There’s nothing cosmetic about Lush’s sustainable travel policies

Published on January 6, 2022

Some companies are born green; others have greenness thrust upon them, especially lately. The UK-based cosmetics company Lush ranks among the former. A strong environmental ethos – reflected in its use of minimal packaging, for example – baked in from its inception in 1995 explains why Lush today has one of the most rigorously sustainable managed travel programmes on the planet.

Lush’s programme includes a no-fly policy for door-to-door journeys under eight hours, heavy restrictions on taxi usage and deployment of an inhouse travel team that vets all bookings for compliance with sustainability policies.

In the past, Lush has also imposed an internal carbon tax on flights. For the future, it aims never to return more than 20 per cent of travel and transport emissions recorded in 2019.

“We really don’t think like a corporate. We think like activists most of the time,” said Lush strategy lead for Earth care Ruth Andrade. “How can we make sure we are contributing to life rather than contributing to human extinction? The environmental crisis is so existential that, even for us to make sure we have a future, it’s so fundamental we actually contribute to creating the conditions for life to exist.”

Travel is problematic for Lush, as it is for any business with an avowed commitment to sustainability. CO2 emissions by corporations are divided into three categories: Scope 1 (direct emissions from owned or controlled sources), Scope 2 (from power sources consumed by the company), and Scope 3 (indirect emissions, including business travel). Partly because of successful efforts already made with the first two, Lush’s “Scope 3 emissions completely dwarf our Scope 1 and 2 emissions,” said Andrade. Within Scope 3, “when you take out the supply chain, then the next one is transport.”

Yet Lush has more than 900 shops across 49 countries. Thus, it faces a familiar dilemma. Stopping travel completely is a scarcely conceivable option, but “the transport sector is one of the hardest to decarbonise,” said Andrade. “It’s really tricky to replace aviation fuel. Our strategy is partnering with the early adopters of new technology and making sure we’re reducing the need for travel as much as possible.”

Since its early days, Lush has operated a no-fly rule. Originally, this applied to all domestic travel in the UK and to shorter international journeys with good train options, such as Eurostar. Five years ago the policy was refined.

“To get a train from Scotland down to Poole [the south coast town in England that is the company’s home], you’re looking at 10 hours door to door,” said the company’s global travel manager David Blackhurst-Evans. “This is where we have to start looking holistically at the welfare of the travellers and their safety, and also it’s their personal time. To take an entire working day out to travel just isn’t viable. That’s when we said that any travel over eight hours door to door can be done by flights.”

We have travellers asking, ‘Do you want me to pay £180 for a return train ticket when I can get a flight for £50?’, but we have to pay £180 because that fits with our being sustainable

Travellers can book journeys through an e-mail or a call to the inhouse travel team with a reservation request, or they can book online or offline themselves through Click Travel, Lush’s retained travel management company. Either way, a reason for travel must always be provided, and all bookings ultimately come under the scrutiny of Blackhurst-Evans’ department.

There “really is no bending” the no-fly rule, he said, even if, as is frequently the case for UK domestic travel, the rail alternative is significantly more expensive. “We do have travellers asking, ‘Do you want me to pay £180 for a return train ticket when I can get a flight for £50?’,” said Blackhurst-Evans. “That makes no difference. If the train fare is £180, we have to pay £180 because that fits with our being sustainable.”

Taxis are permitted at unsociable hours but otherwise employees are expected to use public transport for short journeys, and sometimes travellers are issued local transport tickets alongside their inter-city train tickets. For company events, the travel team provides instructions on how to reach the venue by bus, local train, mass transit system or on foot.

In addition, Lush has introduced an electric bus, nicknamed Electra, to shuttle between its various sites in Poole and provide a commuter service in the morning and evening.

There are similar rules for Lush personnel worldwide, although inevitably they have to be adapted for the United States, owing to the sparseness of its rail network. “In those type of countries they fly a lot more, but that’s because they have to, so they don’t do as many trips as we would here in Europe,” said Blackhurst-Evans. “The trips tend to be longer because they are making good use of their time before they fly back again.”

