Cosmetic Changes

Dominique Conseil certainly looks the part for leading Aveda, one of the world’s greenest herbal-based cosmetics, perfume and hair-care companies. He’s French, for one thing, dresses elegantly and is conversant in seven languages. But it’s when he starts talking about the environment that Aveda’s president since 2000 really shows his qualifications.

“Our environmental mission is at the center of our beliefs,” Conseil says. “It’s not enough just to be “natural”—cotton is natural, for instance, but it is also very heavily sprayed with pesticides. We have to know where all our ingredients come from, or we”ll launch a product with something inappropriate. I’ve become obsessed in the last two years with traceability: For our essential oils, we need a trail to the farms where they came from.”

Aveda didn’t evolve into a green company: It started out that way. The company was founded in 1978 by the Austria-born Horst Rechelbacher, whose relocation to the American Midwest was entirely, well, accidental. A budding herbalist trained as a hairdresser, Rechelbacher was in a serious car accident during a hair show in Minneapolis, staying long enough in the hospital to grow attached to the place and build up substantial debt. After recovering, he put down roots and opened his own salon. Aveda was formed, after a stay in India, to offer the kind of natural products Rechelbacher couldn’t find for his salon.

From the beginning, Aveda focused on organic plant- and flower-based products in environmentally conscious packaging. Rechelbacher points out that many of the company’s early practices, from championing organic farming to supporting holistic health, have since gained mainstream support. Rechelbacher sold the company (which declines to publish sales figures) to Estée Lauder for $300 million in 1997, but it has remained true to its original principles.

Towards Zero Waste

Aveda committed to the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) 10 action principles (from waste reduction to energy conservation) in 1989. All of Aveda’s fragrances are 100 percent organic, and the company is a major supporter of the soil-friendly biodynamic farming movement launched by the late Rudolph Steiner. Through innovations like minimal (and compostable) packaging and reusable merchandise displays, Aveda recycled 71 percent of the solid waste generated by its solar-roofed factory in Blaine, Minnesota between 2001 and 2002. It will launch specific zero waste initiatives on a department-by-department basis. Between 1996 and 1999, Aveda reduced greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent per unit of production. “I”m impressed with the leadership Aveda has shown,” says Gary Liss, zero waste advisor to the Grassroots Recycling Network. “The company appears well on its way to achieving zero waste goals.”

Very little gets past Mary Tkach, Aveda’s director of environmental sustainability and a former grassroots recycling coordinator in St. Paul. “If we don’t have healthy biodiversity, our species won’t be around in 50 years,” she says. “My goal is that Aveda should either be zero waste or pretty darn close.” She relentlessly pushes the company to do better, by reducing transportation impacts, increasing post-consumer recycled content, and encouraging customers to buy in bulk to cut down on packaging waste. By working with each department for maximum waste reduction, the company hopes to achieve zero waste in five years.

The Cleaner Factory

On a tour of Aveda’s ISO 14001-certified Minnesota factory, which has about 200 manufacturing employees, packaging head Tom Petersen demonstrated how plastic bottles could be “lightweighted” with 80 percent post-consumer content (from milk jugs) and without the traditional collared cap. Aveda’s lipsticks are being made with a permanent flax-based outer sleeve and a recyclable cartridge refill. “We need to challenge the industry to do something it has never thought of doing,” he says.

Aveda recycles its shipping pallets (many of which are made of wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council), and 80 percent of its drum-stored liquid waste is sent to an energy recovery facility for processing into steam or electricity. Bottles broken in the manufacturing process and contaminated plastic containers are recycled. Even the shrink wrap used for shipping is made as thin as possible.

Aveda products are sold in 7,500 hair salons (which solicit their customers to sign global warming reduction pledges during Earth Month), in retail outlets and in 140 company stores (made from recyclable components). Hair is a huge part of Aveda’s business, but the company has never sold a no-brainer product: aerosol hairspray. In a move that cost Aveda considerable revenue, Tkach vetoed an almost fully developed spray product because its global warming and ozone depletion impact was only reduced, not eliminated. The launch of another hair product, Control Paste, was delayed because its packaging contained virgin plastic. In another sign of Aveda’s willingness to sacrifice potential short-term profits, marketing director Chris Hacker says the company’s advertising policy favors magazines that print on recycled paper.

Aveda’s Products

Aveda is collaborating with Brazil’s Yawanawa tribe to harvest uruku (a natural reddish-brown pigment used in traditional rituals) for a new 18-color lipstick line ($12 to $14). There are also new Uruku eye ($12 to $14) and cheek ($14) makeups.

Certified organic lavender is the basis for Light Elements, a new Japan-inspired hair styling line that includes smoothing fluid ($23), finishing solution ($20), reviving mist ($21) and defining whip ($20).

Aveda’s Pure-Fume aromas are developed by Ko-ichi Shiozawa, director of the Botanical Aroma Lab, from the essential oils of such plants as camomile, eucalyptus, frankincense and peppermint. Products include Aveda Love, which is derived from sustainably sourced sandalwood, certified organic ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, frankincense and myrrh ($50). In 1997, Aveda suspended sandalwood purchases from India because of unsustainable harvesting there and switched to sandalwood from Australia. Desert Pure-Fume ($20 to $46) is inspired by three rare desert flowers, among them dune primrose, which blooms for only a day. The Chakra line of cleaners ($16) and moisturizers ($24) is based on Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old healing art from India.

Finely powdered tourmaline, a natural mineral, is mixed with plant extracts to produce the Tourmaline skin-care line, which includes SPF 15 suntan lotion ($38) and both eye and hydrating creams ($30). Under the name Botanical Kinetics, Aveda produces cleaners ($17), toning mists ($14) and exfoliants ($17). Blue Oil ($12) and Blue Gel ($19) are massage products made from peppermint and blue camomile.

According to Advertising Age, Estée Lauder’s growth in the hair-care field is largely due to its acquisition of Aveda, which offers a highly diverse line. The babassu palm, which grows in the Brazilian Amazon, is harvested sustainably to provide a natural oil for use in Aveda hair conditioners and as a cleansing ingredient in shampoos. Aveda sells a range of color enhancers derived from such plants as the blue malva, madder root and camomile ($7.50 to $16). The company works with Conservation International to obtain a protein-rich Brazil nut meal called morikue that is the basis for conditioners, detanglers and fixatives ($12 to $21.50). The Brilliant line ($11 to $23) is based on certified organic camomile and aloe and is formulated for textured or treated hair. Aveda’s hair colors are 97 percent naturally devised. No products are tested on animals.

It’s not all about the outer you. At the end of the day, you can pour yourself a refreshing cup of Aveda Comforting Tea ($13 for four ounces), which is a caffeine-free herbal blend made with organic peppermint, licorice root and flower essences.