If a retail exec invites you out on a birdwatching boat to view the work his charity is doing to protect and promote important bird life, it’s pretty safe to say they get it when it comes to green thinking in business.
Mark Constantine, co-founder of Lush, is an environmentalist and a capitalist. Those two don’t always go hand in hand, but he is proving these stances can coexist pretty successfully – with environmental protection and, in some cases, regeneration all part of business as usual at the circa £700 million turnover retailer.
We will go into more of what he thinks about business environmentalism as well as his punchy green manifesto for the new king, Charles III, in an interview we’re publishing on Green Retail World later this week.
For now, birdwatching.
I appreciate the title of this blog may soon find its way on to the @Accidental Partridge Twitter account, but I don’t care. This is the sort of story I set up Green Retail World to explore. Might get my website some more views too!
Birds of Poole Harbour is a charity, founded in 2013, with three key objectives: to educate and promote bird conservation, preservation, and observation in and around the Poole Harbour area – the largest natural harbour in the world.
Lush, which is headquartered on the harbour and has offices situated just a 60-second walk away from where the charity birdwatching boats launch, is involved in several ways.
Constantine, a keen twitcher, has long-standing interests in helping and supporting re-wilding projects in the region. But it is the education piece where Lush is really making a difference today.
The retailer funds boats that each year take up to 1,500 children from the local area around the harbour to teach them about the landscape, seascape, and the wildlife therein. It means these trips come at no cost to the school, pupils or children’s parents, providing an opportunity to see things around the harbour they would probably not otherwise experience.
The charity says it recognises the importance and value in getting youngsters out into their local environment, and learning about the natural world. The more people doing this, Constantine says, the more likely it is they will want to invest their time and energy in preserving their surroundings and becoming eco-minded. That’s how it works, he believes.
Birds are back in town
So what might these children – and anyone else who takes the tour – see? Well, while on the boat, I saw ospreys, I saw red kites, and I saw peregrines. I even saw red kites circling ospreys in a kind of sky dance that I’m told is pretty rare.
Talking of rare. Such sights were only in the dreams of Constantine, his family, and fellow wildlife watchers in the 1960s and 70s when, for example, peregrines had gone from southern England altogether due to significant road building and human activity destroying their natural habitats. It was “dire circumstances”, according to the Lush co-founder. And environmentalists were down in the doldrums.
There were very few buzzards, no ospreys, and no peregrines. Birds of prey all effectively wiped out due to human activity. Persecution in many cases.
But now they are there are again thanks largely to various conservation and re-introducing projects run by local and national charities and foundations. On the Birds of Poole Harbour boat safaris you might also see a white-tailed eagle, marsh harrier, or goshawk. These are pretty awesome sights.
We’re now in a better place then we were, explained Constantine, who added with Lush’s money “we want to help make it even better”.
In 2017, Birds of Poole Harbour partnered with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation to start an “osprey translocation project” at Poole Harbour as part of efforts to re-establish a south coast breeding population of osprey after a near 200-year absence. The hope is they will be back (where they belong, according to the charity) as a breeding species. The signs today are encouraging, although an oil spill in March, courtesy of a Perenco pipeline leak that washed up on Brownsea Island, is evidence of the ongoing battle the environment has with human activity.
Lush and the charity are not responsible for the peregrines et al but “we monitor them and look after them”, Constantine added.
The reintroduction of such species helps with biodiversity.
That idea reflects many of the projects Lush has undertaken in its supply chain to ensure that when natural materials are sourced there is a resulting net good for the local community and environment. Supply chain transformation to reduce environmental footprint is the most difficult area of any retailer’s green strategy and Lush still has much work to do, but it is rolling out initiatives at a faster rate than most others.
One I learned about during my trip to Dorset was the recent launch of cork pots in Lush’s inventory which can be used by customers to store the brand’s packaging-lite products such as its popular shampoo bars.
Made from the bark of the cork oak sourced from southern Portugal, these products, when sold, directly support the wider regeneration of cork oak forests in Portugal.
Back to the birdwatching trip, and Constantine remarked: “One can get anxious or depressed about nature but if you start looking after it, it returns.”
Projects that hit above their weight can change attitudes because they build “a connection”, he commented, adding that he will always support initiatives that provide “a counter point” to those whose actions negatively impact the environment. He includes royal family members in that latter list.
“Keep whacking those moles,” he said, expressing his activist tendencies, just before the boat tour’s attention was grabbed by a kite and osprey interacting.
“What you’re watching would have been the stuff of dreams for me and [Lush co-founder and wife] Mo,” he noted.
He said “public engagement” is a key part of Lush’s role as an environmentalist and sometimes activist company.
The more birds in Poole Harbour, the more people will come to visit, and the more positive impact this will have on local business, Constantine argued, describing the “ripple effect” of the work of the charity. He wants to see the work it is doing replicated in other places.
“We are making a contribution,” he said.
When it comes to environmental welfare, that’s true of the charity. And it’s true of Lush.
Maybe more retail CEOs should be bird spotters. I think it helps shape one’s view on the natural world and how to protect it.
[Image credits: Green Retail World]