Mark Constantine has offered up his green manifesto for the new king

Seeds of Change interview: Lush co-founder Mark Constantine’s green manifesto for the new king

A series where we talk to retail’s movers and shakers about how they are tackling the challenge of becoming a greener business in an industry that is far from green – assessing organisational change, eco initiatives, and much more.

Mark Constantine, co-founder of cosmetics retailer Lush, has mapped out a green manifesto for the new king, Charles III.

Sitting down on 6 May 2023 with the king’s coronation on the television in the background, he devised a list of initiatives the seemingly environmentally-focused monarch might want to embark upon should he wish to leave a lasting eco legacy.

The Lush impresario, a keen environmentalist and eco activist, who also set up the charity Birds of Poole Harbour to monitor, support, and educate about the birdlife in the area where Lush’s HQ resides, says he would “pledge allegiance to my king” if he got moving with a series of rewilding and environmental projects now the coronation is over.

In an interview with Green Retail World, which took place at the retailer’s research and development facilities in Poole, he listed things he’d like to see actioned by the new king and the Crown Estate. One gets the feeling there are more actions Constantine would like to see taken, but here are his seven for starters.

  1. Rewild one-third of the Crown Estate. “He’s got a limited time left and what a lot he can do – he’s the largest landowner in the world,” Constantine explains.
  2. Stop all wildfowling on the foreshore he owns. The Crown Estate owns the territorial seabed out to 12 nautical miles and around half of the foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and it grants sporting licenses for wildfowling on some areas, which it says helps “ensure that the activity is sustainably managed”. Constantine says it “probably constitutes the largest legal killing of wild birds in Britain”.
  3. Ban all killing of wild birds on the Crown Estate. The Lush boss suggests the estate could maintain the employment of keepers and gillies by focusing on protecting harrier nests.
  4. Offer free licenses to anyone wanting to start oyster farming on sea beds. This move should be accompanied by banning all genetically modified oysters and hybrids, and insisting only on British oysters, according to Constantine, who says it would “go a long way to fixing farming run off”.
  5. Pledge to create habitat for nightingales. This should also involve the provision of “the education facilities to enable every one of his subjects to hear a nightingale in Britain before they die”.
  6. Create footpaths. Specifically, according to the retail boss, “for every year King Charles and Queen Camilla have been alive”.
  7. Build or install 23,000 nest boxes. Constantine adds that special provision should be made for the rapidly declining turtle dove.

It’s an ambitious list, and Green Retail World will seek to gather a Crown Estate response in due course. What it shows is that Constantine is continually thinking about environmental welfare.

As highlighted in our editor’s blog birdwatching with Lush co-founder Mark Constantine, which we published earlier this week, the cosmetics entrepreneur – who founded Lush in 1995 alongside wife and inventor, Mo, and Rowena Bird, Helen Ambrosen, Liz Bennett and Paul Greeves – is more vocal on eco issues than the average retail exec.

As well as the green manifesto, this stance is reflected in the way he and the team run the business.

A dislike of shower gel

The environmental team at Lush are keen on increasing the range of “naked” products. It has been part of the strategy at the cosmetics retailer for many years to have minimal or no wrapping, evidenced in its soaps, bath bombs, and shampoo bars.

The policy does not stretch to all product ranges, but several items come without wrap or a limited amount of recyclable material.

“All of the cosmetics industry is generating masses and masses of plastic and we all know it and we don’t need it,” Constantine told delegates in a panel debate during the official unveiling of Lush’s Green Hub, prior to our interview.

Why should customers be bothered to get rid of companies’ “crap”, he asked of the cosmetics industry as a whole.

Other plastic used to house Lush’s products is also collected for recycling from consumers by the retailer, in return for 50p off a future purchase. And the business is currently working with a charity in Indonesia to create packaging using rescued waste plastic that would otherwise end up in the sea.

“People love shower gel and it really p****s me off – soap is perfectly reasonable,” Constantine notes.

“Everyone wants shower gel and they want ours too – we sell a lot of shower gel, so for anyone looking at the stores, I’ve given in and there’s a prime position for the shower gel but mainly because my colleagues have sorted out the source of plastic.”

As well as understanding that Constantine would rather people bought soap, we learned at the Green Hub that a penchant for lack of packaging at Lush was motivated by environmental welfare but also by financial constraint. Modern parlance would describe the early days of Lush as “bootstrapped”, so Mo opted to spend the money on ingredients rather than packaging.

The Lush Green Hub showcasing circular activity such as packaging recycling

“We are in a huge industry, we can make a big difference, a lot of the plastic lying around in the oceans is our industry’s old rubbish and we don’t need it,” Constantine explains, suggesting this is where the ‘sustainable is more expensive’ argument can be diffused.

“How can you use less material and it be more expensive?

“Every environmental principal is a basic principle of business. There’s no other way of looking at it. Wherever the circumstances have made it more expensive, you should be looking for something else. It should all be less expensive.”

To brag or not to brag?

Constantine describes himself as an environmentalist and a capitalist, and believes he is showing it is possible to make money and protect the environment.

“Doing the environmental thing is the right thing to do – and you should make a profit,” he states.

Indeed, some of the dividends from his privately-owned business go into his eco charity and activist activities that provide “a counter point” to those, including certain aspects of the establishment, that do not act with environmental welfare in mind.

“If you have a hunt alliance, you need hunt saboteurs – someone needs to look after that.”

He certainly feels the retail industry can do a lot more to be greener, despite an apparent environmental awakening in recent years. But he acknowledges there have been many “learning opportunities” for Lush along the way. Not least, an industrial cold store made out of straw bale built by earthcare lead, Ruth Andrade, and her team.

There were tight deadlines for the factory to be opened and Lush did not wait long enough for the building to dry. It attracted plaster mites that in a normal domestic building would disappear in time, but the business panicked – and the building was torn down at a cost of circa £100,000.

There are always mistakes, Constantine reflects, agreeing it is important to be experimental.

Reflecting on the Green Hub, which has been established to ensure circular practices such as packaging recycling and furniture repairs are business-as-usual processes for Lush, he suggests it fills a hole that local authorities do not cover.

“Do I want one of these in every place? Yes. Would I encourage other cosmetics manufacturers to do this? Yes. Do I think it’s essential? Yes.”

“Everyone can do a bring back scheme and then they can talk to their suppliers about how it can be recycled,” he adds, suggesting more brands and retailers could roll out the “simple” Lush system of giving customers 50p for every returned piece of packaging.

The Lush boss shared with this publication his green manifesto but he says he doesn’t like to brag about the work the company does – even explaining that it doesn’t matter if the wider public knows about his charity work or funding of good eco causes.

“The important thing is we’re doing it – if I though bragging would help the situation, I’d brag.”

He continues: “It’s a weird thing when you know what you are doing in business is the correct thing but because it’s not what everyone is doing you have to give an answer as to why you are doing it.

“We do these things because they’re the right thing to do. The fact everyone else is doing something else is not my fault. You should be able to buy something without even worrying about the environment – that’s my worry. I’ll do that.”

We’ll also be sure to report back on any royal reaction to the green manifesto for King Charles.

At Green Retail World, we are giving retail executives and industry leaders, like Mark Constantine, a chance to explain how they are enacting environmental change within their organisations. Please contact editor, Ben Sillitoe, if you’d like to put yourself forward for an interview on this key subject. Sharing good practice can help the wider sector move in a positive direction.

[Image credits: Green Retail World]

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