The Body Shop exploring ‘back-up plans’ to help reach energy targets

EXCLUSIVE: The Body Shop has introduced a new energy saving guide and is considering a carbon offset scheme as a "back-up plan” to meet its 2020 sustainability targets, following slow progress on its renewable power, energy efficiency and packaging innovation aims.

That is according to the retailer’s international director of corporate responsibility and campaigns, Christopher Davis, who admitted that “not everything has gone to plan” as the brand strives to deliver on its Enrich Not Exploit sustainability goal of becoming the “world’s most ethical and sustainable business”.

The Body Shop’s latest sustainability report, released last week, revealed that strong progress to protect and regenerate threatened habitats hadn’t been matched across energy applications.

The firm protected 41 million sq.m of animal habitats last year through its Bio-Bridges programme, a two-fold increase from 2016. However, its progress towards a goal of sourcing 100% renewable energy for its stores by 2020 is currently sitting at 23%.

Davis said that this was due to a difficulty sourcing green power in some of the company’s global markets, adding that The Body Shop is now building a carbon offsetting scheme with rainforest conservation non-profit World Land Trust as a “back-up plan”. However, Davis stressed the importance of setting ambitions that would challenge the business.

“One’s challenge is always relative to one’s ambition and our ambitions are always high,” Davis said. “We have a stubbornness against compromise and while some people may see [these targets] as not working, we see them as a challenge to be met.”

“For The Body Shop, because of our DNA, heritage and leadership in this area, [the prospect of carbon offsetting] does not feel great for us. We would like to be able to say we source renewable and that we don’t offset, but in some countries this may be impossible, so we have to have a back-up plan. However, we are confident that our markets are working hard with their landlords and energy suppliers to transition to green energy where possible.”

The Body Shop has more than 3,000 stores across more than 60 countries and a further challenge for the brand was reducing in-store energy use by 10% by 2020, with store energy intensity falling by an average of 3% last year.

To accelerate action in this area, The Body Shop executives this week met to agree on a new energy saving guide, to be distributed across its organisations this year, in a bid to encourage behaviour change that facilitates a fall in energy intensity.

Davis noted that some of the firm’s markets had met and exceeded the 10% goal, while others lagged behind, providing a “mixed bag”. He  also expressed disappointment that the company last year failed to produce any of the three packaging innovations it has pledged to deliver by 2020, with the firm’s director of research and innovation, Neil Watson, attributing this to proposed innovations not meeting The Body Shop’s standards.

“[This] is frustrating, but innovation takes time,” Watson said in a statement. “While we strive to make sure all our plastic is recyclable, we continue to face the challenge that different countries have different recycling infrastructures and one size doesn’t fit all.”  

Silver linings

While The Body Shop revamps its approach to energy, the company’s latest sustainability report outlined impressive strides towards other goals. The company engaged 3.8 million customers and employees in its Forever Against Animal Testing campaign last year, putting it on track to meet its 2020 target of eight million, for example.

The report also highlights the work the Body Shop has undertaken to incorporate sustainably-sourced ingredients in its cosmetics while promoting biodiversity in its areas of operation, noting that the company last year identified 44 new or innovative components from biodiversity “hotspots”.

The firm, which defines such hotspots as “areas with significant natural biodiversity which is at risk”, is testing 21 of these “pioneering” ingredients to ensure they meet its quality and sustainability standards, with a view to incorporating them into future product lines, the report noted.

In fact, Davis told edie that his highlight of the year was The Body Shop’s discovery of a new species of orangutan in one of these hotspots – a moment he described as “astonishing”.

Community champions 

Another success came in the form of the company’s Community Trade programme, which aims to offer suppliers fair trading prices and good working conditions.

In 2017, The Body Shop introduced five new ingredients to the Community Trade portfolio, bringing the total to 24 and putting it on track to achieve its 2020 goal of 40. The Body Shop provided access to work for 12,450 people in 2017, according to the report.

In light of this progress, the company this year increased the scope and scale of the scheme to include suppliers of packaging, finished goods and indirect services in a bid to address concerns such as plastic waste, water use and modern slavery in its supply chains.

The decision to expand the programme was taken after the retailer asked itself whether it had the resources and ethos to tackle wider issues of sustainability and make a larger positive impact, Davis explained.

“Ingredients are an area where we can make a big impact, but we need to look at other solutions beyond natural resources,” Davis concluded.

“We were able to make the change because of our membership to Natura&Co, which has given us the freedom to challenge what we are doing and have greater flexibility while ensuring the same transparency.”

Responsible sourcing at edie’s Sustainable Supply Chains Conference 

Sourcing materials responsibly and tackling modern slavery are among the key topics being covered during edie’s Sustainable Supply Chains Conference next week.

Taking place on Wednesday 27th June at the 99 City Road Conference Centre in London, the Sustainable Supply Chains Conference will bring together sustainability, supply chain and procurement professionals to explore how companies can improve supplier engagement to drive sustainability. 

Find out more about the Conference and register to attend here

Sarah George 

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