Review of The Body Shop 2017 Sustainability Report

The Body Shop Sustainability

This series examines the state of sustainability of the brands that I consciously go for on a daily basis. I examine the latest annual sustainability reports of these brands and determine, according to my perceptions, how well they are doing on their journey to sustainability. I assess these reports against the generally accepted GRI standards and come up with a verdict. The verdict basically falls under three categories: ‘terrible’ (meaning they need to take major corrections), ‘doing okay’ (meaning they are making progress despite several challenges, and ‘pretty good’ (meaning they are well on track despite a few challenges). 

Even if you don’t know about sustainability, if you’re familiar with The Body Shop brand, you automatically associate the name with the fight against animal testing. The Body Shop has been very outspoken and famous about its stance in an industry where animal testing has been the norm. In this way, the beauty brand has been socially-conscious from its inception.

The Body Shop has expanded its sustainability focus from just animal testing though. In 2016, it launched its five year strategy ‘Enrich not Exploit’ towards achieving 14 sustainability targets by 2020. These targets show us what the brand deems material to its business, and clearly gives us a view of how much progress it has made. The Body Shop has clearly taken an iterative, small step by step approach towards tackling the monster that is sustainability (given the short timeline). The brands' 14 goals are categorised into three - Enrich our people; Enrich our products; and Enrich our planet. These fit perfectly within each pillar of sustainability.

Let’s see how well it has done so far.

‘Enrich our people’

The brand recognises that fair trade is a material issue, likely due to its repetitional benefits alongside community empowerment. 

One goal towards this is to increase the number of ingredients from direct community trading (e.g. with local associations instead of through middlemen) from 19 to 40. In 2017, it added five new ingredients, bringing its community traded ingredients to 24. Every year, it would have to incorporate at least five ingredients into this list to be able to make its target. It is however not clear what percentage this is of the brand’s total number of ingredients. 

Through this trade arrangement, the brand has reportedly provided gainful employment to about 12,000 poor people across the supply chain; but admits that this puts it behind for the 40,000 by 2020 target. 

Its campaign to establish a UN convention to ban animal testing in cosmetics across all countries is going well - with 3.8m signatures received; on track to meet the 8 million target if the momentum doesn’t let up.

In addition, the brand encourages employees to take three work days for volunteer activities in any cause of their choice. With about 75,000 total, The Body Shop admits that this is too slow to meet the 250,000 target come 2020. 

‘Enrich our products’

The environmental footprint of the brands’ products is a clear area which needs attention in its sustainability journey. As such, it aims to use more natural ingredients and have more biodegradable packaging. But this went slowly in 2017 because sometimes that’s how innovation goes.

The brand made some headway with natural products in one of its product lines, but finding environmentally-friendly packaging that also met brand standards proved challenging (no packaging innovation was successful in 2017, putting achievement of three new packages by 2020 at risk). There is no defined target for this reduction in product environmental footprint except that it should reduce year-on-year. Overall, a 5% improvement was made, but up from what, we don’t know. 

For such a global brand with a complex supply chain, knowing where each ingredient comes from is not simple. But this is a necessary first step towards establishing a sustainable supply chain. The Body Shop can now trace 70% of its ingredients, very much on track to achieve its 100% target. It also has 8,000 out of its target 10,000 hectares of forest under protection. But so far, only 10% of ingredients meet its new sustainable sourcing standards. This is not surprising given that the brand will need to disseminate these standards across a large number of suppliers while using its influence to effect change in their businesses. The target for this is not stated. 

The brand has set up a new innovation team and processes to develop an ‘innovation pipeline for pioneering cosmetic ingredients’. It would be interesting to see how much headway will be made in 2018.

‘Enrich our planet’

The brand is quite proud of its bio-bridge projects. And for good reason. In 2017, it established four bio-bridges to protect 41.4m sqm of habitat, well on track to meet its 75m sqm target. It has also committed to utilise its corporate philanthropy solely for bio-bridges projects carried out by others. This is a laudable decision that falls in perfectly with the brand’s business.

The Body Shop stores are an obvious area where environmental footprint can be reduced. The brand has committed to reducing this footprint every time it renovates. In 2017, it reported a five point improvement in its eco-points, but again, I have no idea what the starting point is. It is still commendable that going forward, it will be using Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood for its unique shelves and tables and have started to do so with the four stores it renovated in 2017. 

Also, 23% of the stores are using renewable or carbon balanced energy (carbon offsets). Unfortunately, this is not on track to meet the 100% target by 2020. Such an ambitious goal is likely to need significant investment. Similarly, the goal of energy reduction by 10% in 2017 was not met as the brand only reduced its energy by 3%.

Currently, 55% of its packaging is fossil fuel-free, on track to meet the 70% by 2020 target; and it is increasing the use of recycled materials in the packaging.

Conclusion

The Body Shop’s sustainability report is succinctly presented in a website with short video clips on each of its targets, and through a downloadable pdf. It’s refreshingly straight forward, and sets forth many quantifiable goals. Unfortunately, these goals were absent in key aspects that would have benefitted the brand the most - environmental footprint and sustainable sourcing. 

Overall, the brand has made impressive progress. And has been able to do so through the partnerships it has formed. For example, Cruelty Free International for its anti-animal testing campaign; Natura &Co and Flora & Fauna International for its sustainable sourcing; World Land Trust for carbon balanced energy, etc. This is highly commendable.

In addition, it has published a full list of indicators used for measurement; this is not a usual feature in many reports but is a good touch.

Moving forward, I would like to see The Body Shop commit much more to reporting its environmental footprint. For example, publishing the eco-scores of its products and stores. But on the other hand, I would also like to see the brand set a more realistic goal for its energy footprint reduction, particularly as it relates to the use of renewable energy. 

Verdict: Overall, I give The Body Shop a ‘Doing Okay’ score because of its mostly clear targets and good progress made in biodiversity and habitat protection, anti-animal testing campaign, ingredient traceability, and community trade. But more needs to be done with environmental footprint of products, energy use and packaging, and sustainable sourcing all of which are core to the brands’ business.

Photo Credit: The Body Shop