When people are not bitter and sad about their own situation
in life, they are good to others, too, he says.
This fundamental belief in the holistic power of beauty is one that
Conseil shares with Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Avedaand
is one of two primary philosophies that have guided the companys
operations for nearly three decades. The other is described in Rechelbachers
founding vision for the company: Avedas products can
only come from Mother Nature, but should not be manufactured at
Or, as Conseil says, Its only beautiful if its
Lots of people talk about beauty from within, Conseil explains,
or how something can move you emotionally because of its beauty.
But, he says, tell me how you did it, too. Because if you
did it at the expense of peoples health, or the planets
well-being, then it cannot be beautiful.
And so Conseil believes that sustainability, like beauty, must come
from within. This conviction, shared by many of Avedas nearly
2,000 employees, kept the company on course through some rather
tumultuous changes: a purchase by Estee Lauder in 1997; Rechelbechers
departure as president (he is still involved with the company as
a consultant and with the Aveda Institute); a huge influx of capital
from a new parent company that resulted in rapidly increasing sales
and a workforce that tripled during a six-year period; and, finally,
a period of remote management before Conseil took residency in 2000
as president, headquartered in the companys Blaine, MN, facility.
It has survived these changes, Conseil notes, because its dedication
to the environment is part of its culture and not a marketing position.
Aveda has more than 25 years of evolution of people working
together and its very precious and its very, very powerful,
he comments. And it can change the industryit is changing
We are not huge in any way, but we can be a catalyst for change,
adds Mary Tkach, executive director, environmental responsibility
for Aveda. We can be the activist voice out there that helps
move other businesses, within and outside of our industry.
Our packaging, from an environmental perspective, far surpasses
anyone in the industry, she continues. And I think our
ingredientsthe quality and functionality of our productsare
exceptional. And theres our corporate donations and our network
of people who are constantly donating time and energy to all sorts
of social and environmental causesI believe that Aveda the
network and Aveda the company are really out in front of a lot of
Tkachs role in the company is multifaceted, serving simultaneously
as the provider of sustainable tools and resources, the big-picture
thinker charged with identifying long-term trends and issues, as
well as being a kind of internal watchdog, making sure that programs
and projects are on track with the corporate mission.
The oversight and safeguarding of product and package sourcing and
manufacturing is fundamental to the Aveda mission and serves as
the foundation upon which it strives to support values that cultivate
sustainable economies and cultures. It promotes sustainable development
by seeking to protect the Earths natural heritage from degradation
and by contributing to the restoration of environments that sustain
biodiversity. Among its most notable projects:
* a partnership with the Yawanawa tribe in the Brazilian Amazon
to organically grow the urukum palm tree, which produces a red seed-pigment
that is used in lip, cheek and eye color;
* an alliance with Conservation International to help local communities
in the Madre de Dios territory of Peru to develop environmentally
friendly businesses that encourage the conservation of their natural
resources, including the production of a protein complex called
morikue that nourishes hair;
* a growing partnership with local collectives in an eastern Amazonian
region of Brazil that gather, harvest and sell nuts from babassu
palm trees, from which a foaming cleansing ingredient called babassu
betaine is produced. Since initiating the partnership six years
ago, Aveda also has financed the construction of a babassu processing
facility, a soap- making facility, a paper press for processing
babassu fibers and has funded corresponding training in processing
Finally, Avedas Earth Fundsm provides a formal means for the
company to give back to society. The Earth Fund directs
corporate financial resources to a broad range of organizations
that actively engage individuals and local leaders in protecting
the sacredness of a healthy environment. In the past two years,
the Earth Fund has supported programs focused on reducing the threats
to biodiversity; one of those is a four-year partnership with the
RARE Center for Tropical Conservation and the United Nations Environment
Programme to develop new approaches for protecting the 700 places
on the planet that have been designated World Heritage Sites because
they possess outstanding universal value for all humanity.
green@work recently visited Avedas ISO 14001-certified facility
in Minnesota to talk with Conseil about the companys strategies
and vision, and about what he believes makes this company a sustainable
WHAT PATHS LED YOU TO AVEDA?
CONSEIL: I think about this
often because sometimes life, if you look at it in pieces, doesnt
always make sense. But then, sometimes, later in your life, you
find out how a combination of events brings your life work. When
I chose how to start my business career, I chose marketing, not
because I had been well prepared in it, but because in marketing
I found an interesting search for answers about people, what they
do, what they believe in. Marketing is a kind of anthropology. You
get a tribe of consumers, try to understand their worth, their beliefs,
their work so, thats one piece.
Then I spent a lot of time in Asia, and Asian thinking influenced
me. The last piece is the environment. I was not extremely environmentally
aware until about 12 years ago, when I was living in southeast Asia
in fast-developing countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand.
I started to wonder about the cost of all that fast developmentwhat
were we destroying at the same time as we were building? That impacted
me. I had no clue what the concept of sustainable development was,
but I was thinking along those lines, trying to understand how growth
could happen in a good way.
