Lush puts a cork in it

Written by Beauty, Science

When asked to picture those leading the charge against global warming, one might picture the 70s hippy trying to bring about nuclear disarmament with peace and love, man, or perhaps more contemporary activists like Greta Thurnberg or the group Extinction Rebellion. The last organisation that comes to mind is probably the company that sell the weird-smelling soaps with unpronounceable names that your mum likes.

“Lush announced their “carbon positive” packaging, whose production leads to an actual net reduction in carbon emissions”
However, late last month Lush defied expectations by announcing “carbon positive” packaging, whose production leads to not just a smaller than usual boost in carbon emissions, but an actual net reduction. The packaging is made of cork, which is produced using “the inner layer under the bark of the cork oak tree”, according to blogger Miles King, who spoke to Lush higher-ups involved with the project. The bark is harvested once a decade, and to get more, more cork trees need to be planted. The increased presence of photosynthesising organisms leads to more carbon dioxide being absorbed from the atmosphere, or carbon being ‘sequestered’.

King explains that Lush’s “team’s calculations suggest that each cork pot [the form of packaging being used] sequesters over one kilo of carbon dioxide gas”, adding that “this is a very conservative estimate”.

What isn’t conservative is Lush’s ambition: the firm plans to ramp up annual purchases of the pots from 35,000 to 500,000 in just twelve months (a tenfold increase), leading to at least half a million kilograms of CO2 being sequestered by next year. While the science is interesting, it’s also important to understand the boring bits, which is where your correspondent’s studies in economics come in.

Like with any decision, this will have externalities, known as spillover effects: while Lush pore over the finer details of carbon sequestration, there are also subtler benefits to having more cork. The specific genus of tree from which it is harvested is favoured by the black pig in Spain for grazing under, for example, while the savannah in which the tree is found (and whose food chain begins with the tree) helps support the Iberian Lynx, an endangered species, as well as migratory birds and imperial and booted eagles. In encouraging the growth of more cork oak trees (20,000 shrubs having been planted using Lush funds in the past year), the cosmetic giant helps push back against recent campaigns to have them “destroyed and replaced with fast-growing trees like Eucalypts from Australia“, as King writes.

Those attached to the project are quick to put to bed the idea that this is a gimmick, or something done out of charity

The first shipment of cork pots dramatically made its way from Portugal by sailboat as opposed to truck or plane, but those attached to the project are quick to put to bed the idea that this is a gimmick, or something done out of charity. Indeed, the focus appears to be on proving that such an environmentally conscious strategy can still form part of a good business model.

“Lush is interested in its impact,” Nick Gumery, creative packaging buyer for Lush and the man behind the initiative, made clear, “but wants to show, as an ethical business, it can still make a profit”.

Last modified: 23rd October 2019

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