Core values that change the world

How Lush Cosmetics and West Elm commit to sustainable business practices

“Grassroots Mission: The Journey to Sustainability” did more than feature add-on programs or one-off efforts toward sustainability on stage Sunday at NRF 2020 Vision: Retail’s Big Show; it highlighted brands that have been in it for the long haul, weaving concepts and commitments such as ethical sourcing, handcrafted products, fair trade and reduced packaging into the very being of who they are.

Jennifer Walsh, founder of Beauty Bar and Walk with Walsh Media, brought Heather Deeth, manager of ethical buying with Lush Cosmetics North America, and Jennifer Gootman, VP of social innovation and VP of corporate social responsibility for West Elm, to the conversation. Deeth and Gootman each briefly shared their company’s ongoing efforts, and then fielded a handful of questions from Walsh.

Lush is a billion-dollar global beauty brand from the United Kingdom. It has 900 shops — 250 in the United States and Canada — and a significant digital presence. Lush North America also is vertically integrated, owning its own retail locations, manufacturing and distributing its own products in Canada, and sourcing from farms in Arizona, Guatemala, Uganda and Peru.

At Lush, we’re creating a cosmetics revolution to save the planet. We all need to participate.

Heather Deeth, Lush Cosmetics North America

In terms of sustainability as part of the business, Deeth said, “we’re really fortunate, because we have six values that have been with our business since the very, very start.” That includes stringent policies against animal testing, fresh cosmetics with production dates, ethical buying, a 100 percent vegetarian product line (80 percent vegan), a focus on handmade items and “naked” packaging.

Ethical buying stands out, she said, because of the enormous scope of products and ingredients involved. The shared values and transparency go beyond tier 1 suppliers. Long-term partnerships are important, as are direct sourcing as much as possible and a “going beyond” policy that extends past just signing off on codes of conduct to explore entire ecosystems, the labor supply chain and more.

“At Lush, we’re creating a cosmetics revolution to save the planet,” Deeth said. “I actually think we need a revolution … . We all need to participate.”

As for West Elm, Gootman took the audience back to the company’s founding in 2002 in Brooklyn with a simple motto of being “a little greener every day.” The journey into ethical production and responsible materials has continued, especially as West Elm has transitioned from furniture to lifestyle brand. It began investing in artisans, for example, and in 2014, became the first home retailer to become Fair Trade Certified. In 2016, West Elm set company-wide, public goals for responsibly sourced cotton and wood. And in 2018, it brought worker wellbeing vision programs to 20,000 factory workers and became the first retailer to launch the Nest Ethically Handcrafted Seal on products.

“It’s been an evolution, and it’s been a journey,” Gootman said. “I think for a lot of retailers that are really interested in this space, that’s important to recognize. Not everything happens at once. You can evolve and learn and figure out what’s material to your business and develop it from there. If I could say what has made us successful in this space, it is that it’s core to our business, it’s embedded in our product and it reaches our customers directly.”

The panelists offered other bits of sourcing wisdom. Gootman said it had been helpful to build relationships with independent third-party certifications and others. She also noted that sustainability efforts must reach across all core company functions to be successful and drive value.

Deeth spoke about the importance of seeing economic trade as a stabilizer for many communities. “It’s not a charity thing,” she said.

And one last thing: The work is constantly evolving. “We’re really problem solvers,” Gootman said. “And there’s no shortage of problems in retail to tackle.”

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