Denise Hills, Global Sustainability Director at Natura, discusses how the company turns social and environmental challenges into opportunities for innovation and development
Denise Hills has a unique opportunity to make a difference: as global director of sustainability at the Natura &Co group for Latin America, she is spearheading the implementation of the group’s strategy and goals towards excellence in sustainability in the region.
As the leader of Natura’s Center for Expertise in Sustainability, which is intended to ensure that the entire company is covered by its commitments to sustainability, Denise manages a diverse agenda that includes ambitious goals: turning contemporary social and environmental challenges into opportunities for innovation and development; and generating positive impacts in the social, environmental and cultural fronts.
“Natura appreciates that we are all interdependent – and that civil society shares with governments and corporations the responsibility of finding solutions for a more sustainable future,” said Denise during an interview with Indústria Verde.
This is reflected in the fact that Natura currently audits its supply chain for social, environmental, economic, and ethical and integrity aspects. In 2018, Natura achieved the UEBT – Union for Ethical Biotrade – certification, which attests to the sustainability of the supply chain of natural ingredients, including those supplied by communities and other partners, and ensures its commitment to biodiversity conservation. In addition, Natura &Co has pledged to pursue certification and full traceability of its critical supply chains by 2030, including palm oil, mica, paper, alcohol, soybeans, and cotton.
Denise Hills was the first woman to chair the United Nations (UN) Global Compact’s Brazil Network and is a member of the Board of Directors of this initiative in Brazil. She is also co-chair of the board of directors of Sistema B Brasil, a member of the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development and an emeritus board member of Instituto Capitalismo Consciente Brasil. Read below Indústria Verde’s interview with Denise Hills.
Indústria Verde – We know that Natura has been a long-standing icon of sustainability, an industrial company that appreciates and cares for Brazil’s biodiversity as it drives the innovation wave. Is social and environmental responsibility in Natura’s DNA?
Denise Hills – Our commitment to sustainability dates back to our foundation, and so much so that our very name drove this point home. Our initial concern was to have more natural ingredients in our formulas, and Natura just reinforced its commitments along the way. We were pioneers in launching refills in Brazil over 35 years ago and, in recent decades, our commitment to education, diversity, environmental conservation and a decent life for all has evolved.
In 1974, by adopting direct sales as a business model, Natura kicked off a virtuous cycle of sharing wealth with the network and generating a source of income for many women who were not as involved in the job market as they are today.
Over the following years, we continued to evolve in our commitments, whether in the education front – with the establishment of the Natura Institute and the Crer para Ver product line, where we and our consultants gave up our earnings and redirected them to education – or even in the development of sustainable businesses based on our relationship with communities in the Amazon and the creation of the Ekos product line in 2000. Also, we have been a Carbon Neutral company since 2007, back when climate change was not a trending topic as it is today, although it was already a pressing issue.
IV – In what other ways does this DNA is expressed today?
DH – Natura believes that the value and longevity of a business are directly linked to its ability to contribute to the evolution of society and to sustainable development. Natura was the first publicly-traded company in the world to receive the B Corp certification for its sustainable business model. The B System brings together companies whose business success is also consistent with the generation of a positive impact on social and environmental issues.
A key example was the development of sustainable businesses from the creation of the Ekos product line over 20 years ago. We started with two priorities – environmental conservation and support for the development of local communities – to develop products based on the greatest source of socio-biodiversity on the planet: the Amazon. The formulas in the Natura portfolio have a focus on the use of bio-ingredients from renewable sources. Based on this pioneering model, Natura has generated BRL 2.55 billion in revenue in the Amazon region since 2011. In addition, we have established relationships with 85 socio-biodiversity supply chains and have developed 41 bio-ingredients, generating income for more than 8,000 families in extractivist communities and contributing to the conservation of 2 million hectares of forest in the Amazon – which is equivalent to approximately 2.7 million soccer fields.
Now, at the Natura &Co group level – Natura, Avon, The Body Shop and Aesop – we have set the goal of expanding the conservation area in the Amazon to 3 million hectares by 2030, in addition to helping to reach net-zero deforestation by 2025 through stakeholder engagement.
