Sustainability manager Katrina Shum shares her tips on living a more eco-friendly lifestyle
When your job title is sustainability manager, you better be an eco expert—and Lush Cosmetics’ Katrina Shum certainly qualifies. Based in Vancouver, Katrina works to implement eco-friendly initiatives for a brand well-known for its ethical (and luxurious) skincare, hair and bath products.
Environment 911 caught up with Katrina to talk about Lush’s sustainability efforts, the products she most often recommends and her favourite eco hack…
E911: Can you tell us about Lush’s philosophy on sustainability?
Katrina: Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Lush. We have been a values-driven business since our start 25 years ago and our six core values remain at the centre of what we do every day.
Fighting animal testing is the first one, with a long-standing policy against animal testing along with deep work and campaigns to put an end to the practice. Fresh and handmade are about sourcing fresh ingredients and sharing with our customers when their products are made and who made them (by putting their names and faces on the products). Ethical buying is about the integrity of our supply chain as it relates to labour, the environment and the communities we source from. One hundred percent vegetarian is just that, in addition to 89 percent of our lineup being vegan. And finally naked, is our cheeky way of referring to products naked of any packaging.
We invent our own products, manage our own supply chains, grow some of our own raw materials, own and operate our manufacturing and distribution facilities, run our own retail shops and have our own in-house brand team. As a business, we recognize that we are on a journey—toward regeneration—to not only reduce our impact on the planet but to leave the world lusher than we found it.
E911: Lush was ahead of the sustainability curve with its lack of packaging. Can you tell us how that came about?
Katrina: As I mentioned, "naked” is one of our core values at Lush and refers to our products that require no packaging at all. When Lush started in 1995, our co-founders Mark and Mo Constantine would hand-pour soap into upcycled drainpipes or lunch pails, then cut slices for customers to order. From these humble beginnings, we realized that we would much rather put our money into fresh, quality ingredients rather than fancy, unnecessary packaging around it.
E911: How often is Lush improving on its sustainability practices?
Katrina: Constantly and continually! We’re always learning and evolving. We recognize that there is more for us to do within our own operations, throughout our supply chain and with our staff, customers and communities. The landscape is rapidly evolving with new technologies, new suppliers, new partners in the community and new ways of thinking. Our role is to continually challenge ourselves to do better and to find progressive partners that align with our vision to help move the industry forward.
E911: Can you give us an example of a successful initiative you’ve worked on?
Katrina: Through our black pot return program, we give customers a free face mask for every five empty black pots they return. We made efforts to localize this program and send these black pots back to our factories in Vancouver and Toronto to be ground, pelletized and extruded into new black pots. Currently, we collect back about 17 percent of our black pots and each black pot is made with about 10 percent resin from old black pots, the rest is from other post-consumer recycled content.
E911: How does Lush help campaign for animal protection, human rights and environmental justice?
Katrina: At our core, Lush is an ethical campaigning company. We believe in standing on our soapbox and using our digital platform and our 900+ shop windows across the world to raise awareness around issues that matter. Whether it’s microplastics, shark finning and ocean health or climate change, we believe in using our shop fronts as a way to engage customers in shops and online in dialogue around issues that protect and empower people, animals, and the planet.
E911: What Lush products do you most often recommend to your friends and family?
Katrina: It really depends on what the family or friend is into: showers, baths, face or body. It’s about recommending the right products for them. If they don’t know where to start, our fresh face masks are usually top on my list of recommendations. Our fresh ingredients are handmade into masks that are effective for a variety of skin types.
The product I most often buy for family and friends is our Charity Pot—to know that 100 percent of the proceeds go towards supporting grass roots organizations doing meaningful work in our communities to advocate for people, planet and animals.
E911: What one Lush product could you actually not live without?
Katrina: My shampoo bar! Whether it’s for travel, camping or in the shower at home, I always have my shampoo bar. It’s convenient, effective, doesn’t leak and of course is package-free.
E911: What do you do daily to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle?
Katrina: For me, it’s about being mindful of all the decisions I make, the routines I have, the habits I’ve developed, the items I purchase, the food I eat … and the list goes on. Everything from biking and taking public transport, to eating a predominantly plant-based diet, to hang-drying my clothes to growing and canning our own food, to remembering my reusable mugs, bags, etc.
Having our daughter (who is now two) thrust us into the world of “stuff” and waste associated with having a baby and now toddler. From the beginning, our rule was to buy nothing new. There is so much hype and guilt built up in the baby industry that is so unnecessary—finding previously loved clothes and gear and passing it on has been the way to go.
E911: What’s your favourite eco-friendly hack?
Katrina: Food waste is a pet peeve of mine. America wastes roughly 40 percent of its food and of the 125 to 160 billion pounds of food that goes to waste every year (according to the NRDC), much of it is still edible. Having previously worked on sustainability in the food industry, I see all the waste in the system—at the farms, at the processors and packers, in the kitchens and with customers.
At our home, our fridge is full of little things to reduce food waste: herbs, asparagus and green onions with their roots down in water to last longer; produce and mushrooms wrapped in paper bags (which we’ve reused for too many months to count) to prolong their life. One part of the fridge is dedicated to leftovers (so we don’t lose or forget about them at the back). We have a container in the freezer for veggie ends and scraps to make stock. Ripe fruit gets moved to the fridge if we can’t eat it fast enough. And we have a tally on the fridge door for anything that we do waste to be more mindful in how we shop and meal plan.
E911: What worries you most about the state of the environment today?
Katrina: The climate crisis, biodiversity loss, fresh water scarcity, plastic and chemical pollution, nitrogen cycles, ozone depletion, land use changes coupled with a growing population and resource-intensive consumption patterns are just a few of the things that worry me about the planet that we will pass on to our children. However, what worries me most is inequity and disproportionate social, economic and public health impacts on underprivileged communities. Now, more than ever, we are seeing the intersection of issues, causes and movements. The coronavirus has highlighted the interconnections between the health and well-being of people, animals and the planet and the inequity that exists. We need to take care of our planet and animals and all the people that inhabit it.
E911: How do you hope to see the world change in the near future?
Katrina: The coronavirus disrupted life and business as we know it. It also quickly mobilized policy makers, businesses and communities to work on system level changes in a coordinated effort globally—this is what many of us have been fighting for with the environmental movement. COVID-19 has highlighted a tighter reaction time between the consequences of action or inaction.
My hope is that we don’t just return to business as usual but rather reflect and reset—as individuals in how we live our lives and also as businesses and governments. I hope these same players—governments, businesses, and communities—realize the urgency of the climate crisis and truly commit to work together on all levels for systemic change. I hope we rebuild our businesses and society to live within our planetary boundaries and make right the inequities in our society.
E911: What do you think the world will look like in 10 years?
Katrina: I have hope for what our world will look like in 10 years. If we collectively take bold action, fast enough, we can curb the impacts of climate change. Ten years from now, I hope that we have leveraged creativity and new technology to meet if not surpass our targets. With a growing understanding of the value and vast potential of nature-based solutions, I see a shift in the way we organize our society as governments and businesses work with and enhance nature to help address societal challenges.
We are practicing more what many ancestral cultures have known for generations—that interconnections exist between human health and the health of our planet and animals. And that healthy natural ecosystems create a range of natural services that human well-being depends on. Ten years from now, I hope that we have reorganized our societies and re-framed solutions that address the inequity in our systems and support the communities that need it most.
Ten years from now, I see a new generation of leadership take power. Our youth understand the urgency to fight for climate justice. They are the up and coming leaders of our governments and global economies. We have a responsibility to do our part now for them.