Friday, April 22, 2011

Sustainable Avon - lipstick by lipstick

Avon (the company for women) is rather a special business with quite a unique business model. Stop to consider the scale of Avon. It has 6.5 million Sales Representatives, selling $10.5 billion in cosmetics to over 300 million customers in over 100 countries. That's some network. The Sales Reps are mainly women who use the Avon earnings opportunity to help support themselves and their families, using $1 billion in credit, making Avon the world's largest microlender and promoter of women's economic independence. These Sales Representatives are the powerhouse of the Avon sustainability efforts, bringing the message directly to consumers, a challenge so many consumer-facing companies constantly struggle with. A staunch supporter of women's issues, Avon has leveraged this  massive network to drive a highly visible and successful Crusade against Breast Cancer which has reached over 105 million women since 1992, and the Speak Out Against Domestic Violence campaign launched in 2004 in support of the billion women worldwide who are victims of such violence. Avon likes to take on big issues that limit the sustainability potential of our society in a big way and make a big difference. The Company has an impressive track record, which leaves me in no doubt that the current cause that Avon has taken upon itself to advance will achieve the same degree of enhancing awareness, driving sustainable behaviors and contributing to a more sustainable world.

The Next Big Thing for Avon is the company's focus on ending deforestation.  I was fortunate enough to be able to have a chat with Tod Arbogast, Avon's VP for Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility, one of the most passionate people I have spoken with in a while, who describes himself as "amazingly optimistic and inspired by Avon Sales Representatives". Tod joined Avon in 2009, into a newly created role, after many years of sustainability related work including VP for Sustainability at Dell, and took on board the crafting and implementation of Avon's Hello Green Tomorrow program, designed to mobilize a global environmental movement to nurture nature and restore critically endangered rainforests in South America and Indonesia. See this page for many compelling reasons for this to be an important flagship program for Avon and for all of us.  The reforestation work will be carried out by Avon's partners at the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund with monies raised through Avon efforts worldwide. How will the money be raised? Partially through the sales of the Hello Green Tomorrow Reusable Water Bottle - 100% of net profits will be contributed to the reforestation program. 2011 is the second year of the program, and Tod told me: In 2010 we raised a total of $2.1 million. With over 50 countries participating we hope to match the 2011 number, and are doing our best to support all the Avon teams worldwide in their fundraising efforts. We are actively promoting the program to our Avon Sales Representatives, both to support fundraising as well as to drive education on the "5 Rs": reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink, replant. Through research, outreach and events over the past 3 years, we know that Avon associates and Sales Representatives are passionate about environmental stewardship. They want Avon to take a leadership position and serve as a change agent, as we have done for breast cancer and domestic violence, and they want a way to get involved and make a difference in environmental issues. The Hello Green Tomorrow program provides all of this." 

The other significant aspect of nurturing nature in the Avon program is the Palm Oil Promise. Palm oil is a common ingredient in many products, including cosmetics such as lipsticks, soaps and shampoos. Palm oil plantations have had a great impact on the destruction of tropical forests and peatlands, especially in Southeast Asia. Avon has joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to help continue the development, implementation and verification of credible global standards for sustainable palm oil and recently announced its commitment to purchase GreenPalm certificates covering all of Avon's global palm oil use which will help drive demand for sustainable palm oil, increase the supply for sustainable palm oil and maintain biodiversity and habitats for endangered species. GreenPalm is a certificate trading program endorsed by the RSPO. Avon claims to be the FIRST beauty company to commit to 100% sustainable Palm Oil. Tod Arbogast of Avon explained that this is groundbreaking because the Avon commitment is effective "right now" and not in 2012, or 2015, or 2020 which is how most companies frame their goals, and also the commitment includes all Palm Oil derivatives as well as Palm Oil as a single product. Also, the significance of Avon's commitment is in its potential to drive awareness and change behaviors and influence global practice. Tod explained: "Overall, 45 million tons of Palm Oil are produced each year, and 17 million tons of Palm Kernel Oil. Avon's total consumption of Palm Oil and derivatives is very small by comparison. Our biggest impact is awareness. The Palm Oil Promise also helps us to work more closely with our raw material suppliers - by committing to 100% sustainable Palm Oil and derivatives sourcing, we must have a robust method to account for the amounts we, and our suppliers, are using. This also serves as a tool to improve our management of the entire program and we are working with partners to put this in place. Despite costs involved for Avon, we do not expect this to result in a higher price for consumers".

I asked Tod about Avon's packaging policy and here again, I found Tod enthusiastic and clearly focused in his explanations. " Our packaging approach is three-fold: (1) minimizing the amount of packaging we use relative to product (in terms of weight) (2) increasing the use of sustainable materials in packaging and (3) driving awareness for end-of-life solutions for packaging. Actually, I believe Avon has one of the most efficient packaging to product ratios in the industry. This is because of the unique nature of our business model. Our products do not need to carry their marketing messages on their packaging to stand out on a retail shelf. When we sell a lipstick, it's a shrinkwrapped tube. Competitive products often have 2 or 3 additional layers of additional packaging. We continue to work to improve our sustainable packaging performance in all three focus areas."

Finally, everyone knows that I cannot have a conversation about sustainability without talking about reporting. Avon's last report was published in 2009 and the 2010 report will be published later this year. That's certainly a report which I will be intrigued to read. Watch this space!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via on Twitter or via my business website (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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