”The beauty industry is in a prime position to create a supply chain that works with life and not against it”
On why regenerative skincare is the only way forward
10 May 2021

Ruth Andrade describes herself as an activist and catalyst for regeneration. She’s currently working for Lush Cosmetics in the UK and Germany. Starting there as a sales assistant, with a science background, she went on to become strategy lead for the Earth Care team and help develop their strategies for leaving the world, as they call it, ”Lusher than we found it”.

— We’re a purveyor of fresh handmade cosmetics with an activist soul. We have been pioneers in weaving regeneration into supply chains, and invented solid cosmetics like shampoo bars, she tells.

Here’s her story on how the British cosmetics retailer, founded by trichologist Mark Constantine and his wife Mo Constantine in 1995 and now running almost 1,000 stores all over the world, implemented a regenerative mindset into the production. And how you can do the same.

It is important to start by framing regeneration. Even if we zeroed carbon emissions now or stopped all biodiversity loss, the climate lag means we are locked into climate chaos for the next decades and with only 4% of mammals being wild, being sustainable is clearly not enough. The time has come to create conditions for complex life to continue to flourish, this means preserving, restoring, and regenerating ecosystems, while deeply changing the human presence on the planet.

At Lush, about 12 years ago, we started partnering with communities and organisations that were applying a more holistic approach to agriculture. One of the first projects we supported within this approach had their farm and demonstration centre right next to a monoculture pineapple farm. One side was dry, barren, almost devoid of life, except for the pineapple plants growing due to chemical mix of fertilisers and pesticides. The other, multiple species, of trees, herbs, plants, birds, cover crops, mushrooms in abundance, and then also pineapple. It was clear that there was a different way of doing things much more aligned to creating a lusher world. We are still sourcing moringa oil from that project’s network of farmers in Ghana.

Because of the amount of oils, butters, essences, fragrance materials, flowers, and herbs traditionally used in cosmetics, the beauty industry is in a prime position to create a supply chain that works with life and not against it. From creating opportunities for livelihoods on the buffer zones of protected areas as alternatives to poaching and deforestation, buying salt from salt pans involved in bird conservation to producing hydro-powered ylang ylang oil in agroforestry systems as an alternative to palm, every natural or naturally-derived material we source has the potential to be regenerative. 

The journey is never as smooth as we would like it to be. In the last 12 years, we have invested significant resources, and also have had our share of mistakes. As more companies adopt these practices, we are able to reduce the cost of implementation, of getting access to markets for some more niche materials, and for much needed economies of scale around logistics. A few years ago, there was more skepticism, now it is blatant that this is also out of self-interest. The supply of natural materials is already being affected by extreme weather events, long draughts, loss of habitats, and so on. Investing in the resilience of supply chains, by investing in what the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, at the University of Coventry in the UK, call ”stabilisation agriculture”, is paramount. 

We are now able to create packaging that sequesters carbon dioxide, paper that restores the Golden Eagle habitat, fragrance materials that funds forest protection through collaboration, and a financial incentive to people already working with regeneration. If companies are interested in starting on this journey, it is worth doing a deep dive into the materials they use: where they come from, which ones are at risk of deforestation, which ones come from biodiversity hotspots. Then choose one or two to invest time and money in sourcing from suppliers with commitment to ecological practices, learn as much as one can from this initial work, and use that learning to build the capacity of designers and buyers, so it is easier to scale to other materials.

Regeneration is a destination of travel, it will take learning, engaging, and commitment to the vision that it is possible to do business led by life.