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Q&A with Avon's Executive Director


To put it lightly, sustainability has been on our mind … a lot. At the end of the summer we'll be releasing a report on sustainability and what that means to the beauty industry. But first, Organic Monitor is hosting its annual Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in New York, May 17 to 19. Lucky for us, Inside Cosmeceuticals had an opportunity to ask Susan Arnot Heaney, executive director, Corporate Responsibility Avon Products Inc., a few questions prior to the summit to get a more in-depth look inside of Avon's approach to sustainability.

IC: What is Avon’s model for corporate sustainability?

Avon: Avon is in a somewhat unique position of having been founded by a man who stated in 1886—126 years ago—that we will "meet fully the obligations of corporate citizenship by contributing to the well-being of society and the environment in which it functions."  As such, corporate sustainability is baked into who we are as a company; and it is a journey of constant improvement.

We are committed to being internally authentic, infusing sustainability wherever possible throughout our business, and to leverage Avon's ability to externally educate, engage and mobilize people to be a force for good.

Both of these commitments exist in the more than 100 countries in which we do business around the world. In assessing materiality of issues on which to focus, our paper usage is paramount since we are a direct seller without bricks-and-mortar stores. Therefore, our Avon Paper Promise and the commitment to help end deforestation through Hello Green Tomorrow are key to our corporate responsibility mission.

IC: When introducing a new product, is sustainability taken into consideration from inception?

Avon: There are two parts to a product: the ingredients and the packaging. There is a "Green Team" at Avon R&D, where new concepts, ingredients and products are developed, and the company works closely with raw material suppliers to stay abreast of the latest trends and improvements in product sourcing and ingredients.  For example, one Avon supplier has found a way to derive the ingredient squalene from olives instead of from sharks, which had been a common (and NOT sustainable) source for the beauty industry many years ago.

For packaging, the Avon team seeks ways to limit the impact through managing the amount and type of materials. As an example, there is a great deal of savings of raw materials through light-weighting plastics. Since Avon is a direct seller, we are already able to be fairly minimal in much of our packaging since we do not have to display on retail shelves, competing for attention and handled by many customers.

IC: With regards to corporate sustainability, what was the biggest hurdle Avon experienced when first venturing to reduce waste and improving efficiency? In a similar regard, what was the largest hurdle you faced with product formulation and creating greener products?

Avon: Avon has been committed to reducing waste and improving efficiency across our manufacturing and distribution centers since the 1990s, and it is part of our overall commitment to efficiency in our operations. As just a few examples, we are proud that our manufacturing and distribution facilities in 2011 had a nearly 80-percent recycling rate, and our manufacturing achieved a 27-percent absolute reduction in water consumption, 11-percent absolute reduction in energy and 23-percent absolute greenhouse gas emissions reduction from our 2005 baseline levels; and the per unit reductions are even higher.

For the bricks-and-mortar facilities we own (Avon has more than one million square feet of real estate worldwide), the Green Building Promise commits Avon to LEED certification for all new or major retrofits, and we have achieved Gold or higher (or local equivalent) in the U.K., Colombia, Brazil and China, and our U.S. headquarters will soon be certified Gold. Securing management commitment to the extra effort and cost for LEED certified had the expected challenges, but it was an appropriate business decision for long-term value.

For products, the challenge is always the complexity and scope of our business—some 9,000 products a year, including skin care, cosmetics, fragrance, hair care, apparel, jewelry and more, marketed in more than 100 countries, with thousands of suppliers and an extraordinarily complex global supply chain. One specific step is our Palm Oil Promise, to help drive sustainable palm oil, which is a leading cause of deforestation in Indonesia. While more than 80 percent of palm oil is for foods, and Avon is a very minor player, we can lend our name and be a leader within our industry for this issue.

IC: How have Avon’s efforts toward resource efficiency and all matters green benefited the company as a whole?

Avon: Sustainability and efficiency are just plain good business. It is good for the planet and good for the company since using less material and fewer resources, and creating less waste, is a savings all around.  Our 40,000 associates, 6.4 million sales representatives and hundreds of millions of customers care about the environment and are proud Avon has made commitments like the Avon Paper Promise, the Palm Oil Promise and the Green Building Promise; and external organizations have recognized and honored Avon for our efforts. Our many stakeholders care about the environment, and we care about meeting their expectations.

IC: What efforts did Avon employ to making its sustainable measures known to its clientele, if any? How have consumers responded to these changes?

Avon: Our most visible effort is the Avon Hello Green Tomorrow program that engages our associates, sales reps and customers in more than 50 countries to take action with the 5 Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink and replant—while raising funds to help end deforestation. All funds are awarded to The Nature Conservancy, to help restore the Atlantic Rain Forest in Brazil, and World Wildlife Fund to help restore tropical forests of Indonesia. In two years we have raised more than $3.5 million for this effort.

Our sales reps, associates and customers are extremely passionate and enthusiastic about the program. As one small and consistent message, the logo of the Avon Paper Promise is printed on every Avon product brochure, spreading the message of a commitment to sustainability and offering the Hello Green Tomorrow website URL for more information.

For our overall communication, Avon has published a Corporate Responsibility (CR) Report since 2005. The last two have been Web-based only. We know from traffic reports that this is a popular website.

IC: What’s next for Avon?

Avon: Constant improvement and millions more raised to help end deforestation through Hello Green Tomorrow.


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