Green Hub burnishes Lush’s environmental credentials
Entering the manufacturing facility of cosmetics brand Lush involves a bombardment of the senses. The sounds of activity, intense aromas, bright colours, and the playfulness of the products create a real sense of fun that would be recognised as quintessentially Lush to its many loyal customers.
They will also be aware that the brand’s lightness of touch is very carefully aligned with a seriousness because Lush is a pioneer of operating to the highest levels of ethical and environmental standards. Nowhere is its ethos more visible than at its recently opened Green Hub in Poole, Dorset, where The Retail Bulletin enjoyed a tour around the facility.
The new property represents the latest addition to a campus that Lush has been building over the years on the Fleets Corner Business Park, which is an arrangement that continues to work well for Lush and the park’s management. It sits alongside 11 other tenants on site across a total of 560,000 sq ft that encompasses manufacturing, distribution, office, hotel, and drive-thru accommodation.
Stephen Bradley, director of investment management at Federated Hermes – that owns the site, says: “Fleets Corner Business Park has a long-established commitment to sustainability and reducing environmental impact, and the continued success of Lush’s Green Hub only serves to bolster this. We have invested significantly in Fleets Corner to ensure it is a next-generation business park and is reflected in Lush’s choice to commit to a total 275,000 sq ft of manufacturing and distribution space.”
Boosting circular economy functions
The new Green Hub replaces a more limited facility that managed a few functions such as general waste collection and recycling. The replacement represents a £2.3 million investment in a unit measuring over 40,000 sq ft that can deal with Lush’s circular economy objectives – re-use, re-purpose, recover, repair and recycle.
Ashley O’Sullivan, operations manager of the Green Hub at Lush, says that great progress is being made at the site. In 2021 around 69% of all waste from manufacturing was recovered whereas today this is approaching 90%. He acknowledges that much of the activity in the Green Hub could instead be handled by outsourcing but that this is not the Lush approach.
“We could do it all externally but we want accountability. We could send it away but we’re as careful with the materials that come into the business as we are about those that go out,” he says.
Much focus is made of recycling in the retail world but at Lush this is the final option and the preference is to look at re-purposing or repairing goods. This approach is reflected in the various areas within the Green Hub. These include the repair and maintenance shop that takes in the likes of vacuum cleaners, kettles, blenders and manufacturing equipment. As much as £240,000 will be saved per year from repairs and re-using spare parts.
The woodshop takes in store furnishings and materials that have been used for events and re-purposes them for future use. “Often the retail stores business is surprised that we save event materials but we know we can repair them for another event. It would be easier to buy in new every time but that’s not the policy,” says O’Sullivan.
Much work is also being done on the moulds – 90% are PET – which Lush uses to produce many of its products including bath bombs and its various cosmetics bars. The best solution found to date is to create recycled PET sheets from which new moulds can be produced. “This involves granulating old sheets into flakes and sending these to the producer of the sheets from who we get a rebate on the order,” he explains.
Involving the customer
Since May as much as 100 tonnes of material has gone through the granulator machines, which also includes Lush’s black plastic pots that are part of its ‘Bring It Back’ scheme in retail stores. This is part of its general move to remove or recycle its packaging in a closed loop-type arrangement. “We’re looking at how many types of packaging could be closed loop including cardboard, shrink wrap and plastic sacks,” says O’Sullivan, adding that many of these materials generate rebates when returned to the manufacturers.
Another new development at the Green Hub is the dissolved air flotation unit that processes waste water created in the manufacturing process and at Lush’s laundry facility that washes towels and bedding used in the company’s growing spa business – these are currently available in nine stores but there are big plans afoot. Around 9,000 litres per hour can be processed into clean water that can then be put into the drains.
Since the Green Hub is very much about developing creative solutions some thought is being put into how this newly-cleaned water could be re-circulated – maybe by putting it back through the laundry process. “There is so much room for growth [through creativity] here that this is only version two of the Green Hub and we’re now working on version three with new innovations,” says O’Sullivan.
