describes how his company has set out to provide a business model for environmental sustainability
Ancient wisdom suggests: We should pray as if all depended on God and act as if all depended on us. We feel overwhelmed by the environmental challenges facing our planet. And yet, individuals can make a big difference.
We are capable of great change based on a simple paradigm shift called biophilia, defined by Edward O. Wilson in The Diversity of Life as the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life. To indigenous people, ancient civilizations and our ancestors, this makes almost instinctive sense. However, our education system and way of life have separated us from what once was a given of the human condition.
Those who lead businesses and organizations can make an even greater difference. The results yielded by green leaders, once they become part of governments, make it doubtful that real change can come from the political world before public opinion is threatened by a sense of crisis and emergency. By contrast, business people can change the world by changing the way the world does business. This depends on another simple paradigm change. Organizations are composed of a critical mass of undecided individuals. Corporate systems are critically important, but no set of systems no matter how perfect will ever replace the forceful commitment of leaders. Leaders change the world by changing the way they lead their organizations.
In business as usual, environmental sustainability is rarely factored into the bottom line. But, at Aveda we strive to demonstrate through our operating principles that profitability and environmental responsibility are synergistic goals. We promote this philosophy across our economic activities as a developer and manufacturer of beauty products, a distributor to salons and spas and a retailer. We strive to minimize our ecological footprint in our product and packaging development, manufacturing, warehousing, transportation, product consumption lifecycle, waste management and recycling activities. We believe there is no responsible alternative to doing business in an environmentally sustainable way and view the sustainability challenge as one of protecting biodiversity.
As a maker of plant-based hair, skin, body, aroma, make-up and lifestyle products, Aveda stakes its long-term business plans on the lifecycle of plants. Caring for biodiversity starts in our own backyard with the aromatic and medicinal plants we use as an industry. Yet, the first international survey of plant diversity found that at least one out of every eight known plant species on Earth is now threatened with extinction. It is madness to believe that biodiversity can decrease for ever without contributing to our own demise as a species. To ensure the long-term success of Aveda and other companies, a new paradigm for leadership must be developed and adhered to by a broad range of current and emerging business leaders.
This new paradigm must strive for the protection of plants and of the environment in which they grow. This includes the surrounding communities that depend on these plants for their livelihood and cultural traditions. The tragic world map of biodiversity is similar to the one of ethno-diversity. We are losing indigenous communities, languages and cultures at an alarming rate. With every language lost, so too is a culture, representing 150,000 years of human evolution, with its knowledge, wisdom, medicine, agriculture and art. In the business world, widespread plant extinction will not only affect the cosmetic, aromatic and medicinal plant industries but cause irreparable damage to pharmaceutical companies searching for new drugs and ultimately to the people who need them. Industry leaders must take a stand in helping to protect the planet by stopping the rapid loss of biodiversity. Even for the sake of pure business performance, there is little doubt that environmental sustainability is a powerful enough guide to focus on the long term, and build a corporate culture that breeds personal responsibility, value-based decision-making, rigour and frugality.
In our struggle to protect biodiversity, we decided to focus on six threats: global warming, waste generation, loss of habitat, persistent organic pollutants, air pollution and water pollution.
Like many companies that strive to do business in a socially and environmentally sustainable way, we find there is often a gap between our expectations of performance and the reality of daily life. Besides breeding integrity in the moment of action, we find the CERES Principles helpful in formalizing our environmental efforts, building the necessary management systems and tracking our progress. In 1989, Aveda was the first privately owned company to endorse the Principles (then known as the VALDEZ Principles). They are:
1. Protection of the biosphere
2. Sustainable use of natural resources
3. Reduction of wastes
4. Energy conservation
5. Risk reduction
6. Safe products and services
7. Environmental restoration
8. Informing the public
9. Management commitment
10. Audits and reports
We recently completed an exhaustive CERES report for the years 1996-1999, which presented our strengths and shortcomings across all aspects of our operations. We are committed to doing this annually. Public environmental reporting is an outstanding management tool. A commitment to transparency breeds correct and ethical competitiveness in the democratic and liberal world. Investors will increasingly value corporate cultures of transparency as a better guarantee for the preservation of their assets.
We do not only seek and measure our internal successes. It is equally important to us to create environmental awareness among our customers, distributors and suppliers. For nearly a decade, Aveda has extended the message of Earth Day to the entire month of April in a celebration of awareness and education called Earth Month.
