Natural beauty

Dominique Conseil
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.

Founding vision
Horst Rechelbacher founded the Aveda Corporation in 1978 with the vision that, in the chemical world of hair salons, someone had to bring products to stylists and their clients that were healthy to apply and consume – delivering the expected beauty result but not at the expense of body balance and well-being. In his view, such products could only come from Mother Nature but should not be manufactured at her expense.

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.

Constant review
Aveda employs a dedicated Environmental Sustainability team that constantly reviews our operating procedures to ensure that we are making on-going improvements – and leading by example. It publishes a quarterly newsletter that informs our internal staff and external customers of developing environmental initiatives – both inside and outside the company – and encourages individual participation. Among its members is the company’s herbalist and ‘medicinal plant conservation watchdog’ who seeks out organic and biodynamic farmers and harvesters with sustainable practices around the world. He also now tracks the work of our Research and Development teams from the onset of their projects to ensure that every ingredient we use is fully traceable. Both the herbalist and the Environmental Sustainability team have the power to block a product’s development if it does not meet Aveda’s mission requirements. Operating a green business means greening suppliers and partners as well. It requires constant vigilance and communication to obtain outsourced components that satisfy the standards we set for the finished product.

Earth Month
Over the past year, our packaging team focused on improving our plastic bottles. They worked with our suppliers to increase the post-consumer recycled content of our bottles to an unprecedented level of 80 per cent – from an already industry-leading 45 per cent. This increase translates into a saving of nearly 150 tonnes of virgin high-density polyethylene (HDPE) in the more than 16 million bottles we use annually. If we followed the industry standard and produced bottles from virgin HDPE, we would need approximately 415 tonnes of virgin plastic a year; instead we require only 80 tonnes.

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 warming’s 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 industry’s sourcing methods in the name of protecting the Earth’s 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.

Emulating nature
In 1997 Aveda discovered that the sandalwood oil in its Love Pure-Fume was not 100 per cent traceable: the majority of Indian sandalwood is being unsustainably harvested – in some cases, poached – from forests across East India. We immediately suspended production and spent the next three years seeking out a sustainable source. In January 2002, we re-launched the product with fully traceable oil, sustainably harvested from trees in Western Australia. We trust we will have a fully traceable source of Indian sandalwood oil within a few months, thanks to the cooperation of the Government of India.

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.
It is madness to believe that biodiversity can decrease for ever without contributing to our own demise as a species
One such group is the Yawanawa tribe in Brazil who provide a natural plant pigment called uruku, used in our lipsticks and in our botanical line of colour-enhancing shampoos and conditioners. In the Tambopata region of Peru, we work with Conservation International and the Ese'eja community to obtain Brazil nuts that are processed into protein and then used in our shampoos, conditioners and treatments. Another project involves the Quebradeiras de Coco, women who collect babassu nuts – whose oil is turned into a gentle cleansing agent which Aveda is using to replace many of the existing cleansing agents in its shampoos, and facial and body cleansers. An important side benefit is to decrease our dependence on coconut materials, thus reducing the excessive world demand that leads producing countries to convert rainforests into coconut plantations.

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, Aveda’s 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 world’s 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 world’s 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.

Temperance and humility
It is about commitment from senior management. When environmental sustainability concerns are rooted in the origin of a project, there is little or no cost penalty. Both nature and virtuous capitalism teach temperance and cost-consciousness. It is also about humility and a willingness to share shortcomings, as well as successes, for everyone’s benefit. As more industries find out that ‘nature works’ for both sustainability and the bottom line, they will change the world

Dominique Conseil is President of Aveda.


This issue:
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

Complementary articles in other issues:
Attila Molnar: Global housekeeping (Chemicals and the environment) 2002
Anita Roddick: Multi-local business (Beyond 2000) 2000
Shoichiro Toyoda: Driving Change (Transport and Communications) 2001
AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and natural resources: Forest products

Complementary report:
Mountain Watch Report