Lush: ”We can’t plant enough trees to offset all the emissions that are being produced globally”
Creative Buyer Franziska Götz and Product & Development Trainer Vendula Zlamalova share their view on how to improve biodiversity and reduce climate change’s harmful effects on vulnerable suppliers with the help of agroecology and -forestry and carbon insetting.
29 Dec 2023

Franziska Götz is a Creative Buyer and Vendula Zlamalova is a Product and Development Trainer and Compounder  — ”a cosmetic chef” — at Lush. Together, they work on choosing the right suppliers, materials, and quality for the global beauty brand’s product range.

You are at the forefront of sustainability in beauty. If you would point out one question that is the most important for you now, what would you choose?

— We started our journey within the business many years ago and have made huge strides since, Götz shares. But it’s not enough. As a company, our understanding of sustainability is that it does no harm in preserving the status quo. This does not take into account the massive destruction that has already happened, so our approach is a step beyond sustainability and towards regeneration via how we do business. We want to be net positive. So, we are looking into how we can regenerate ecosystems and communities and how we can achieve and incorporate all this through our sourcing because that’s basically where we have the biggest impact.

You’re also talking about insetting and reducing your footprint within your supply chain by, for example, investing in nature-based solutions such as reforestation, agroforestry, renewable energy, and regenerative agriculture. Unlike carbon offsetting, this is quite a new topic. What’s the reason why we don’t hear so much about it? And why do you prioritise insetting?

— This sounds a bit blase but we can’t plant enough trees to offset all the emissions that are being produced globally, Götz continues. For us and similar-minded players, it’s clear that we can’t rely on offsetting, that we instead need to prevent emissions. To do this, we need to look at the origin. What is our impact in terms of, for instance, carbon emissions and water usage? Where does the impact happen? Can we reduce it? Can we prevent it? Or, ideally — can the way we source and the materials we use count towards net positivity? For carbon emissions this would mean that we bind, draw down more carbon than what is being emitted in the production of the materials we buy, and for which there are methods, practices, and proven systems. 

— We’re trying to get materials locally and trying to also support the local communities, especially when it comes to fresh ingredients, such as blueberries, Zlamalova explains.

— We’re also looking at everything, which includes our internal business practices from using regenerative energy to, for instance, the reuse of moulds in manufacturing. On the other end, we also consider the end-of-life of a product after the customer has used it. To get accurate data on where we are, we are working closely with our Supply Chain Impact Team, who gather and analyse this data, but it needs to be said — it is a massive undertaking with a lot of work still to do, Götz shares. She continues:

— This Supply Chain Impact Team also works on specific joint projects with some of our suppliers where we find an opportunity to improve on the status quo together for which they have a dedicated so-called insetting fund. These projects, if successful, will then not just affect one single product’s life cycle, but the Life Cycle Assessment of all the products that the material goes into, which is why we focus on the company’s overall impact rather than prioritising individual products’ LCAs. Equally, there will be a positive impact for the supplier. We will also not be counting all of a project’s impact as our improvements. Instead, if there is a net positive in the carbon balance in total for a supplier, but we’ve only bought, say, 5% of their capacity, we will only account for our share of these 5%. 

— What I’m saying is that we’re very specifically looking at only the quantity that we are actually contributing to by our procurement. We’re very, very clear that any kind of ’double counting’ like this does not happen.

And how do you work with carbon capturing?

— In different ways, Götz explains. One priority is to prevent deforestation and supporting suppliers working together with the environment as this ensures carbon will be captured and stored within nature and prevent it from being released. Agroecology and -forestry, systems of polyculture that can provide a multitude of plants and species and a variety of food and cash crops in a resilient habitat is a big part of that. When cash crops are intermingled into the ecosystem, it has a calculable value which means there is less incentive to destroy and replace them with a different system, for example, based on export-oriented monocultures. 

— Sometimes it’s also seemingly smaller changes, such as reducing or eliminating the use of fertilisers or pesticides, whose production also causes carbon emissions. This can have a huge impact, depending on how much has been used, when farmers can move away from it. It’s also a very good example of a ’win, win, win’ as we see a reduction of pesticide levels in our materials, reducing the health impacts for producers who often don’t have access to appropriate PPE, and the costs for producers go down. There is usually also a lot of learning and capacity building involved — and we also engage in knowledge sharing, and that is also how we learn and progress in our practices. It needs to be said that there is an incredible value to the knowledge that indigenous communities have in regards to living, working and protecting their local ecosystems. Götz shares. She continues:

— In regions where we have already seen widespread deterioration and loss of ecosystems we’re also working directly with farmers who are regenerating landscapes. They are for example looking into water management, retaining water and preventing runoff, which can cause soil erosion. The loss of fertile soil is a huge topic as well, globally — especially if we’re talking about European agriculture.

— One of my favourite examples of this is our olive oil from a cooperative in Spain. One of the farmers said that they had been working with industrialised agriculture practices, putting a lot of fertilisers in and focusing on increasing yields above all. And then, about 20 years ago, their trees were all sick and couldn’t produce any more. And consulted experts said that they couldn’t do anything about it, that on his family’s groves, there was ’nothing to be salvaged’. He and a few other farmers decided to try a regenerative approach. They included biodynamic practices, focusing on what their land and the trees needed, addressing specific areas of concern, always through the lens of agroecology. And then, the same grove turned all around — he is now the biggest producer of the cooperative and it is really excellent olive oil. Their groves also have lots of ground cover, they intercrop with nut trees and other plants, as well as working with insects that come in to work against pests. Another co-op member’s groves didn’t have nearly any soil cover left and in 8 or 9 years they’ve managed to restore around 10 centimetres of soil. It’s a very holistic system and a great example of how working with the land can mean that you’re regenerating and providing the ground for future harvests and agriculture, while also getting a product and ensuring their livelihood. 

