• Transform magazine
  • August 25, 2019

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Sustainable futures: The Body Shop

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Known for its ethical trading and business practices, the Body Shop’s commitment to sustainability is a quality imbued throughout the entirety of the organisation. How have its policies changed the cosmetics sector as a whole? Amy Sandys reports

Using natural ingredients for cosmetic purposes dates its popularity back to ancient Egypt. Application of black pigment around the eyes is characteristic of the intricately decorated human forms adorning busts from this period; the later Roman period saw women apply heavy amounts of kohl and chalk powder to achieve the effect of larger eyes and paler skin.

With the passing of time, so came more sophisticated manufacturing process; for some, cosmetic products became a daily essential. Although the second world war saw a decline in their availability and choice, the post-1945 period heralded a new age of consumption, including a more fervent appetite for makeup. Yet, the decades that followed also signalled a rise in the environmental consciousness of consumers. Customers called for the market to improve sourcing methods and the lack of product diversity was questioned. In 1976, borne out of an entrepreneurial spirit and inspired travelling experiences, Dame Anita Roddick founded the inaugural Body Shop store – returning to the natural principles on which cosmetics were developed.

From the beginning, the Body Shop ensured corporate social responsibility was at the heart of its manifesto. Previous cosmetics brands were mass-produced, based on unsustainable products such as oil and failed to implement effective social programmes for its source workers. Through its niche in the market, the Body Shop used a unique approach to CSR as its main selling point by providing customers with more in-depth knowledge on the process behind, and products involved in, cosmetic development.
It also introduced a wider variety of products, such as the now-famous Body Butter range.

Indeed, a focus on enriching its source communities is a pledge stretching back to the Body Shop’s inaugural years; in 1987, it launched the pioneering ‘Trade Not Aid’ programme. Although now formally known as Community Fair Trade, the principle remains the same – sourcing high quality ingredients from expert farmers, in exchange for a fair wage and an impetus for social change. Community Fair Trade is based around three main objectives: to source high-quality ingredients, gifts and accessories in a fair way; to bring benefits to smallholders, artisans and their communities, and to share stories that inform, confirm and inspire the company’s mission.

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Following this, heightened awareness of cosmetic testing methods, often involving animals, led to calls for a new approach, of which the Body Shop was at the forefront. In 1996, the Body Shop was the first international cosmetics company to sign up to the Humane Cosmetics Standard, and the company has always committed to a no animal testing pledge, as well as the sale of vegetarian products. In 2012, it helped launch Cruelty Free International, which aims to protect millions of animals from product testing.

The Body Shop took its pledge for sustainability even further at the beginning of 2016, with an announcement of 14 new sustainability targets the company will meet by 2020. Based largely around mitigating the company’s use of fossil fuels in its products and shop frontages, its pledges include reducing carbon emissions annually by 10% in Body Shop stores, and ensuring 100% of its stores are powered with sustainable or carbon-balanced energy sources.

In light of the company’s links to fair trade communities, it was also pledged that any natural ingredients used in the Body Shop’s products would be 100% traceable by 2020, and 250,000 hours would be invested in enriching the biodiversity of its source communities.

The Body Shop’s chief executive, Jeremy Schwartz, says, “We have set ourselves a significant goal to be the world’s most ethical and truly sustainable global business. For us, being truly sustainable means shaping our business to work in line with the planet’s natural systems so they can replenish and restore themselves.”

He adds, “With our commitment, we’re challenging ourselves to go further than we’ve ever gone before to make a real, sustainable and positive difference. We want our Enrich Not Exploit commitment to inspire a new generation of customers, supporters and especially millennials who truly care about how a company operates.”

However, despite an unfailing commitment to CSR, an issue at odds with the sustainable ethics of the Body Shop is its ownership by L’Oreal, a global conglomerate with a net worth of around $1,300bn to which the Body Shop was sold in 2006 by Roddick, for $650m. Widespread shock and sense of betrayal were cited by some, who wondered how a company founded on such ethical principles could be sold to an organisation not known as forerunners of sustainability and environmental commitment.

Yet, in a 2006 interview with the Guardian, Roddick says, “Watch this space with L’Oréal. It has bought a big company to look at alternative testing methods and they’re developing it. It uses in-vitro testing and culture testing. It’s very, very, interesting and they know (because of the changes in European law) that everything they do has got to be aligned to that.”

And, in light of recent initiatives by charities such as Oxfam to highlight the environmental and social efforts of global brands, brand sustainability is being placed at the top of the agenda for investors. L’Oreal is the latest conglomerate to commit to a move which will mitigate its environmental impact – in 2015, it achieved a 56% reduction in carbon emissions, and since 2013 has not tested finished products or ingredients on animals.

While CSR has been ingrained into the Body Shop’s manifesto since it began, it faces competition from the ever-increasing numbers of sustainable brands in the cosmetic marketplace. The Body Shop, however, has heritage and unfailing commitment to CSR on its side – 40 years later, it is still going strong.