As climate change literacy grows globally, the world is waking up to the carbon footprint of cosmetics. As an industry with high levels of waste and plastic pollution and unsustainable consumption of natural resources, so-called ‘clean,’ ‘green,’ and ‘blue’ beauty is beginning to emerge as a sustainability solution. These products refrain from using harmful, harsh chemicals and are supposedly kinder to the planet’s health and our own.
Lush was founded in 1995 as an ethical beauty brand set on creating sustainable products while empowering and protecting people, animals, and the planet.
Selling everything from bath bombs to bubble bars, nearly thirty years later, Lush now has a presence in 52 countries. ESG Mena spoke to Miche Whitehouse, Head of Brand and Digital, to hear about Lush’s Mena presence, its focus on regeneration, and the role companies have to play in promoting circularity.
We have three main mission points at Lush, create a cosmetic revolution to save the planet, create a product for every need and be Number 1 in every category. We want to achieve all this while keeping regenerative practice in mind by leaving the world Lusher (or greener) than we found it.
Lush has an extensive presence across the globe; tell me about your footprint in the MENA, scale of growth, and expansion plans.
We have had a large expansion over the last few years. You can find Lush in the UAE, BAH, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and Lebanon. We now have over 40 shops across the region and are always looking for more locations. We foresee the continued growth to be mainly in Saudi as we know this is a large country with an equally large population.
You recently launched your newly renovated concept store in The Dubai Mall. Can you tell me about the renovation’s sustainability focus and its lanolin-free product range?
All of our Lush shops are built with green initiatives, from the tiles being from recycled materials (cradle-to-cradle system) to the lights and AC being formatted with a building management system to regulate the amount of energy used. Even the paint is environmentally low VOC, and flow regulators in the taps to reduce water usage.
Lush Global has also recently moved away from using lanolin in our products. While lanolin is a by-product of shearing sheep, we have decided to remove it so that we can move away from any animal by-products. At this point, the only ingredient that we use that keeps us from being 100% vegan is honey.
It is always hard to give an exact vegan percentage as our ranges grow, seasonal ranges join in, and products get discontinued; however, we are about 95% vegan. We are not on a mission to hit 100% – we do use honey in our products. This is a powerhouse ingredient, and we use this as an opportunity to work with farmers who are helping to grow the bee population.
In MENA, the demand is not as high as in other markets. Vegan and Vegetarian lifestyles are on the rise here, but the consumer is more focused on buying stories, green practices, and fragrances.
You noted Lush is on a mission to save the planet; how is environmental protection integrated into your business model?
Looking after the environment has been ingrained in the business from the beginning. Small examples of this are that we never had plastic bags, always paper, and 80% of our product range is “naked” or packaged free. You can even return your Lush packaging (which is already made from post-consumer recycled plastic) to our shops and receive 5 AED per pot/bottle towards your next Lush purchase. Lush even invented a plastic-free glitter made of dehydrated seaweed to ensure no microplastic is going into the environment.
On a larger scale, Lush runs the Spring Prize; this is an incredible initiative where every other year, Lush gives £200,000 to communities and groups that are working on regeneration. We do not believe sustainability is the way. We cannot sustain our current projection; we need to undo the damage that is done.
One of my favourite stories from the most recent spring prize in May 2023 is about a group called Rawa Fund, a group of Palestinian farmers who are working on using the land around the west bank to build beautiful farms and then sell these crops at local farmers markets and deliver baskets to the local communities. As we know, from farm to table is always best! This year 17 projects are sharing a total prize fund of £236,000.
The LUSH Spring Prize is a joint venture between LUSH Cosmetics and Ethical Consumer and is now in its fifth prize cycle, having started in 2017. At the end of the 2023 prize cycle, the Spring Prize will have distributed more than £1 million to regenerative projects worldwide. The LUSH Spring Prize was set up to support ‘regenerative’ projects that go beyond sustainability by taking holistic approaches to build the health of ecology, economy and social systems. It seeks to support those who are leaving the world lusher than they found it and are actively restoring all the systems they are part of.
It aims to do this through the following:
• A biennial £200,000+ prize fund. This is open to communities, organisations and businesses from the Intentional stage through to young and established organisations and influencers,
• Events that bring people together to share their skills and experience,
• Publicity to raise awareness of regeneration and its potential to heal damaged systems, create resilience to crises, and grow abundance.
By supporting regenerative projects, the Spring Prize hopes to raise the profile of the movement as a whole to inspire more individuals, groups, communities, funders, media platforms and businesses to engage with regenerative processes.
The 2023 Lush Spring Prize received over 350 applications. These became a shortlist of 72 projects, where over 40 countries are represented, with applications from every continent except Antarctica. The shortlist is diverse, covering multiple bioregions and demonstrating many different approaches to regenerative design and work.
This year 17 projects are sharing a total prize fund of £236,000.
And what about your Green Hub and partnership with Axil Integrated Services – is this being replicated in the Middle East?
Yes! To use our shops in the UAE as an example: when customers return their packaging to us, we send these items to Tadweer, a local recycling facility. This is how we can ensure the black pots and bottles are being disposed of correctly. We are not at a point where we have enough waste for our own local Green Hub, but this would be a long-term dream for us.
Expanding on that, can you tell me about circularity in cosmetics and how companies drive change in this area?
I think once companies understand that they are the ones responsible for the waste they produce, they will look at circularity in their companies differently. At the moment, we expect the consumers to do the work of recycling when in reality, if a company is forcing the customer to purchase their product in layers of packaging, they should be responsible for making sure it gets recycled properly.
Less packaging, no packaging, upcycled packaging, or even schemes where the customer can return the used packaging would be a great start.
We have been working on palm-free product formulations for many years. Many of our products are palm free, but we are not in a position at the moment to declare ‘ranges’ of products are palm free. We don’t use palm/palm kernel oil as an ingredient. But, some of the ingredients we buy to use in our products, such as shampoo bases, are not palm-free and can be mixed with other oils like coconut.
The base ingredients of these blends cannot be guaranteed. So, no palm is the only guarantee. We cannot rely on the sources of sustainable palm to be traceable enough. Lush has even created a palm oil-free soap base and shared it with the world so more companies could see how to make soap without palm oil.
We also have our SOS campaign. In a nutshell, Lush has bought land in Sumatra where a lot of palm oil is harvested to protect the environment and save the only habitat for orangutans, which are an endangered species. We understand the farmers in Sumatra make their livelihood from growing and selling palm oil, so Lush has worked with these farmers and taught them how to grow patchouli oil that Lush now purchases and uses in our best-selling Lord of Misrule range.
We know just removing palm oil from the farmers is not a livable option, so we are working on regeneration, growing back the forests, and rebuilding the habitats for the local flora, fauna, and wildlife without leaving the indigenous farmers behind.
Finally, how does the company ensure its ethical focus encompasses all areas of its operations, including on the employee front?
There are teams in the UK who just look after our ethical focus’, from ethical buying, to campaigning to green initiatives across the company.
We also have an ED&I team who makes sure these ethics pass on to the employees. Lush even has support groups for all sorts of communities across the business that any Lushies globally can join in to speak to people who are going through the same things.
Some of these teams frequently run training sessions that any employee can join to educate themselves even further.