We recently sat down with Simon Locke, Sustainable Design Innovation Manager at The Body Shop to talk all things sustainability.
How has the role of business changed over the past two years?
There has been dramatic change in the last couple of years in terms of sustainability and social change. Businesses are beginning to recognise the climate crisis that we are in, as well as the fact that governments alone cannot and will not tackle these issues. As a result, organisations are now stepping up and raising standards. Lots of companies are also understanding that consumerism needs to change and that continuing with the current model is not an option.
Can business be a force for good?
At The Body Shop we believe that business absolutely has to be a force for good. This is perhaps where we are different; we were talking about businesses being a force for good back in 1976. It’s always been there, from back when we had one shop, to the present day, in which we have stores in 73 countries around the world.
Our Community Fair Trade programme was built on the fact that developing countries don’t need aid, they need trade – this is something that Anita (Roddick, The Body Shop Founder) was very clear about from day one. This programme really aims to enable communities to develop sustainable trade and sustainable futures. We managed to demonstrate this with our own trade, sourcing and selling products in a way that also benefits these communities.
One of the interesting things that has happened since Natura & Co has taken over The Body Shop is that we have now changed our articles of association at Companies House to become a B Corp. This means that we are legally bound to place equal emphasis on people, planet and profit. It’s been a quiet change, but a big one. Therefore, when we have monthly gatherings as a business, we share our performance not only from a sales point of view, but also from a people and planet point of view too. We hope that The Body Shop has proven that a business can be profitable whilst also driving positive change around the world.
What does sustainable innovation mean for you?
The objective of my role is to reinvigorate a culture of informed risk-taking and to facilitate ideas and adventures within packaging, design and systems thinking at The Body Shop.
It’s my responsibility to develop a pipeline of ideas focused on packaging and materials, but also around new ways of selling products. This pipeline will see me collaborate and connect with a mix of suppliers, startups, academics, designers and influencers who are all looking at innovations that link the circular economy.
Being outside of the standard business processes has given me the freedom to go out and have conversations with different groups of people. I introduce ideas and questions and then hand them over to other departments to take forwards, enabling them to get involved and be excited about what we are trying to achieve. It’s so important to involve people in sustainability initiatives. Employees can often feel that they are told to do or not do certain things without understanding why, and this is one of the main reasons why lots of organisations struggle to integrate their sustainability agendas. On this topic, there’s a really interesting group called The Diplomatic Rebels, who talk about a number of principles to consider when driving change, whilst also providing practical steps around tackling sustainable innovation challenges and building engagement.
What are the best examples of sustainable innovation you have seen, both internally and externally?
The loop programme by Terra Cycle is potentially a game changer. Described as ‘Amazon meets the milkman’, it offers a refilling model that is sustainable and, crucially, convenient. It’s a great example of a company combining past practices with modern technology to create something brilliant.
At The Body Shop we have launched our new initiative, Community Fair Trade Recycled Plastic which won the Ethical Corporation award for Plastic Innovation. This initiative intends to tackle the socio-environmental issues of plastic, working with suppliers in Bangalore, to provide more sanitary working conditions and a fair price to a large population who work as waste pickers. In conjunction, we have also bought back our in-store recycling programme. In the short term we ensure that all plastic deposited back to us is recycled, but as part of our longer term strategy we want to close the loop and keep these plastics within our supply chain. We kickstarted this in September by launching refills in our Bond Street store. This is something we did many years ago, and we were the first ever retailer to do so, so it’s brilliant to see us returning to that. Again there are plans to scale this in terms of the products we offer for refill and the number of stores we offer it in too. One thing I’ve learnt is that you have to test things out before you go to scale, no matter how excited you are! Test the concept, prove it works, get feedback and go forward.
Could you tell us more about your Marie Claire sustainability award?
We won this award in recognition of our World Bio-Bridges Mission. We set up this programme in 2016 to help protect and connect endangered habitats around the world, ensuring that wildlife have corridors of protected habitat to travel safely through, avoiding deforested and developed regions. During the programme, we funded 14 different projects around the world, protecting over 90 million square meters of habitat. We helped fund the research into what has now been confirmed as the world’s rarest great ape, the Tapanuli orangutan, and it has just been confirmed by an independent study there is now the largest population of the redshanked douc in a Vietnamese forest that we helped to protect. There have been so many great achievements through this programme and its very close to my heart. People sometimes think that habitat loss only happens in faraway countries and not on their doorstep, which just isn’t the case. So last Christmas we started funding the Woodland Trust on a project, aiming to highlight the fact that habitat loss is occurring everywhere and is a big issue in the UK too.
What are your sustainability goals for 2020?
By 2025 we aim to have 100% of our packaging recycled or returned to store. In addition, one of the expectations of being a B-Corp is that you improve your business every time you recertify, so as a result we have set a number of internal improvement plans, linking back to employee engagement, working environments and other important issues, not just our products. Along with our parent company, Natura &Co, we have just committed to becoming net carbon zero by 2030. We are also currently finalising the 2030 sustainability strategy that will be launched internally next year – you’ll see it externally in 2021. It’s bold, challenging but hugely exciting and transformative. Watch this space!
What makes you feel optimistic for the future?
There are so many inspiring and energising things happening right now: the climate emergency youth strikes, the activation of activism, Extinction Rebellion... As a real example of how the Body Shop is involved in activism, a number of our stores have been supporting the climate youth strikes, offering face painting and helping with the banners etc. We also welcomed Extinction Rebellion into our offices twice to talk to employees about their cause. As a business we have signed up to the Business Declares A Climate Emergency network; as we recognise our place in the climate emergency. There’s s initiatives that we’re doing ourselves, but we wanted to give our employees the opportunity to find out more and to join in if they wanted to. In addition, the rise of conscious consumerism alongside this activism make me feel like transformation is really coming; I feel hopeful.
Connect with Simon Locke.
Our next interview from the series is coming soon and will feature Sir Tim Smit.