Friday, September 20, will not be business as usual at the Lush beauty and bath products chain. Instead, the retailer will close its 200 U.S. stores, factories, headquarters and even its e-commerce operations, and mobilize its 5,000 employees to support this Friday’s Global Climate Strike. On September 27, Lush will do the same across its Canadian operations.
With around 250 stores in the U.S. and Canada, the company has a loyal and growing base of mostly Generation Z and Millennial customers, reporting an impressive $530 million in North American sales in 2017. Boasting about 4.5 million Instagram followers, along with its thriving online sales, the brand is hitting the sweet spot for the values-driven younger generations that appreciate its “naked” (non-packaged) products and vegetarian-only ingredients.
In July 2019, the chain launched "carbon-positive cork-based packaging," which Lush shipped by commercial sailboats rather than cargo ships. Building upon that decision, the company’s move to join the Global Climate Strike, while making a dent in profits, is likely to strengthen the loyalty not only of customers but of employees, who Lush said will be paid during their day of protest.
“As a business that’s long fought for the environment, we are acutely aware of the climate crisis and recognize both the indisputable science behind it, and the need for strong, tangible action to address it,” said Mark Wolverton, CEO of Lush Cosmetics North America, in a recent public statement. “We are committed to disruptive, transformative change. That means a break in ‘business as usual,” holding our global leaders accountable and answering the call of the youth activists to join them on the streets this September.”
This week Lush employees are handing customers pamphlets of carbon-saving actions and encouraging them via social media to join 350.org’s “week of climate action.” The campaign group’s North America director, Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, lauded the values-based decision by Lush, which is joining brands including Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and Seventh Generation to take radical action. “The willingness to disrupt the norm is an indicator that the time has come for everyone, especially global leaders, to get out of their comfort zones to ensure that communities around the world can thrive with clean air, water, and are safe from the worst of the climate crisis,” O’Laughlin said.
According to Carleen Pickard, Lush’s ethical campaign specialist, the direct impact that hurricanes, wildfires, record-breaking heatwaves are having on U.S. staff was a major impetus for the decision to close down operations. “The losses as a business for the day are nominal in comparison,” she told the beauty magazine Allure.
In addition to the environmental costs associated the decision to strike for the climate, Lush can point to other reasons for supporting Friday’s actions as well. Companies across all sectors are facing the reality that employees increasingly want to work for organizations that are willing to take a stand on a wide range of issues. And given that the U.S. retail sector averages a 60 percent annual turnover rate, Lush may also be hoping that the loyalty factor it can inspire among its employees will be well worth any lost business – as the company could benefit from the expenses associated with recruiting, hiring and training employees.
Editor's note: Employee engagement stories like the one discussed above will be a valuable part of the agenda next month at 3BL Forum: Brands Taking Stands - What's Next, October 29-30 at National Harbor, MD, just outside Washington, D.C. Together, the 80-plus speakers we will have onstage promise a two-day event that will be fast-paced, high-octane and invaluable with their perspectives on the latest in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) community.
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Image credit: Lush UK/Facebook
Polly Ghazi is a freelance sustainability writer, editor and communications strategist in Washington, DC. A former Environment Correspondent of the UK Observer, and senior writer-editor at the World Resources Institute, Polly has authored two books on sustainability and worked in the field for 25 years.