Mess was lucky enough to get to interview Ruth Andrade and ask her all about her role as Chief Sustainability Officer at Lush over Web summit.
How did you start to do all things environmental and focusing on sustainability?
I started in Brazil. I grew up there, in the city but I spent a lot of time on the coast and in the rainforest. My ‘awakening’ was in 2000-2001 through animal rights and veganism. I felt this really strong connection, to the environment, planet, animals and then became vegan for 12 years.
The entry point was when it led me to think more sustainably and get more involved with activism, mainly animal rights activism. I come from a very progressive city in Brazil.
Already in the late ’90s early 2000s in Brazil they were implementing some quite substantial and interesting environmental projects. My first environmental project was to set up recycling for some buildings. We hired a van and did a little exertion to where they would manually sort through all of the waste and recycling. We learnt what went where and what could be recycled etc and I remember that moment was key.
It planted a seed of what I wanted to do, how could I make more of these systems happen. When I moved to London to pursue a dream of mine to live there I was working at a completely unrelated job – an English teacher and translator and doing a little bit of yoga.
Because I had these dreams of environmental passions and sustainably I didn’t want to work for just anyone, at a pub or somewhere that sold meat. So I went specifically to Lush because I already knew about the animal rights policies and luckily I got a job as a sales assistant.
I earned less in London than in Brazil but then one day the owner of Lush – Mark Constantine, (who is still my direct boss came in), and I just grilled him, I asked about packaging, it didn’t have a number so I couldn’t recycle it, and we didn’t have a recycling collection in the store, are we weren’t using energy-efficient lighting. I just kept telling him things and he turned around and said ‘can you put everything on a list’ and I’ll get someone to contact you about putting these things in place. And he did! The following week I got a call from a director and I got the job of an environmental officer – almost by accident!
What were the first things you worked on when you started to work at Lush?
So back in 2004, It was recycling, waste management. I remember that we were trying to find the best service for the store, set up a take-back team, new efficient manufacturing for the factory. And then we started the ‘take back team’ that still leads now in the company. They recycle things locally, a well-established system that we are proud of.
We also have a recycling centre called the ‘green hub’, where we have a closed-loop, so our packaging is continuously recycled through our system. That was the first project I did, I spent 4 months solving waste management from the store and within retail and how they could work together.
I had a plan from 2007 – most of which we have completed now! We have switched to 100% recycled plastic for our packaging, put renewable energy in the stores, we were quite early adopters of getting renewable energy.
Lush have started collecting packaging from customers, (pioneers of that). I remember when I think back, it feels crazy, everything in our gift boxes used to be individually wrapped in plastic and now we have eliminated that, millions of plastic eliminated. All Products now come naked. We have tried to convert all our materials, paper, and plastic to recycled, we’re still not at 100% for everything but it been a long but successful journey.
And even things like manufacturing – we have done installation and changing the machinery to be more efficient versions, putting a Bio mess water heater so we could even burn some of our own wood waste and some coconut shells at the time. We have just continued to innovate in different directions. Our operations are the small impact, the large part of the impact is our supply chain – buying recycled materials. In 2009, we started pampering with regenerative agriculture projects for the supply chain, and that’s probably where the biggest impact of our supply chain has happened.
What is your vision / mission at lush?
I think what I bring, and try to promote is really systemic thinking. Being really holistic in our approach to sustainability and regeneration. We use this phrase, ‘leave the world lusher than you found it’, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately and I think the name Lush really captures the essence of ‘Lush’, its thriving, abundant, full of life.
We call it ‘leading with life’ at Lush. This approach is projected through everything we do, for example how we approach preservatives – we use a small or no amount of preservatives, so our products have a shorter shelf life, this is because we want to preserve the life of your skin, a crucial part of your health. We put live ingredients inside our products, like cucumber, banana fresh mangos.
Another aspect is how we tackle diversity in the supply chain – this idea to fight animal testing, we really honour the lives of animals and really honour that species. At Lush we believe they have the right to life. I think creating life, respecting life on the planet and the rights of those animals is what Lush is all about. It influences so much decision making and I really love this systemic thinking.
This approach makes it really hard for lush as a brand to communicate but I think it influences so many of our actions. Next year we are going to focus a lot on communicating how we are supporting diversity and life through our supply chain. We have many projects with conservation organisations, so I think it’s this systemic holistic thinking that I think is most important and I try to bring it a lot at Lush for all visions.
I saw a lot of Planetary environmental regeneration over on your Instagram, so can you tell me how the people who read this can do something as well? Maybe they can do something to contribute to that regeneration – what is your plan for it?
I think the first thing is the idea is that regeneration goes beyond sustainability.
It’s beyond doing good or better its really transformational, it’s really about for me, increasing the capacity of the planet to hold more life. And to hold a more complex life. So how can we fulfil our role as humans and part of the evolutional role of helping life to create more life?
So there is something very basic and existential about this generation and we have gone so far in the destruction of the ecosystem, that just sustaining or doing no harm isn’t enough anymore. We really need to start repairing, restoring the capacity of whole landscapes. And everything we do is impacting that – so the raw materials we use or anything a consumer buys that is linked to deforestation, eating meat is a classic one, forests are such important ecosystems that are so well developed and connected and preforming services, water, wildlife that to even think that something we are doing is destroying those ecosystems it just doesn’t make any sense.