Sustainability education
Wherever they are based, employees are trained in carbon literacy and educated about sustainable travel on joining Lush, “so there’s no shock when they start travelling that we have these policies and guidelines in place,” said Blackhurst-Evans. “We give them a copy of the policy and sit down and go through it with them.”

In any case, Blackhurst-Evans added, thinking sustainably “comes quite naturally to us within the business. I’m a travel specialist, but I work for Lush because I agree with their ethics. We’re already on the same page and have the same goals.”

For that reason, employees frequently opt for the train even for journeys longer than eight hours. On the day I interviewed Andrade, she was speaking from Germany, where she had travelled by rail from Poole.

According to Blackhurst-Evans, interventions by the travel team when they judge a flight reservation unnecessary are “regular,” but “I wouldn’t say it happens a lot.” But how can a travel department determine whether a flight is justifiable? “We as the travel team have the autonomy to push back and say we don’t think a trip is needed, but we have to remember we are a global business,” he said.

There is going to be travel needed, but the phrase ‘travel smarter’ has come out of the pandemic, and people are thinking ‘Do I really need to travel?’

“We understand the business very well and are connected to all parts of it. When we see a conversation needs to be had, we will do it. We talk to the traveller and their manager to fully understand why they are travelling and whether it is in line with our travel policy.” Usually, the line manager makes the final decision.

A tax detour
Not all deterrents introduced at Lush have been successful. In 2008, the company introduced a ‘carbon tax’ on every flight it booked because there is no taxation on aviation fuel. “We thought we would set a good example and tax ourselves on flights, so we set a carbon price of £50 per metric ton of carbon, which is the minimum it should cost if the carbon market is going to curb carbon emissions [the typical carbon price for offsetting in 2021 is $3-$5 per metric ton],” said Andrade.

Lush used the ‘tax”’revenue to fund groups opposing aviation, road schemes, fracking and coal, but, said Andrade, “we ran it for 10 years and then realised it wasn’t doing what we needed it to do. It wasn’t really disincentivising people from flying. People were feeling ‘Oh, we’re funding so much cool stuff through flying’. The financial barrier wasn’t there for people or even for the business.

“We are already funding activism anyway, so we can continue to do that, but it’s better to use that money on a robust climate strategy that actually helps reduce transport emissions.”

Now, Andrade and Blackhurst-Evans are confident Lush can keep travel-related emissions well below where they were in 2019. “One good thing which has come out of the pandemic is that people have realised they don’t need to travel as much,” said Blackhurst-Evans. “There is going to be travel needed, but the phrase ‘travel smarter’ has come out of this, and people are thinking ‘Do I really need to travel?’.”

Offsetting objections
Blackhurst-Evans sees controlling demand as the only serious way to make business travel more sustainable, but there are limited opportunities on the supplier management side too. Most fundamental among these is favouring flights on routes and aircraft with lower emissions. With regard to accommodation, Lush adds hotels with good records for environmental and social responsibility to its preferred vendor programme wherever it can.

Overall, however, Blackhurst-Evans has become skeptical about many sustainability claims made by companies, especially if their green credentials are based on offsetting, a concept Lush derides.

“Offsetting is a cop-out,” said Andrade. “It’s so easy now to buy offsets. We’re hoping we can decarbonise without resorting to offsets. You do get gold-standard offsetting projects that have really thought about the communities they are in and take a more systemic view toward what are called co-benefits. They are OK as a transitional strategy, but people are relying too much on it. They say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll do an alternative fuel project in Africa or a re-forestation project in Brazil’. Of course, all those things are needed but in their own right, not as a cop-out so we can continue our lifestyles in the global north.”

Andrade is almost as dubious about sustainable aviation fuel, which several mega-corporations in recent months have pledged to buy from airlines. “We don’t think this is a panacea,” she said. “SAF is not a solution that is going to allow us to fly as much as we want. A lot of the discourse around climate change at the moment is as if we don’t have to change anything else. We don’t have to look at the business model. We don’t have to do the deep changes in our economy or our culture. We’re betting a lot on simply replacing with different technology. SAF can fill a short-term gap while we go for deeper changes, but we cannot stop at SAF.”

Lush is a company which has made some of those deep changes to its travel programme already and plans even more. How many other businesses are both willing and able to act similarly?

Source: Business Travel News Europe