This focused, activist-oriented campaign is implemented across our network of distributors and more than 8,500 salons, spas and retail stores. It is designed to fuel activism and raise public awareness recognizing that we all play a vital role in the quality of our own life and that of future generations, and must take responsibility for our actions.
This year, Aveda focused its Earth Month efforts on global warming. Climate change threatens to destroy 30 per cent of all habitats within 100 years. With them will go many irreplaceable plant and animal species, the cultural traditions and health of communities that rely on them, even the medicines of tomorrow. Individuals can help minimize global warmings devastating effects by understanding its causes, and taking action.
In past years we have raised awareness and money and generated actions for forestry, clean free-flowing water, debt-for- nature swaps and other issues related to the protection of biodiversity. Each year more and more people join our campaigns and take time to learn about the issues.
In February 2002, Aveda played a role in organizing a symposium hosted by the Medicinal Plant Work Group-Plant Conservation Alliance, a US Fish and Wildlife Consortium to bring industry together with Native American spiritual leaders, environmentalists, conservationists, academics, botanists and government officials to take a serious look at the industrys sourcing methods in the name of protecting the Earths biodiversity, and to offer more viable, long-term alternatives for sourcing and using plant materials.
The two-day Symposium was the first in the United States to address the fundamental environmental issues commonly overlooked in the herbal, medicinal and personal care products industries: the sustainable cultivation and harvesting of plant ingredients, the importance of traceability, and the long-term impact on productivity. Symposium participants urged industry to take responsibility for the health of the planet and its people by seeking alternative, sustainable ways to source the ingredients from which it ultimately profits. There was also strong support for increased communication with the general public to raise awareness about the devastating effects of poor growing and harvesting practices by producers of plant-based products.
Aveda believes that nature should not merely be cherished and protected, but emulated as a model of sustainability. There is much to learn from traditional communities about co-existing with nature, caring for it while benefiting from its gifts. Since 1993, we have developed business partnerships with traditional and indigenous peoples who grow and harvest ingredients for use in our products. These partnerships help local communities to develop environmentally sustainable development models, to preserve their culture and to protect natural habitats.
Source of inspiration
Our latest collection of products called Indigenous honours native wisdom. Inspired by some North American native peoples, the first collection is based on three plants cedar, sage and sweetgrass central to their culture. The ingredients are sustainably wildcrafted by Native American families using traditions and wisdom passed down through generations.
This year, Avedas commitment to biodiversity has led us to a unique partnership with the international community. We have joined forces with UNESCO, UNEP, the United Nations Foundation, and an innovative organization, RARE Center for Tropical Conservation, to help conserve some of the worlds most important sites.
This project is focused on six World Heritage sites in four nations: the Sian Ka'an and El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserves in Mexico; Tikal National Park in Guatemala; Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in Honduras; and Komodo and Ujung Kulon National Parks in Indonesia. Home to indigenous peoples, endangered species and botanical wealth, they are irreplaceable sources of biodiversity, human cultural traditions and inspiration. Yet, like many World Heritage sites around the globe, they face mounting threats to their ecological health deforestation, habitat fragmentation, pollution, unsustainable resource use, poverty, and limited financial resources for conservation.
Through targeted local awareness-raising campaigns, sustainable tourism development and catalytic training programmes for local staff and communities, the project aims to help each site mitigate specific threats, while creating a new model that can benefit other globally recognized protected areas.
As we approach the 30th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention this November, we believe it is more important than ever for the international corporate sector to play a role in protecting the worlds cultural and natural heritage. We are proud to be a part of this effort.
Sustainability is a complex concept that inspires multiple definitions. The Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. While this is certainly not the final word on the subject, Aveda operates by this definition for the time being.
Whatever the definition, it seems to us that environmental sustainability concerns breed a business culture that induces economic sustainability. Long-term focus, transparent reporting, fair trade with economically challenged communities and social responsibility are values that will help any business outperform its competitors and return superior value to its shareholders in the true spirit of ethical capitalism in a liberal economy.
Dominique Conseil is President of Aveda.
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Saving the common land | Aiming high | Mighty, but fragile | Walking the talk | Regreening the slopes | For the people | High priorities | Natural beauty | Prospects for WSSD: Towards Johannesburg | Along a steep pathway | The height of trouble | Disneyland or diversity? | Path to discovery | On top of the issue | Peak condition | Swimming upstream | Cloudy future