Q&A With LUSH Cosmetics Australia and New Zealand

At the Association for Sustainability in Business, it’s our mission to connect and collaborate with businesses and individuals passionate about sustainable business practices.

LUSH Cosmetics is one of the leaders in the health and beauty industry dedicated to minimising waste and focusing on the power of local buying.

We spoke with Elisia Gray, Buyer at LUSH Cosmetics Australia and New Zealand about LUSH’s sustainable business practices, the sLush fund and what makes LUSH a little different.

Q. What are some of LUSH’s green initiatives?

A. Sustainability is at the core of what we do at LUSH. In 2007 we created Charity Pot Hand and Body Lotion to raise money for small grassroots charities. Community contribution is entrenched in our values and part of being an ethical business with a strong sense of social responsibility. 100% of sales (minus the GST) is donated to fund grassroots charities and Not For Profit projects working on animal welfare, human rights and environmental issues.

Our 5 Pot Program encourages customers to recycle by offering a free face mask in exchange for five empty LUSH pots. We send these used black pots to TerraCycle who recycle and repurpose traditionally difficult to recycle plastics.

We’ve also tackled the environmental issues that surround the bottled water industry by banning the use of single-use plastic water bottles in January 2014 and the use of disposable coffee cups from December 2014 across the Australian business.

Q. What impacts are the cosmetics industry having on the environment and what are the long-term effects of these practices?

A. Cosmetic packaging generates an enormous amount of waste, with millions of tonnes ending up in landfills each year. By 2050, it’s estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

LUSH is leading the way in innovative solid products, which eliminate the need for packaging altogether. Over 35 percent of our products are totally unpackaged, or as we affectionately call them, “Naked”. Our naked solid shampoo bars, conditioners, bath bombs and massage bars save millions of plastic bottles from being produced, transported and disposed of every year. At a time of increased plastic pollution and dwindling resources, there’s a chance to offer balance by offering choice to customers.

When we can’t eliminate packaging completely, like in the case of shower gels or gift boxes, we only use recycled and recyclable materials.

Q. What makes LUSH different?

A. At LUSH we see ourselves as cosmetics grocers with our fresh, handmade and inventive products loaded with the freshest ingredients and essential oils. We were founded in 1995 in the United Kingdom by a group of animal and environmental activists who didn’t want to leave their ethics at home when they went to work.

LUSH is different in that we are and will always be a campaigning company. We believe in standing up for animal welfare, environmental protection and supporting human rights, and we believe it is our responsibility to do so.

Q. How does LUSH’s ethical buying work?

A. We put an enormous amount of care into every product we make, and it’s important for us to work with suppliers who do the same. When sourcing ingredients for our products we like to know where they come from, how they’re made and how they impact the communities that produce them. To look into these questions, we have a dedicated Ethical Buying team that works hard researching and meeting with suppliers and producers to ensure that they – and the materials they sell – meet our standards.

Our buyers work to find local sources within our own communities, but when this isn’t possible, they travel worldwide to visit potential suppliers. On these trips, they trace the ingredients journey from planting to harvest to processing to ensure the process is ethical from start to finish. Through these visits, our buyers build close relationships with growers and producers, while helping to maintain sustainable practices and fair conditions for workers.

Q. Tell us a bit more about the ‘Slush Fund’

A. The Sustainable LUSH Fund (SLush) was established in November 2010 with the idea of moving our ethical buying practices beyond simply buying fairly traded ingredients, to develop supportive partnerships with the communities that produce them. The SLush Fund has enabled LUSH to go beyond a sustainable organic alternative and conventional agriculture to permaculture projects.

The mechanics of the SLush Fund are straightforward: alongside the amount LUSH spends on raw materials and packaging each year, up to £1m is donated to the fund.​ For the year ended 30th June 2017 SLush raised a total of £1,465,000 predominately to permaculture farms and to some of our suppliers to enable them to become more sustainable.

Mehmet Cetinkaya, 53 years old, airs the rose petals as they are left to dry on the factory floor. He has worked at the Sebat factory for 16 years. His son also works at the factory.

Q. What can other businesses learn from LUSH’s sustainable initiatives?

A. You don’t always need enormous gestures when you’re getting started. Incremental changes that affect daily behaviour are the best way to build it up – like when we gave staff members reusable water bottles or KeepCups. Seeing the momentum that builds can give a business more confidence to take that next step in reducing their impacts. If it is built slowly and authentically, businesses might feel emboldened to take more impactful steps towards social change and standing up for what they value.

Q. LUSH’s top three tips for sustainable buying?

1. Conduct regular farm and factory visits

By conducting regular farm and factory visits we are able to establish a relationship with suppliers built trust and collaboration. We encourage suppliers to tell us about their product and brand history along with any challenges they face. We reassure suppliers that we are willing to work with them and encourage open dialogue.

This discourse often results in LUSH becoming passionate about the issues our suppliers are passionate about too!

2. Think global and act local

Where we can, we buy local and aim to work with growers and producers. LUSH is unique in that we manufacture our own cosmetics here in Villawood, Sydney. Our staff are a diverse group, both culturally and socially, and we have a deep connection to the local community,
so it makes sense to apply the same values to the way we do business. We’ll often have suppliers stop by our office to drop off samples or talk about new developments in their business.

3. Apply permaculture principles to your business practices

At LUSH we work with suppliers who have the shared aim of fair pay, decent working conditions and protection of the animals, people and the environment.

We apply permaculture principles to our business practices which are;

  • Fair share
  • Care for people
  • Care for earth

It is a long term aim at LUSH to move beyond sustainability and become an agent of ecological change and regeneration.

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