I remember a trip on the Mekong River. On one side of the river
was Laos, on the other was Thailand. The Laos side had beautiful,
very lush, tropical forestsa very unspoiled type of nature.
On the Thai side were semi-arid hills with very small bushes, sandy,
turning into a desert. On that day I saw the effect of uncontrolled
development. That picture changed something in me foreverI
realized our responsibility in what we do and how it can hurt our
When I lived in Japan, I got educated into sorting my household
waste in seven categories. Some prefectures in Japan now sort in
17 categories. Plus, I met a person who is important to me who is
an environmentalistat the time she worked for the Japanese
equivalent of the EPA. She taught me a lot of things about the technicalities
of the environment. And thats where I started to gain some
knowledge on top of my interest.
All of these elements somehow came together when I had the opportunity
to join Aveda, where here its about a connection with indigenous
people. Anthropology taught me to accept and to value differences
and not to judge.
DID AVEDA FIND YOU OR DID YOU FIND AVEDA?
CONSEIL: When Estee Lauder acquired Aveda I was working
with LOreal. I was curious why I had never heard about Aveda.
So, I started doing some research and the more I looked into it,
the more I thought it was very interesting. I thought that one day
I would like to do something like this. Then, three years later,
they came to me with an offer and they must have been surprised
at the speed with which I said yesbecause my decision was
made mentally three years before. I came very committed to do my
best for this great idea. I discovered that Aveda really has pure
and good intentionsthere is a little light in the darkness
of the beauty world. My duty is to take care of it and make sure
it doesnt go out. So, thats what Im doing. The
beauty business, when its well done, is not a superficial
YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL LEADERSHIP IN THIS INDUSTRY IS WELL-KNOWN
HAS IT CONTRIBUTED TO AVEDA'S SUCCESS?
CONSEIL: Its a case of the chicken and the egg.
I have no evidence, but I really think that our consumers and the
professionals who support us have the same values that this company
has built itself on. Because of that, we owe our customers everything.
There would be no wealth in this company without them. So, by definition,
yes, success comes from who we are and who our customers are.
DO YOU THINK YOUR CUSTOMERS ALSO KNOW ABOUT
THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL AGENDA THAT'S BEHIND THEM?
CONSEIL: Unfortunately, not always. There is a core inside
our consumer base that knows and this core owns the brand. This
is a core I dont want to disappoint; I feel Im accountable
to these people. Other customers dont necessarily understand
the same things, but they are influential people who are active
in their communities and their knowledge will diffuse to others.
I think, slowly, we will get there.
HOW WOULD AVEDA BE DIFFERENT IF THIS WAS
JUST GOOD MARKETING?
CONSEIL: My personal belief
is that nothing that is fake is sustainable. Very simply, I dont
believe in telling lies to people; its not a part of who we
are. I dont have any evidence, but what I can say for sure
is this: given everything we want to do outside the business to
give back to the environment, our bottom line certainly doesnt
suffer. This alone is very big and is one of my agendasevery
time I have a chance to talk to business people, I want to tell
them that. I want to tell them that you can do plenty of good things
and it will not hurt your bottom line.
CAN YOU PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE?
CONSEIL: Take energy conservation.
We use a lot of heat in our manufacturing processes. Less and less,
though, because we discovered that some cold processes are much
better for the environment and still make good products. When you
conserve energy, you help your bottom line because you cut your
electricity and gas bills. Its just common sense.
Whats wonderful is that when you do something for good reasons,
the universe responds to it. Another example: we wanted to get rid
of plant sanitization techniques that we felt were not organic.
In America, most companies, whether its food or personal care,
irradiate. We thought that irradiation was not in our philosophy.
But we have a commitment to provide safe products to our customers.
So I challenged the organization to find a modern way to sanitize
plant materials that would not involve irradiation. And they came
up with something simple and brilliantan evolution of the
autoclave technique. The result? We can use this technique for most
of our plant materials and we got a fantastic business result that
we never expected. The yield of our plant materials is six times
more, so we are saving tons of money. Its as if the plants,
who were previously not well-treated, were saying, You guys
have been good to us. Now that you are treating us in a humane way,
we will do something good to you, too.
HOW ABOUT PACKAGING?
CONSEIL: We are quite fanatic about post-consumer recycled
content. Some, for instance, are made of 100 percent post-consumer
recycled plastic. They are not ugly. They are not completely pure
in the sense that theyre perfectly transparent, but who wouldnt
call this beautiful? It relates to what I said about beauty being
good. Its more beautiful because its the right thing.
We broke another paradigm with refillable lipsticks. Everybody said
we were crazyladies have so much pride in having a beautiful
lipstick in their handswe were going against a fundamental
of the industry. Well, we increased our sales of lipstick by 40
percent. And a core of people wrote us to say it was a great move
and they love our refills.
BUT YOUR PACKAGING DOSEN'T SAY ANYTHING
ABOUT ITS CONTENT.
