Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Vegan Offsetting

It is quite easy to feel powerless when we have a huge task ahead of us such as the incredible challenge of minimising the damage from manmade climate change. It’s difficult to believe that we can actually make a difference or that all our efforts do matter.
Other times, we find that we are already doing everything in our power to help or that other more beneficial measures are out of our control, like living in a rented flat with no insulation and no double-glazing.
However, there is one thing that is fairly straight forward, reasonably easy, cheap and that is completely under our control; that is avoiding meat and dairy products.
From a more honest and slightly radical point of view, it is inconceivable that there are still people that care deeply for the environment, but who still eat meat and dairy. Last year I met an ecologist who lives in the Amazon and has worked all his life against deforestation. His message was clear; the forest is being cut for pasture or soya to feed animals. He told me lots of destitute people living in the depths of the rainforest dream of the day they will own a piece of land, raise some cattle and pocket the money from that valuable commodity. Those dreams are only dreamt because there is a demand.
But it’s not just about the deforestation. Cattle is directly responsible for methane emissions, a gas 23 times more potent than CO2. Animals bred for food are responsible for more emissions that the world’s transportation combined. If you take all steps of the process into account: breeding animals, transporting them, slaughtering, refrigerating the flesh/milk, etc; one calorie of meat protein uses ten calories of fossil fuels, releasing more than ten times as much carbon dioxide as one calorie of plant protein.
Tomorrow, November 1st, is World Vegan Day. At Lush, we’ve done an internal campaign where staff signed up to go vegan for a day. Many are going vegan for the whole week and hopefully some will stay like that. About 4% of Lush staff are vegan, ten times more than the national average.
It’s been published, by the University of Chicago, that being vegan saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year (more than giving up your car and the same as three medium-haul flights). So let’s say 500 Lush staff go vegan for one day, that’s roughly 2 tonnes of carbon saved there. If they remained vegan for a year, collectively we would save 750 tonnes of carbon, more than a year’s worth of Lush flights!
So there you go, an easy way of making a contribution to the Planet, to animals, to the forest and to your health!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

CIWM Awards

Oh, oh, I forgot to say we have been shortlisted for the Chartered Institution of Waste Management awards in the Sustainable Retailer of the Year category. Hilary and I will be going to the ceremony tomorrow. We are competing against ASDA and DSG International (Currys, Dixons, etc). Not very nice guys to compete against, but hopefully we'll win. Fingers crossed. I'll see if I can post a picture of Hilary and I in smart business attire :-) We should get an award for that!

Wash your Hands Green with Orangutan-friendly Soap

I very often get emails asking whether we use Palm Oil in our products from people kindly sharing their concerns about the deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia and the ensuing consequences to local wildlife and to global climate. Even though cosmetics are responsible for just 7% of the world’s production of Palm Oil, this is another one of those thorny issues where everything we can do to help, no matter how little it seems in the grand scheme of things, is important and should be encouraged.

We do use palm oil in our products, but we do not take this matter lightly. We have spent the past two years researching the subject as thoroughly as we possibly could. We also visited the very forests that are in the line of the devastation and we saw endless miles of palm plantation covering most arable land in Indonesia and Malaysia. Even the threatened orang-utans received our visit and in 10 years’ time there may be none left to visit. What we saw shocked us and gave us a first-hand experience of the scale of the destruction. What we couldn’t see, however, were the less obvious, but even more catastrophic effects of rainforest clearance on the world’s climate. If losing one species, like the orang-utans, makes everyone cringe, what about losing 1,000,000 species by 2050 due to climate chaos, land use change and destruction of habitats?

While all of that hellish adventure was happening on-site, behind the scenes, in the labs of Harry Potter (Wesley, our R&D wizard) and in every soap manufacturer in the UK, another kind of struggle was going on. How can we make a commercial soap base without using Palm Oil? We tried making our soap base with various mixes of oils, but it proved too difficult for large-scale manufacturing. The next option was to work alongside companies already making a vegetable soap base and propose to them the challenge of making a palm-oil-free one. One of the manufacturers rose up to the challenge and came up with a saponified mixture of rapeseed oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil.