So how can we live on the planet that still allows all the other species to live? I look at it as me as a consumer in my day to day life how can I support the ‘wilding of life’ on the planet. From all aspects such from as what I wear, to me at Lush. I have a really strong commitment to either second hand or organic cotton. All the cotton we use at lush is organic and regenerative cotton, restoring the water and soil. Things like being vegan and not eating meat, how we build our houses, what kind of transport we use.
It’s all about if we want to be complicit to an economy that destroying things or to be complicit to an economy that regenerating life, through food, fibre, through shelter, cosmetics we buy.
The second thing I always say is Individual action is not enough and we need to be a bit careful to promote the solution to our environmental problem to individuals. Not taking a plastic bag, or switching off their lights, shorter showers or not flying. Of course, those things are important, they add some integrity to the course but we really need to start organising ourselves collectively, real collective action. Because just personal action alone is not going to really shift the systems. We need to demand from companies, make sure we are voting right, organising collectively. I think we need to change the narrative of self-interest, From individualism to a narrative that’s much more collective and that people understands they are part of a bigger movement. Therefore they have influence but are also being influenced.
These are not small issues, it’s a whole chain of changes that need to happen. It all starts with awareness, people need to be more educated. What do you say to people who still ignore or don’t believe in climate change?
Talk to the communities that are already on the front line of collapse. Situations of draught that are lasting, communities that are in areas that are desertifying. We work and fund people in Bangladesh that are already seeing the effects Salination of their crop and sea level rises. We have direct experience of how extreme weather effects are disrupting our supply chains – not being able to get access to one of the key ingredients in our best selling products, or shops having to close because of typhoon alerts.
I think we don’t have to believe the science anymore, or the theory. We have enough ‘felt’ experience of how the climate is changing, and how it’s getting warmer. In Brazil, you can see how intense the storms are, more water that just falls and falls and falls, the intensity and the heat it didn’t use to be like that in November – a lot is already being felt. The world economic forum every year publishes global risks. They have a global risk framework, last year all top 5 risks on the list were environmental risks. So it’s not just the scientists it’s an excepted reality. I think the doubt now is how far are we and how much time we have.
If you were to advise an average person, who doesn’t know much about sustainability, what they can do to stop climate change and help the environment?
I think there are a few important things now.
Find something that really moves you, and then take that as a catalyst. For me it was Veganism and animals for other people it might be ocean plastics, deforestation. Then get to know more about that issue, for everyone at home, of course, we can take a look at our lifestyle and then do all the simple things to change. Such as changing our energy supply, reducing our consumption in other areas. Changing your transport, changing your diets, more plant-based foods, a fairly easy change that makes a big impact.
Two other things that I said, collective impact, solidarity – connecting to groups that are already at the forefront, getting on the platforms, talking to people, getting actions moving. For example, both in the UK and Europe there is legislation being discussed about deforestation in supply chains and citizens can be involved – send a signal that we want things changed, we need legislation to support this and level the playing field.
Big corporations don’t stick to their promises of deforestation so we need to get active in the change, be a voice, write to your MP’s, elect people with progressive policies. And get involved at a local level. It’s very easy to lose hope, and we’re running out of time but the changes we are proposing will make a huge difference, a better society and civilisation.
You support a lot of young leaders. What do you think the role is of these ‘Green radicals’? They have strong opinions and are not afraid to speak about it.
I think it’s crucial. We have a generation at the moment, now that are the ‘baby boomers’ who have gained material wealth from the environmental disruption. They are probably not very likely to change. But now we have a new generation that’s future is being completely compromised. The new generation have really nothing to lose so they are putting it all in and it’s important to listen to them- it’s their future, we are reducing their ability to have a stable climate, economy and future.
It’s important to give them a platform and not dismiss them or treat them as children. We need to really engage with them eye to eye, they need support to get things done. We need to be really mindful, they are the people we are screwing that future up for so it’s important to support them in their fight. Be engaging and supporting these young activist groups and giving them funding to make a change.
There is a lot of stigma among older people not being as focused on sustainability and battling climate change – what do you think needs to change?
That generation of ‘baby boomers’ tend to be the people at the top of companies at the moment. Things need to change through big companies, with CEO’s, founders, important leaders, people at the top of their ladder. What is needed to shift their mindset from just caring about profit to really caring about the values and purpose.
- Investment and money. Putting pressure to take the money away from things such as fossil fuels.
- Internal approach. People organising change themselves – for example. at Amazon, they only started doing anything environmentally conscious when people actively inside the company started demanding change. Not being afraid to say things – internal activism. Ceos are humans so if we can connect to them as humans we can make these shifts happen.
What does sustainability mean to you?
I think the way I define sustainability is to do no harm. To really live within our limits and do no harm.
And then what I say is we can take the next step to regeneration, which is to help expand those limits, increase the capacity of the ecosystems to hold life, to restore and regenerate to help create more life which goes well beyond doing no harm.
It really requires us to look at things from a completely different lens that is much more systemic and doesn’t fit in the current economic climate. It requires us to redesign from a much more ecological approach where I do see that we are all in this together and that the economy is inside a limited planet and not the other way around.
So for me, that’s the difference and for me, I don’t talk about ‘sustainability’ a lot because I think sustainability is within too much the current of reductionist thinking. I like to invite myself and others to think about how can we really change the way we think about things and really be aware of the effects of our actions. We need companies that aren’t just doing good but that are supporting communities, ecosystems and people to do the same kind of work so we can grow to support life. That’s regeneration.
Thank you so much for your time Ruth, and everything you do. It’s so amazing and you have such a big heart. It’s a pleasure to speak to you and you inspire so many.
Ruth Andrade – Chief sustainability officer at Lush
Images: Green House PR