Ruth Andrade is responsible for managing community networks, collaborative action and charitable giving strategies at Lush, which is known for its vegan, vegetarian and organic soap products as much as its strident support for social and environmental causes. It is her second stint at the cosmetics retailer, having previously spent more than five years there as environmental development manager until 2012.
Fluent in four languages, Ruth is a passionate believer in building networks and communities to affect positive change.
Do you think it’s important we respond to the climate emergency?
Yes, of course. Apart from a nuclear war, it is the biggest threat to our existence on the planet.
Why do you think we need green radicals at a time like this?
Because slow and steady solutions were enough 20 years ago. Since then, there has been a lot of talk and not enough action. We are at a point now where we need to challenge the current economic models and to quote Extinction Rebellion “rebel for life”.
How would you define a green radical?
Green radicals are people who are challenging the norm. Going beyond the status quo, when the status quo is no longer a viable strategy for the future. Those who can listen to what science says (and act on it) whilst listening to and standing in solidarity with the indigenous peoples and communities who are doing the planet’s most critical tasks.
Do we need to redefine markets and inspire others?
Yes, we need systemic change and that cannot be done by focusing solely on our own little patch. This is the time for radical and unusual collaborations and pre- competitive spaces where we can find new solutions to meet humanity’s needs while also respecting the rights of nature and the rights of future generations. Businesses need to show courage.
How has your organisation taken a radical approach to environmental action?
Lush were early adopters of some key environmental solutions like selling products that didn’t require plastic packaging. The shampoo bar only hit the news in the last couple of years despite being in Lush shops for the last 25 years.
A 100 per cent renewable energy supplier for our shops and factories in the UK or 100 per cent post- consumer recycled pots and bottles.
We have also introduced the concept of reusable gift wraps and this Christmas we have launched the Knot Swap scheme, where you can bring your old fabric gift wrap and get 50 per cent discount on a new one, we will then wash it and put it back on the shelves. We’ve also had 10 years of developing regenerative agriculture and forestry projects in the supply chain, as well as, removing palm oil from key raw materials.
We fund environmental activist groups who campaign on issues like keeping fossil fuels in the ground, ocean plastics or deforestation, while using our shops and social media for campaigning on those issues too. Recently we closed shops in 36 countries in solidarity with the schools’ global #climatestrike.
How do you build the business case for radical change?
At Lush we are lucky to be privately owned and to have a board who care about more than profit. Decisions have often been based not simply on payback but because it is the right thing to do. Instilling ethics, values and purpose, making people feel proud about the company they work for is an invaluable process in getting support for change.
How have customers, employees and stakeholders responded?
We tend to attract staff who also care about animals, the planet and human rights. So they bring their values and ethics with them to work. More and more people work at Lush because they feel they can have a positive impact in the world.
Our customers have increasingly moved with us on this journey. More customers come to us for the ethics. We also seem to have a good reputation amongst grassroots organisations, where we are seen as allies in the process of systemic transformation.
What’s the biggest barrier to engineering change?
I’d name three things: limited cash, going too fast, and people’s lag in changing behaviour.
How do you inspire others to radicalism?
By being authentic, imperfect and truthful. We are on a journey, and we want to make it easy for others to also come on this journey with us. Whether it is by buying products whose ingredients are helping to regenerate soil, engaging with our ethical campaigns or by supporting our grassroots radical giving programme.
What’s the secret to taking a radical idea mainstream?
Make it easy and accessible for people to make change. Keep repeating and delivering your key messages while setting a good example. Collaborate, reward, partner and support those who are campaigning for those radical ideas and communicating to a wider audience. We have done this with at least three of our causes: fighting animal testing, going naked (plastic packaging-free) and moving beyond sustainability into regeneration.
Which area of the economy do you think is most in need of radical change?
Investments. Our financial institutions are all quietly funding the widespread destruction of our ecosystems. Power is in our hands. We can put pressure on our banks, pension funds, universities and councils as well as move our own money to support a regenerative future. Divesting is a crucial leverage point to achieve radical change, combined with “patient” money invested in initiatives that deliver multiple benefits rather than quick short-term financial results.
What one radical thing would you like people to do right now to change our future?
I’d love if people could really listen to the kids rising up everywhere and then act on their advice.
This interview forms part of a series of interviews that were published in a new report, New Green Radicals: The business leaders responding to the climate emergency. The report follows last year’s ‘Meet the Disruptors’ and 2017’s ‘Secrets of the Pioneers’ reports, and this year features interviews with entrepreneurs, leaders and creators who are providing radical solutions to the climate crisis.
The report is produced by Greenhouse PR in association with BusinessGreen and was launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on October 23rd. Follow live on social media with #NewGreenRadicals.
At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering climate action. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, if you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, get in touch with the Greenhouse team on 0117 214 1250 or email email@example.com.