So our first soap using that base was born, we decided to name it Greenwash as homage to all those people out there who think planting a tree will actually offset the emissions from their weekend away flying to Sicilly, or to our government, who’s nearly drowning in a sea of oil and nuclear lobby, chained to the iron ball of economic growth.

We are testing the new base with all of our existing soap formulae and hope to phase out the current base within the next year. So yes, our products still have palm oil, but we are working hard to make sure we keep those levels to a sustainable minimum. Besides that, through our Charity Pot, we have also given financial help to the Sumatran Orang-utan Society, working locally to save our close cousins from extinction.
As I said at the beginning, cosmetics only account for 7% of total palm oil consumption, but is found in 1 in every 10 food products. These are other things we can do to reduce our palm oil consumption:

*Eat less processed foods;
*Avoid hydrogenated fats;
*Pressure manufacturers to take action.

I’m not even going to touch the Agrofuel (a more suitable name for biofuel) issues heres
, hopefully another time. The most thorough document I’ve read on Agrofuels is here, not suitable for bedtime reading. If after reading you then need some hope for the future, try this

Monday, 22 October 2007

Corn is Pop

When rethinking our parcels, Jill, one of our Mail Order gurus, had this idea of using popcorn to fill the boxes and make sure our products would arrive safely in the hands of our customers.
After some research, we had a bespoke popcorn machine made for us that could produce 32 kg of popcorn per hour or 2,127 kg per week! And would we need all of that when we decided to use it to fill our gift boxes, as well!
Popcorn goes into our parcels and most of our gifts as a replacement for the shredded paper we used. The paper used (and still present in some gifts) was end-of-the-reel and fairly local, so not much environmental damage there; however, popcorn is 60% lighter than the shreddie, it protects the products a lot better and it much more fun than just boring shredded paper.
The other clear advantage of popcorn is that we are transporting unpopped kernels, which are concentrated and compact. Popcorn vendors make their money by buying per weight and selling by volume. My guesstimate is that about 1 litres of kernels will be transformed into 35 litres (0.035 cubic metres) of packing material (I later googled it and found that popcorn have an expansion rate of 36-44 to 1). To make these numbers more practical, I’ll use my lorry metaphor again. If we were transporting say polystyrene packing material (those puffy things), we would need 35 lorries on road carrying the same volume as would potentially be in 1 lorry of kernels, after being popped. Still following?
What’s more, last year we bought roughly 70 tonnes of shredded paper to fill of our gifts and parcels. To get the same volume in popcorn, we would need only half that tonnage in kernels. That also means our parcels are about 10% lighter.
Putting our products in popcorn also meant that we could reduce the number of plastic bags used to wrap individual items. Products like ballistics and bubble bars are happy to sit naked in the popcorn. Sticky products like massage bars and some of the soaps still have to go in bag, but we are working on changing that, as well. We felt we could reduce the number of bags used by half, which should mean at least 2 million plastic bags saved, possibly more.
Popping the corn is an energy-intensive business, but so is making polystyrene puffs or the now commonly found biodegradable starch version. The latter goes through an extrusion process using very high temperatures and high pressure. Turning a tree into paper is also energy intensive, but that is done far from our eyes, so it’s not as immediately obvious as the popcorn. The good thing about popping it in our factory is that we have control over our electricity supplier, which is something difficult to have over up and down our supply chain. As of January 08, when our current contract finishes, we will move that building to a green supplier and should then have wind-powered popcorn.
After you’ve used you box contents, popcorn makes a lovely addition to anyone’s compost. I personally wouldn’t recommend eating it, unless you like eating soap, as it absorbs some of the Lush scents and you get slightly fragrant popcorn.
If you don’t have a compost heap, it’s time to start one. Go to Compost Now for some advice or if you don’t have a garden, friendly microorganisms can help turn your food into lovely liquid fertilizer. Try these websites and get some kitchen digesters this Christmas: Living Soil, The Green Shop. Oh, don’t forget nagging your council for them to set up a food waste collection scheme! If you’ve got kids or need some relaxing time, use your imagination and make some pop(corn) art.