then set up this commercial market, and in so doing, protect and enrich it through giving it a use and a worth… We are out looking for things that nobody has talked about, or noted, and there’s more than you can believe!

Q: How will a Body Shop store look different in 2020?

Schwartz: I think we’re going to have a world where the customer is going to desire an unbelievable level of personal service - so with e-commerce it’s going to be about extremely fast delivery, about personalisation.

It’s going to be about information and transparency… The customers want to know about how our ingredients are true, and exciting and different.

When you come into our stores, they will be completely cashless, you will not only pay with your phone, get your receipt instantaneously and your points on your phone, but we will do complete skin analysis on your phone.

And you are going to be able to see through web-cams where our ingredients are being grown, the biodiversity hotspots “live” with your name on a coordinate on the tree that you have personally planted or we have planted on your behalf. That will be happening this year.

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