There is also a donations area that involves Lush products being given to charities nationwide and locally. As many as 104,000 items have so far been donated this year and the preferred recipients include food kitchens and refugee charities. Among the goods donated are furniture and crockery as well as the main items – Lush cosmetics that have gone beyond the 28-day policy (42 days for Christmas lines). This is the maximum number of days products can be held in the warehouse at the manufacturing facility before being dispatched into stores.
Focus on fresh ingredients
This reflects the company’s policy of using predominantly fresh ingredients in its products, which gives them a short shelf-life that Lush is stringent on adhering to because it ensures its products are at the highest possible quality standard when purchased by the customer.
Annabel Platt, manufacturing communications coordinator at Lush, says: “As a manufacturer there is a freshness policy to make sure the products get to customers fresh. It’s incredibly important to send the products out fast. We don’t want products sat in the warehouse.”
In the UK & Ireland this involves dispatching to 106 retail stores and out to people’s homes for online ordered goods. There will be similar arrangements overseas where Lush has another six manufacturing sites producing cosmetics for shoppers in the likes of North America, Germany, Japan and Canada. In addition to its British stores Lush has around 800 company-owned outlets overseas.
The use of fresh materials helps Lush ensure the quality of its ingredients and Platt says the company will often pay more for these raw materials as it wants the best. It also likes to work with local producers and this very much applies to its fruit and vegetables that play a large part in Lush’s distinctive fruity flavours and aromas. The likes of blueberries, seaweed, garlic, lemon and cucumbers are regular ingredients and much of it is local alongside Dorset sea salt, Isle of Wight vodka, and the ground materials from Bad Hand Coffee in nearby Bournemouth.
Demands on suppliers
The sourcing of ingredients is recognised as a challenge, with Cadi Pink, supply chain impact manager at Lush, highlighting that Lush has 1,300 global suppliers. The selection process is particularly sensitive to Lush as 80% of its emissions are within its supply chain. “We’ve put a lot of money to work with our suppliers such as funding replanting schemes and reducing pesticide use,” she explains.
Sourcing the likes of butters and essential oils invariably involves different suppliers in different locations and they are often at different stages of the journey of working with Lush and its environmental standards.
The essential oils certainly play a vital role as they define the distinctive Lush fragrances that differentiate its products and they are all created in-house. “Other companies might employ external perfumers but we do it in-house. The fragrances are all done in the UK and very much protected,” says Platt.
These scents waft around the compounding area in the manufacturing facility is where the raw materials are mixed together to create the products. “We make sure every single mix is what the customer expects. The products are all handmade and if the batches are not quite right then it will be seen by human eyes and addressed,” she says, adding that the beauty of hand-making products is that it fosters an inventive mind-set. There is no need to have to deal with the costly and time-consuming tooling-up the production line for a new product.
Ability to be super creative
This inventiveness and speed to market is also fuelled by the lack of preservatives in the products. “It allows us to be super creative, even if it’s a challenge. We can invent a product and it can be in production in two weeks. This allows us to be very reactive,” she says.
This thinking encompasses the company’s various product areas that predominantly focus on bathing and shower products – including bubble bars and bath bombs. However, it also includes the likes of face masks and toothpaste tabs as well as a modest make-up range including mascara and lip gloss and the company continues to look for new opportunities.
“We’ve a ‘Secret Cosmetics Plan’ and it is to create a product for every need. We’ll listen to customers and react to them,” says Platt, adding that Lush will look at all these potential opportunities through the environmental lens and packaging is one obvious area where it has a strong focus and this very much involves the Green Hub.
One consideration has been to use re-fill stations in retail stores, according to Pink, but she says: “It’s a difficult area for us to go into with our fresh products. It would be difficult to store them. We did ‘Bring It Back’ because it’s like a deposit scheme with an incentive – 50p back when you return the pot. The rate of returns has gone up from 7% to 16% since we introduced the 50p incentive. In-store staff are educating customers on this.”
Meanwhile, Lush is also educating much of the retail sector as it pushes ahead with its progressive environmental agenda of which the Green Hub is playing an increasing role.
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