Fighting animal testing. Ethical Buying. 100% Vegetarian. Handmade. NAKED! Packaging.

At the heart of our favourite cosmetics retailer, LUSH is a company that commits to making a positive impact in the areas of animal welfare, human rights and environmental conservation. Finding the balance between profit and social responsibility, LUSH leads and inspires with positive-impact projects and a commitment to ethical campaigning and advocacy all while delivering wholesome and fresh pampering-goodies!

Read as Lee O’Connor, one of LUSH’s key changemakers, delves into how he creates change as a Sustainability Coordinator.


What was your journey in becoming a Sustainability Coordinator for LUSH?

L:  I started at LUSH about ten years ago. When I originally started, I worked in distribution as a shipper and receiver, and it was through that when I started to learn the business. I learned about the system, got involved in the inventory side of things, moved on to our support team in finance and operations – and from there moved into part time sustainability. I had always been involved in our Green Team and the various projects that are done through them, and through being involved in all of that experience, I eventually managed to create my own job within LUSH in sustainability. It has been about three years now that I’ve been on the team as a Sustainability Coordinator.


How would you describe the social/sustainability focus of LUSH to someone who has never heard about it before?

L:  We have a couple different channels that hit the realm of sustainability. Working on the sustainability team with a focus on manufacturing, I work on different projects that attempt to reduce the impact of our operations. For example, I focus on trying to eliminate single-use items out of our operations and switching to more reusable items. Another sustainability focus is also looking at our freight. We have another factory in Toronto, so we ship lots of stuff between the two factories – I strategize in helping switch transports to less emission-intensive modes of shipping, such as moving things by train instead of by road, etc. There’s also something we call “SLUSH” – which is our Sustainable LUSH fund. Essentially, it’s where 2% of what is spent on our raw materials and packaging goes into a separate fund called the SLUSH fund, which is then used to experiment in our supply chain to strengthen it as well as diversify it and create value all the way through. For example: we use part of the SLUSH fund to work with farming communities – doing things like permaculture projects and adding education surrounding that topic for the community at hand to help them move forward, as well as strengthen our supply chain. And lastly, we have the charitable giving’s side of our business as well, which is mostly run through the Charity Pot Program. Essentially, the Charity Pot is a product that we sell in the shops and that we absorb 100% of the costs for – we absorb all the labour, all the packaging, and all the raw material costs – and then where 100% of that sale price goes into the fund. The fund is then granted out to different small grass roots organizations who are taking direct action on issues such as animal rights, environmental conservation, or human rights causes.


What are some of your daily tasks as a sustainability coordinator?

L:  I look after a lot of our waste metrics, like gathering how much is going into our landfill bins and organics bins, etc., as well as working on our waste-diversion rates. I also manage the Green Team – which is where different members from the manufacturing distribution work on different projects within the business to try and make our business more sustainable. In the Green Team, they look after their own projects in their own departments; an example project that is happening right now is weighing product waste that’s generated during the manufacturing process, and trying to reduce that down. Also: meetings and meetings and lots of meetings. There is a lot of coordination and collaboration that happens at LUSH, so getting on the same page for certain projects that everyone is collaborating on is a big task. We really try to see the whole picture as much as we can!


Because you have a very non-traditional role, I would like to ask what you studied in university (if you attended)? Was working in sustainability something you had in mind when you were thinking about your career?

L:  I do have some formal education, but I don’t have a degree and didn’t go to university. I have some certifications, mostly in the operations and manufacturing realm. But, I honestly didn’t think I would end up doing what I’m doing right now; it was kind of something I just fell into. And it was something really influenced by LUSH and my time at LUSH. When I started at LUSH, it wasn’t that I didn’t care about sustainability – I just didn’t really know a lot about it. But being in this atmosphere, where sustainability is a big part of the business model, really made me see that business can be used to drive that good and drive the sustainability aspect of an organization.


So far, what have been your highlights in working at a company that has such a social and sustainability focus?

