Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lesson # 5: Profits Can Go Hand in Hand with the Public Good (Anita Roddick)

“Over the past decades…while many businesses have pursued what I call ‘business as usual’, I have been part of a different, smaller business movement, one that tried to put idealism back on the agenda,” says Roddick. “If I can’t do something for the public good, what the hell am I doing?”

In the early days of her company, Roddick’s social and ecological conscience was motivated more by economic cost-saving factors over anything else; recycling was encouraged because she could only afford a certain number of bottles while store walls were painted green not for environmental awareness, but rather to hide the damp stains. However, as The Body Shop franchise grew into a cosmetics powerhouse, Roddick began to realize that she could use her power to have a positive impact on the world around her.

“I hate the beauty business,” says Roddick. “It is a monster industry selling unattainable dreams. It lies. It cheats. It exploits women.” In order to find self-fulfillment in her work, Roddick was thus forced to expand her vision. “I want to work for a company
that contributes to and is part of the community,” she says. “I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in.”

It is to this end that The Body Shop began supporting campaigns that convey positive social messages and promote change. From sponsoring Greenpeace’s lobbying efforts against dumping waste in the North Sea to supporting Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth, Roddick has worked hard to ensure that her company is about more than simply profits. “It’s about service, serving the weak and the frail, bringing the concepts of social justice into business,” says Roddick. “But actually putting them into practice is the key. They can’t be just rhetoric any more.”

Not only has she focused on recycling and refused to test her products on animals, but Roddick has also encouraged all of her franchisors and employees to promote a cause of their choice – on company time and money. Many see her moves as both anti-business and revolutionary, but Roddick says such practices have been around for years in many societies.

“All through history, there have always been movements where business was not just about the accumulation of proceeds but also for the public good,” says Roddick. “I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently. This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”
To those who question her business sense, Roddick retorts that taking care of the community in which your company draws its profit is not just about feeling good about yourself. Indeed, it makes good business sense too. “I think that more companies are now realizing its corporate reputation is at stake and what they fear mostly is consumer revolt,” she says. “If prices are not that good at the moment that’s because the bloody business is not very well run. It has nothing to do with the social agenda. We save a huge amount of money by not advertising and by not going around in Lear jets, or having obscene compensation packages like many others do.”

Indeed, with revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Roddick’s dedication “to the pursuit of social and environmental change” seems to have served her company well. (Evan Carmichael)

Picture: Dame Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop, with the Dame Commander Medal at Buckingham Palace in London, November 13, 2003. Photo: Reuters