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Anita Roddick's Green Legacy
Emily Gertz, 11 Sep 07

Anita Roddick was the original mass-market green and ethical entrepreneur, and the first woman to combine sexy with sustainability. In 1976, the year she opened her first Body Shop in the UK with around two dozen all-natural skin lotions and hair-care concoctions, "natural" shampoo meant Clairol Herbal Essences or Faberge Organics, pure soap meant Ivory, and moisturizer was a flowery smelling, scarily pink concoction called Oil of Olay. (That's here in the US, of course -- I imagine these products had their analogues elsewhere in the Western world). The plant origins of these products were buried in the incomprehensible chemical names of the ingredients.

As The Body Shop grew into an international chain, it offered a kind of transparency, verifying that the delicious-smelling and pampering goods it sold were made with exotic-to-us plant ingredients sourced from small communities -- like marula oil from a women's collective in Namibia. And once lured inside The Body Shop, shoppers got an eyeful on the issues: saving the rain forest, promoting self reliance in developing nations via ethical trade instead of development loans (the "Trade Not Aid" campaign), and stopping animal testing of cosmetics. According to Jumana Faoruky in Time Magazine,

Over the years, the scope of campaigns that Roddick had taken up — and that Body Shop has supported in its storefronts — grew and expanded. Now a tube of lip gloss can increase awareness about domestic abuse and a bottle of perfume is a weapon in the fight against HIV. "She made shopping a political act," says her friend Josephine Fairley, co-founder of organic chocolate company Green & Black's. "She was the first person to do that. She made cosmetics fun, sexy and affordable, and there was always a message. But instead of 'Buy this mascara, it will change your life,' her message was, 'Buy this mascara, it could change someone else's life.'"

Today the market for certifiably organic ingredients in our soaps, lotions and other goops has exploded, and the notion of "fair trade" is a global consumer phenomenon. Consumers are a lot more interested in and informed about which ingredients are in their lotions, soaps and shampoos, where these substances come from, how they were grown and harvested, and whether the people who provided them earned a living wage in the process.

Roddick witnessed her once-outré practices of combining strong social and environmental values with savvy business behavior move ever close to "business as usual," gaining traction everywhere from Whole Foods to GE, and increasingly codified in business theory, education, and practice as the "triple bottom line" of balancing people, planet and profit on the corporate bottom line.

The Body Shop -- which Roddick started to support herself and her children while her husband traveled on horseback across the Americas -- ultimately made her a millionaire: today there are over two thousand Body Shops in 50 nations, and their 2005 revenue was $986 million, putting dollar signs into the eyes of many a green entrepreneur. Roddick used its success to become an influential force in bringing ethics into mega-capitalism. It wasn't always a comfortable fit for Roddick, who famously castigated the consmetics industry in 1991 for selling fantasies no one could realize in real life, but she had a clear-eyed vision of what an insider could accomplish. Again from Time:

Although Roddick stepped down as co-chair of The Body Shop in 2002 (while staying on as a consultant), she was still accused of selling out, both the company and her principles, when The Body Shop was sold to L'Oreal last year for $1.3 billion. But as far as Roddick was concerned, the sale was a chance to change the industry from the inside. "The real triumph isn't the fantastic price that L'Oreal paid for Body Shop," says Rory Stear, head of the Freeplay Energy, a company that develops environmentally responsible electronic products and has Gordon Roddick as one of its directors. "It's that L'Oreal has now adopted into its core operating model plans to move the biggest cosmetics group in the world towards the ethical standards that Anita had championed." The cosmetics giant has already said it plans to phase out its animal testing. "The triumph is that The Body Shop, which was a relatively small player in global business terms, now, after 30 years in existence, has the big players turning to it and saying, 'You were right all along. We want to do that, too.' Anita was clearly a visionary, way ahead of her time."

Roddick died on Monday, too young at 64, from a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by Hepatitis C. Just a few days before, she was still living her passion for justice by activating people via her blog to stopping a human rights crime:

The Amnesty International Secretariat has released yet another statement on the Angola Three, calling for Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace be freed from solitary and their cases re-examined for misconduct by the state. It is a HUGE gift to receive this kind of attention from Amnesty because this means every country in the world where they operate is now aware of this case of gross injustice against these political prisoners in the United States. Please click the link to read and download the statement from Amnesty!

The world has lost a fierce advocate of changing the world for the better.

Image: Emily Gertz

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Anita? For me, it was love at first sight.

It was 1983, Anita wanted a new PR. I lost my way trying to find the small HQ in the bowels of an industrial estate in Littlehampton and arrived late. My second son was just a few weeks old, and we talked about babies (she was going to be a birth partner for a friend), difficulties of juggling work and mothering, of running your own business; and we just clicked. We discussed the meaning of beauty, why the industry preyed on women’s insecurities and plans for a new head office. And that was just the first 40 minutes. We left on a handshake and two days later she arrived unannounced at my office and work started. No plan. No contract. New soap? let’s tie it in with Greenpeace’s campaign to save the whale. Cosmetics? Use that as a hook to boost women’s self-esteem. Ageing? People need to learn to love their wrinkles!

Working with Anita was no easy ride. She had an attention span of a gnat, didn’t understand the meaning of time, didn’t always know how to do something, but her belief that everything was possible prompted action. She pushed people to do more, think more, demand more. She didn’t do easy routes. Toeing the line, honouring the status quo, was not her way. And she loved it best when she was operating off-centre.

Instinctive, caring, tough, passionate, funny Anita made me understand we’re all in this together. That life can be tough, but it’s easier to deal with when it’s a joint effort. That life’s much too short to limit it with preconceptions or prejudices. That you have to be open to change and strangeness. To be endlessly curious.

Anita taught us the art of the possible. Just because it’s difficult shouldn’t stop us trying. She wanted us to continue to search, to challenge, to question, to celebrate life and have fun and excitement along the way.

As a family friend, I made the announcement of Anita’s death to the media. I had worked with Anita for almost 25 years and this was my hardest communications task.

Within minutes of going up on the wires, the calls, the emails, flooded in from around the world. Surprising? Of course not. Anita got around. She went everywhere, she knew everyone. She was prolific, tireless, mile-a-minute, on a mission … spreading the word and giving it clout. Infectious. Electric. Exhausting. The walking blur.

Jilly Forster


Posted by: jilly forster on 16 Sep 07



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