Having been carbon neutral for 15 years now, we offset all greenhouse gas emissions that we cannot avoid and we rely on activity reduction targets throughout the supply chain. In order to encourage forest dwellers to do their part in the conservation of their local biome, Natura has developed the first voluntary carbon offset program within its supply chain, called Circular Carbon. Under the program, the families of small farmers receive payments not only for the purchase of inputs and benefit sharing, but also for the service of environmental conservation.
To tackle the issue of waste and encourage the circularity chain, Natura also relies on the Natura Elos Program, which has been developing reverse logistics chains since 2017 for the supply of recycled materials for the manufacture of packaging and support materials, in addition to encouraging formal labor arrangements and the adoption of best management and operation practices in all links of the chains.
Targets with a focus on human rights include achieving 30% diversity in leadership positions; having 50% of leadership positions held by women (target already achieved at Natura); and increasing funding for its primary advocacy work by 20%, thus ensuring gender parity and equal pay for its entire workforce.
IV – So, as a champion of sustainability, what pathways does Natura see for the Brazilian industrial sector in terms of innovation and best use of the country’s biodiversity?
DH – We believe in a greener and more ethical future, with the goal of sustainable growth based on technology elements while reconciling science, innovation and the wisdom of agro-extractivists.
In our view, it is fundamental to step up actions to address urgent global issues, such as the climate crisis and protection of the Amazon. For this reason, Natura &Co group’s Vision 2030 – called Commitment to Life – outlines clear objectives for tackling major contemporary challenges.
To contribute to the improvement and regeneration of biodiversity, the group focuses on partnerships to establish a new model for the preservation of nature, with actions in line with science-based targets. In addition, we intend to ramp up our actions to protect the Amazon by leveraging our more than two decades of experience in the region, and our goal is to expand the preserved area from two million hectares to three million hectares by 2030. Natura &Co will also work collectively towards ensuring net-zero deforestation in the Amazon by 2025.
On the circular economy and regeneration front, we want to move beyond a circular economic model that is capable of regenerating more than is necessary – for the supply chain to ensure that packages are added to the circularity loop by 2030 and that 100% of our materials are reusable, recyclable or compostable. In addition, we intend to offset the equivalent amount of plastic packaging when no recycling capabilities are in place in order to achieve 100% responsible plastic disposal.
IV – Likewise, which pathways should we take as a society and as consumers for a sustainable future?
DH – Natura appreciates that we are all interdependent, and that civil society shares with governments and corporations the responsibility of finding solutions for a more sustainable future. Therefore, it is critical that people engage in new consumption models and rethink their attitudes by making choices based on a purpose that is positive for the entire planet.
Natura advocates for three public causes whose objectives consider agendas of global challenges, in particular the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To promote these causes, we work towards raising awareness of our network of relationships – as consultants and consumers – with a view to building a more sustainable society.
The causes mentioned above include “Living Amazon,” which involves an initiative to turn the Amazon region into a global role model for a new society that integrates the people, the forest and cities in a sustainable manner; “More Beauty, Less Waste,” which advocates that we should offer the most while using the least and reducing excesses – thus focusing on materials from renewable or recycled sources; and “Every Person Matters,” a social pact designed to reduce inequality and intolerance by promoting social inclusion by means of truly transformative actions.
IV – Is there a Brazilian version for a sustainable industrial sector or is this idea necessarily universal?
DH – Given their significant sway on the public agenda, industrial companies can be a force for good in addressing social and environmental challenges.
Regarding the uniqueness of Brazil’s sustainable industrial sector, we should emphasize in particular its immense potential to play a leading role in the efficient and sustainable use of natural resources and in the low carbon economy. Brazil has an important history in the environmental arena and it also has the opportunity to envision a better future.
The Amazon, for instance, holds the world’s greatest biodiversity wealth, which should be perceived as an economic asset providing multiple business opportunities. Through investments in technology, research and strategy, we can tap into this competitive advantage and make the country a bioeconomy powerhouse. The industrial sector plays a key role in seizing these opportunities.