— This olive oil supplier is based in Andalusia and they are already one of the most affected regions (by climate change, Ed’s note). Spain was hit very hard with weather catastrophes this year and the impact on this year’s olive oil harvest is an obvious consequence. They have personally seen that they are not as badly affected as their neighbours which is great proof of their work and really impressive. 

— Our organic almond oil is from the same region and they are also working to onboard a lot of local farmers to switch to regenerative agriculture, to prevent the impact of climate change, address it right now, and find methods of working with less water because they know there will be less of it.

Götz shares a well-known fact which is well worth repeating; if you want to understand what your impact is, you need to have transparency back to the feedstock. Otherwise, she and her team would be very limited in working on solutions, if it were not for the direct collaboration with producers and manufacturers.

— A good example for me from this year was one of the raw materials that I work with, where we had very little transparency, which made it difficult to ensure that all our standards were met, or that we had a concrete understanding of our responsibility at origin. It took me about six years to get to the point where I now know where the raw material feedstock is coming from. This was in an industry where for six years, I was told transparency is not possible because it’s a bulk commodity. That was a huge success to get here but we’re still in the development stage of that, because now we are only starting to work with the producers and farmers on the ground, so I can’t go into much more detail yet about our next steps. But collaboration with the supplier, and finding one supplier who was equally committed to the transparency of the whole supply chain was crucial. 

— Lush collaborates often with other suppliers, organisations and a huge variety of other players — which are not bound to certain industries — to drive change, be it in materials sourcing, packaging development, or else.

— For the organic almond oil I mentioned, I brought a protein company on, who we’ve been working with for other materials, Götz shares. Their focus is the high-quality protein supplement market and this is how we could ensure the valorisation for the almond press cake which made it financially viable for us to start using the oil from this regenerative source while keeping costs under control. 

— We also asked a supplier to invent a new soap base for us as we wanted to move away from palm oil, says Zlamalova. They found a solution to remove palm oil, which is of course causing a lot of destruction and negative impacts on the world, and that is a recipe that is open for competitors to use.

Another example of Lush’s collaborative approach is with non-animal testing.

— We do need to provide safe cosmetics to the customers, says Götz. So, we are actively supporting laboratories and the development of alternative testing. We test our raw materials and our products with animal-free, in-vitro test methods and provide that data to the public so that everybody can have access to it to phase out the requirement for animal testing as well as the use of historical data, which is scientifically not very reliable compared to modern, human-relevant testing methods. It’s much better for the safety of the workers who have to deal with the raw materials, as we will always need to be able to provide toxicology testing, irritation testing, and other safety testing, so this is how we’re taking responsibility for our side. We also want to share and bring companies on board, supporting them in finding alternative test methods.

— For everything that we work with, we always have the health and safety data sheets, Zlamalova explains. So if there’s anything particular in synthetics that could be toxic in a higher concentration, we’ve got the sources to read about it and what to use to prevent possible interaction with the skin or eyes.

2024 is here. What are your main topics?

— We always try to come up with new innovations of anything you can think of, Zlamalova continues — and there’s always a lot going on behind the scenes. In the UK, we have Unit 1, where they test a lot of the future innovations that might come. You can sometimes see some of the first specs of it in exclusive products being trial launched for a very short time, such as ’spheres’ of shower gels enveloped in algae which was supposed to be a ’naked’, completely packaging-less product. It was a solution of alginate which acted like a membrane that was preventing the shower gel liquid from spilling. You can then dispose of it, it also dissolves in water, and it doesn’t harm the environment. There’s a lot of development still that needs to be done to make sure it is ready to launch globally. But, again, our product inventors are always testing and trying new things and new ways to come up with an innovation that will help the environment and spark the interest of the customer. 

— Three years ago, Zlamalova continues, we had a lot of reformulations to get rid of, for instance, Lanolin. There’s always an aim to replace things that are insufficient when it comes to the standards in the sourcing of these materials, and the challenge is to keep the same quality of the finished product but make progress towards our overarching goals — to make it more natural, more vegan, and such.

— What’s also important for us is that our product in itself needs less preservatives because it has quite a small water content. We’re filling a lot of raw materials into the product, so the less water we add the less preservatives we need. Quite often, it’s the honey that is the preservative but also acts as an active ingredient for our skincare and haircare, with some products being made with about 50% of honey, says Götz. She adds:

— For the Buying department, we will always continue to work with suppliers and be on the lookout in finding new suppliers, new sources, and new materials. We have a packaging made of cork pots that is reducing carbon emissions by 33 times its own weight. It provides an additional income, is sustainably harvested in the traditional cork forests in Portugal — and is carbon positive when we use it for our shampoo bars. As mentioned, collaboration is a huge part of finding ways how we can improve our impact. Or, technically — which is the goal — to have an overall positive impact in the world!

Key takeaways:

— We can’t plant enough trees to offset all the emissions that are being produced globally

— To understand what your impact is, you need to have transparency back to the feedstock

— Packaging made of cork pots is reducing carbon emissions by 33 times its own weight

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