‘Body Shop looking for greener pastures’

AESHA DATTA MEENAKSHI VERMA AMBWANI New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2018

CHRISTOPHER DAVIS, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns, The Body Shop International

Sustainability has been a business imperative more than anything else for British cosmetics company, The Body Shop. The increasing focus on environmental consciousness by its competitors has pushed the company to reinvent its definition of sustainability. Christopher Davis, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns, The Body Shop International, spoke to BusinessLine about its new initiative which will focus on protecting forests, building biodiversity bridges and reducing fossil fuel dependence for its packaging to serve both the business and ‘image’ interests of the company. Edited excerpts:

You have an ambitious plan to become ‘the most ethical business’ in the world. How do you plan to achieve this?

Our aim to become the world’s most ethical and truly sustainable business is built on the company’s heritage. The key thing about our commitment is that it is different than the CSR or sustainability plans that we see many companies talking about. When we look at what is actually happening on the planet, things are only getting worse. What the world needs is a company to stand up and say being “less bad” is not good enough anymore.

So, we are aiming to be truly sustainable, and the key step in this journey is to focus on our “Enrich not Exploit” commitment. We have set clear targets, we have put structures in place to get there and we will be transparent about how we are progressing. Transparency in sustainability allows consumers to judge us. If we are doing well, consumers will see value in our products and keep buying our products. So, there is great incentive for us to achieve our goals.

Does this mean this will change the way you do business?

This commitment changes everything about the company, as it is taking us to a whole new level. For instance, we have developed a new sustainable ingredient sourcing charter, developed with leading NGOs and academicians. By 2020, everything that goes into our products will be sourced sustainably and will be traceable.

One of our other ambitions is to double our community trade programme, which means growing from 19 to 40 ingredients. This means, we source natural ingredients from communities and pay them fair price so these communities can focus on sustainable agriculture and invest in benefits like schools and health facilities.

At some point Body Shop was one of the few companies talking about sustainability. But today there are dime a dozen. What is the differentiator?

We started talking about the principles of sustainability and business at a time when it wasn’t even on people’s radar. We are still seeing competitors trying to do what our founder pioneered. Now, we are trying to reinvent ourselves by focusing on what true sustainability means today. We went back to work with the Cambridge University and a number of academicians, and they told us if we really want to be progressive, groundbreaking and focus on true sustainability, we need to be informed by science.

So, we are not setting goals such as cutting emissions by 20 per cent. We are saying our operations will have zero impact because that’s what science says we need to do. We are not saying we are going to run our stores on green energy ….what we are saying is we will be 100 per cent green where it is available, where it is not available we are going to plant and offset the impact of our operations. One of the things we need to do is to drive innovation, especially in packaging. So, for instance, we are testing these caps that are made with this new technique that uses methane and oxygen.

The cosmetic industry’s dependence on natural ingredients is rapidly resulting in ecologically negative changes, for example with palm oil. What’s your take?

Currently, our coco supply chain is truly sustainable. But palm oil is a fascinating challenge. We source only sustainable palm oil when it’s available. When it is not, we buy green palm certificates to compensate the farmers. The target is to ensure 100 per cent traceability within our supply chain in palm oil by the end of this year. It’s challenging for many companies. I feel we are making a lot of progress on that. We are conscious that standards of sustainability change over time. That is the reason we developed the sustainable sourcing charter.

Are you also phasing out use of ingredients, such as silicon and parabens, which are a major concern among consumers?

Yes, we are phasing out paraben. Many scientists say these are naturally occurring and not a problem.

But we have listened to the concerns of the consumers. For the last two years, many of the product formulations have zero paraben. So, we have made progress.

Published on May 16, 2016

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