L:  That’s why I’m here, really. I honestly wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have that still. Just knowing that the company is there – it’s knowing that the company cares about more than just profit. I think it’s important that you can show to other businesses that you can be socially conscious and still turn a profit, and have it make business-sense to do such socially-conscious things. I’ve always looked for a company that fits my ethics as close as possible, and I’m really glad I found that here; it makes it really easy to come to work everyday.


So far, what has been your greatest measure of impact (whether that’s a personal thing or a professional achievement)?

L:  For me, the greatest impact has been inspiring our staff to really think about sustainability. We do training sessions surrounding different impact areas, and just having people come up to talk about something that was discussed at those training sessions, to do with waste or water or energy, and seeing the mindshift towards being more conscious of sustainability is inspiring. I love hearing that somebody has started bringing in their soft plastics to recycle (because you can’t do that at home), or started biking to work, or that someone no longer does take out because they realize the waste impact of that. It’s those little things, and the overall culture shift that comes with it. Seeing individuals shift their behaviors because of something that they learned through LUSH is huge, because that is certainly what happened to me just by merely learning new information. It is awesome to see passion for sustainability passed on between people.


You guys are doing an awesome job, but like you said – there’s always room for improvement. Where do you see LUSH going forward in terms of sustainability?

L:  I think the SLUSH side of our business is something that is really exciting to me to see being pushed forward. There are a lot of really cool projects that are in the works for that, which is really great to see. Mostly though, the most exciting part of it is seeing sustainability be more and more incorporated into everyone’s jobs and being more on everyone’s minds when they’re making decisions. As a sustainability team, we’re a pretty small team – there’s only five of us right now – so we can’t do everything ourselves. What we need is to try and influence other people within the business to think about sustainability when they make their business decisions, and I’ve really seen that become elevated over the past couple of years. Moving forward, I am excited to see how much LUSH can get people to take sustainability into account – hopefully to the point of having everyone make the most sustainable business decisions that they can.


Is the sustainability team something that is present in every office or is it something that is central to LUSH here in Vancouver, where you guys can hopefully spread your ideas elsewhere?

L:  Most of our team is here in Vancouver in our office. For me, because I look after manufacturing in Vancouver, I’m around at all of the LUSH Vancouver buildings at least once to twice a week to check on the Green Team and to see how things are going. I’m kind of the ‘face of sustainability’ in our business. With the Green Team, they are present within each manufacturing department. It isn’t their full time jobs but they work part time on different sustainability projects. It’s the same thing in Toronto – we have one full time sustainability person who looks after manufacturing there, and she has a green team member in all of the manufacturing rooms as well. With all of our retail shops, we have a sustainability member who looks after shop-affairs, and we also have regional sustainability steward where, because our retail business is split up into seven different regions, there’s a steward who looks after each of those regions. Lastly, we have eco-warriors in each shop who look after sustainability within their shop. We ultimately try to integrate sustainability as much as we possibly can – and to do that, we have to influence other people.


Are there any social enterprises or companies that you get inspiration from to do your own job?

L:  There are lots… I think there’s also lots of organizations out there who maybe wouldn’t be considered in the social realm but who are doing a lot of good work as well. You can kind of pull bits and pieces from lots of different organizations to see what they’re doing. For example, locally, Mountain Equipment Co., and other businesses like that are a really big inspiration for me, especially when looking at things like waste, which is my main area of focus.


What is the biggest tip you would give to someone who wants to work for a place that is socially conscious or who wants to start their own enterprise?

L:  I would just say get your foot in the door, any way you can. You might not get into the position that you ideally see yourself doing, but if you have that passion and you’re working for an organization that really excites you and inspires you, you will probably eventually get there. Just get your foot in the door to be in that kind of atmosphere, and test it out and see if it’s right for you or not.


Our whole thing at SEC is creating change-makers by uniting disciplines and bringing everyone together; how are you personally a change-maker?

L:  It really goes back to inspiring others. For me, I have a pretty awesome platform here to try and make other change-makers and that’s what I really try to do – to try and get that mentality into other people by giving them the education they need. A lot of people just don’t have education surrounding things like sustainable behaviors – I find that you just simply have to give them that education so they can take the right steps towards it. So I guess that’s what I do – just try my best to inspire others.

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