CONSEIL: We are very, very bad at talking about these
things. Thats something we need to improve. But, at the same
time, the Aveda culture in me says that if we make this a marketing
positioning, then its not our culture anymore. It simply becomes
a marketing positioning, which we dont want it to be. Its
a fine line.
YET YOU MAKE MARKETING DECISIONS, ESPECIALLY
AS YOUR PRODUCTS ARE SOLD ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY THROUGH YOUR OWN STORES
AND NOT DEPARTMENT STORES.
CONSEIL: When you own a brand
like Aveda, you could go for the big bucks and franchise the thing.
Yes, there would be serious dollars made in the short-term, but
Aveda is about the culture. If you franchise, what guarantee do
you have that a business person who buys a franchise has the same
passion? In our own stores, we are responsible. If it doesnt
happen, its our fault. Our salons dont have to fear
that we will suddenly distribute our products to their neighbors
without telling them. And we can sleep at night because we know
these people are committed to the mission of Aveda. If you franchise
this, it will just be about the dollars. So it cannot work as a
marketing positioning; it would be greenwash.
SO YOUR CULTURE IS ALSO IMPORTANT TO YOUR
CONSEIL: Our people are empowered by the mission. After
the takeover by Estee Lauder, there had not been a president residing
here in Blaine for a while, so I felt it was a turning point. Some
people thought that I was only about the mission; others were concerned
I was only about the business. It seemed to me more important to
connect to the mission. It was a great renewal. In any society you
always have a critical mass of undecided individualsgood people
with good intentions, but who want to know where leadership is going
before they take risks. So, not only did the hard line mission promoters
do what they had to do, but the undecided individuals got completely
IS AVEDA SETTING BENCHMARKS FOR OTHERS
IN THE BEAUTY PRODUCTS INDUSTRY?
CONSEIL: This the future will tell. We certainly hope
so, because our mission calls for environmental leadership, which
means that you lead by example, positively and negatively. Thats
why we publish an honest CERES report. Anyone can see what we do
wrong. We want this to help others. We want to diffuse this knowledge.
Why? One, because we dont want to own it because then its
greenwash and its not the culture. Number two: we cannot create
change if we dont start in our own industry and with our own
competitors. So we have to be generous. Third, if more people buy
these materials then costs will come down and that will benefit
everybody. Its like the rising tide that lifts all the boats.
HAS AVEDA HAD ANY INFLUENCE ON ESTE LAUDER?
CONSEIL: I think it goes both ways. Estee Lauder has
helped us very much in a number of ways. For example, when working
with suppliers on the purity of raw materials, we very quickly realized
that the quantities we buy are nothing compared to what some big
companies are buying. So some suppliers would say, Well, youre
very nice, but were not going to change our process just because
of you. But then Estee Lauder said that they had an interest,
too, which adds bargaining power. Had we been all by ourselves,
perhaps we would still not be there. So it goes both ways.
WHAT IS THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE IN THE WAY AVEDA MAKES PRODUCTS
VERSUS SOME OF THE OTHER COSMETIC MAKERS?
CONSEIL: We use a process at
the beginning of product development called a mission aligned ingredient
review. Let me explain. Product development starts when someone
has an idea. They write a paper called a preliminary idea form to
explain the ideawhat they would like the product to do, what
it looks like, what it smells like. This form goes to R & D,
who then has to respond with feasibility lead times. Two years ago
we added the mission aligned ingredient review, which means that
at the very early stage, R & D has to list and explain the origins
of the ingredients. Is it a plant material? A mineral material?
A petrol-chemical material? We have a rule to use petrol-chemicals
only when nothing else is available, so we may question a product
and decide not to do it. Everything is documented. Then we decide
whether it aligns with our mission. It becomes our responsibility
as a management team. There are two people who have veto power over
product development: Mary Tkach, head of environmental sustainability,
and David Hircock, my advisor for sustainability affairs. If they
dont sign, it wont happen. I dont know of any
company who has empowered two team members to make sure that we
stay aligned to our mission.
WHAT ARE YOUR BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL AND
CONSEIL: We are at a stage where we have made some progress
on not hurting the environment too much. Now we are at the point
of dreamingof not hurting it at all. So we are working on
a zero waste project. Its difficult because we make more than
500 SKUs, but we want to get there.
Of course the big challenge is how to have a restorative agenda,
one where you are not only not hurting the environment, but contributing
to it. You could argue that we do that through fundraising, but
doing it through our manufacturing activity, thats a different
story. Its very exciting and a whole new era.
In terms of business, the challenge is to control our growth at
a rate that we can control quality, and we dont change our
Anyone can do what we do. Its not complicated and it can make
such a huge difference. The benefit is that if more companies start
doing a few right things for the planet, they will give their employees
a wider sense of purpose. They will create a group of passionate
people instead of creating just a group of professionals. We have
to convince them that the future of the planet is a good reason
to do things differently.