A force for good

Lush Malaysia director Dr Harvinder Harchand is firmly of the belief that balancing sustainable measures and business profit is not a zero-sum game, and that instead, they complement each other. — ONG SOON HIN/The Star

LUSH is a name known globally for a number of reasons. The cosmetics company is famously recognised for introducing the concept of fizzy, colourful bath bombs into the beauty and pampering sphere, forever transforming the bathtub-soaking landscape.

There are also its highly distinguishable stores, where stacks upon stacks of handmade soaps, shampoos, lotions and scrubs appear in every hue imaginable, beckoning visitors to touch, smell and test its vast product range.

Beyond that, what stands as a shining hallmark of the company is its deep-rooted commitment to environmental and ethical responsibility. While recent years have seen beauty and grooming brands ramp up their sustainability efforts in response to changing consumer demands, Lush’s earth-conscious ethos has been etched onto its agenda since its very inception.

Founded in the UK in 1995, Lush was built with the goal of integrating care for the planet, its communities and its animals into its business practices. For more than two decades, it has worked to fight animal testing in the cosmetics industry and offered ‘naked’ products which do not require any plastic packaging.

To protect wildlife ecosystems and natural environments, its raw materials and ingredients are sourced from traceable supply chains, and its pots and bottles created from recycled plastic.

“What people are doing now is what Lush has been doing since 10 to 15 years ago,” says Dr Harvinder Harchand, director of Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics Malaysia. “Some businesses are just now starting to adapt things like their packaging, when Lush has done it from the beginning.”

The brand launched in Malaysia in 2018, opening its first store in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur. Since then, it has added nine more retail outlets around the country, reflecting a growing local consumer preference for brands that prioritise sustainability and social good.

“I would say that most of our customers are very savvy. They know Lush as a brand, and come and buy our products because of what our basic core values are,” Dr Harchand adds.

Beauty for betterment

Dr Harchand, whose multifaceted resume spans experience in the aviation industry, hospitality and business development, sought to bring the Lush brand to Malaysia as she was drawn to the company’s strong ethical principles and its socially and environmentally driven business approach.

“What gravitated me towards the brand were the factors of its values and the contribution it makes, not only in terms of business profitability, but also what it does to serve the community in each country and globally as well,” she says.

Led by a dedication towards ethical retail, she has endeavoured to exemplify the positive impact of sustainable and responsible business practices through Lush Malaysia.

In addition to encouraging customers to shop its naked products, the brand embraces circularity and cuts down on packaging waste by offering a ‘Bring It Back’ scheme for products that cannot be sold naked.

Through this programme, customers are encouraged to return their used Lush plastic tubs and bottles, which will then be sent to one of Lush’s recycling centres to be remade into new packaging, creating a closed loop system.

As a reward, registered customers who bring back an item can choose to receive a RM3 return on a purchase, or bring five empty pots and get a free fresh face mask.

Also featured on Lush Malaysia’s shelves are its Charity Pots, a hand and body lotion that customers can purchase to help fund small grassroots groups and projects. As she explains, all of the proceeds from the sale, aside from local taxes, are distributed as grants.

“The only thing we deduct is SST upon importation, and we absorb the rest of the costs such as logistics. The proceeds are channelled towards NGOs or organisations that often don’t get opportunities or grants from relevant departments or bodies.”

In 2022, the recipient of the Charity Pot grant was conservation non-profit Coralku Malaysia. Funding went into its research project to find and identify potentially climate-resilient Super Corals in local waters which can aid in optimising coral restoration.

The director reveals that the evaluating body for funding applicants consists of retail and HQ staff, which upholds neutrality and democratic decision making.

“It’s giving the power to the employees to decide who is the right candidate to receive the Charity Pot money,” she states. “It’s our customers’ money and they put their trust in us, so we have to make sure the money will not go into the wrong hands.”

Cosmetic changes

A thread that seems to run through Lush Malaysia’s initiatives and practices is its emphasis on human connection. At its stores, staff provide customers personalised demonstrations that convey details not only of the products but of the impact the business is making.

“We make sure that we buy from suppliers that pay fair wages, we do not buy from anyone that uses child labour — we ensure that everyone’s interests and stakeholders are protected,” Dr Harchand elaborates.

Most of the crafting of the brand’s products are done by hand, further adding a human touch. In fact, customers who turn over their tub or bottle will find a sticker showcasing the name and illustrated image of the employee who made the product.

Extending the brand’s impact on local communities and environments, Lush Malaysia has also carried out CSR projects such as beach clean-ups in Kuantan, Port Dickson, Penang and Kota Kinabalu, as well as coral planting at Lang Tengah Island, Terengganu and Gaya Island, Sabah.

Asked about the reasons for concentrating on sea-related activities, Dr Harchand shared that it was simply a matter of what was needed.

“Many brands are planting trees, and that’s good, but we don’t need to plant if we don’t cut, and Lush does not cut trees to make any of our products,” she explains.

“We realised that the beaches are neglected, and the majority of oxygen is produced by the sea and not land,” she adds.

“For us in Malaysia, our weather allows us to carry out these projects, and our seas are safe. We want to make sure that we maintain the quality of our seas, and educate people about not littering in drains and rivers, because the sea is where the future is.”

Dr Harchand is firmly of the belief that balancing sustainable measures and business profit is not a zero-sum game, and that instead, they complement each other.

“I wouldn’t say the two compete at all — they sustain each other. From our business, the more we go into sustainability, the more we draw people to purchase our products,” she says.

“If you start the business off on a green foot, like Lush did, people will recognise you for it and people are happy to buy from you because they know it will be contributed back to society.”

This article first appeared in Star Biz7 weekly edition.

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