Professional market Discuss with Denise Hills, Global Sustainability Director, Natura & Co Latin America, how her company, the industry and Brazil can benefit from Amazon’s sustainability policies.
Deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest and other Brazilian biomes have hit record highs over the past four years, putting the country’s main and most undervalued commodity at risk: biodiversity.Dennis Hills, Global Sustainability Director of the Latin American subsidiary of cosmetics group Natura & Co, explained in an interview Professional market Why Brazil’s forests are more valuable to stand up than to cut down. She also revealed what the company wants from the country’s next president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in terms of environmental policy.
Despite having more than 5 million square kilometers of tropical forest, raw materials from the Amazon account for only 0.2 percent of global biodiversity exports, Hills said. Illicit activities in the region and the lack of public policies that encourage companies to sustainably explore the Amazon are some of the factors holding back Brazil from reaching its potential.
Hills believes that a profitable and unsustainable company can no longer be imagined. She added that the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda should inform all aspects of public policy and not be pursued as an isolated item in many such bills.
Founded in 1969, Natura, which owns cosmetics brands such as Avon, The Body Shop and Aesop, began incorporating ingredients from Brazil’s biodiversity into its products in the late 1990s. In 2000, the company made the sustainable use of Amazon’s raw materials its main innovation platform.
Listed on the São Paulo Stock Exchange (B3), the company has been carbon neutral since 2007 and plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.
Professional market: Natura has historically defended the sustainable use of Amazonian resources, in stark contrast to the reckless exploitation of the region. Is economic development and environmental protection possible?
Dennis Hills: The opposition between economic development and environmental protection is a wrong paradigm. Today, it is no longer possible to imagine a profitable and unsustainable company. In fact, as noted by the World Economic Forum, along with climate change, biodiversity loss is currently one of the biggest threats to the global economy. The development logic of the Amazon region needs to change.
Natura has been present in the Amazon for over 20 years and we have witnessed the fact that economic development, social progress and forest protection are not incompatible. On the contrary: together they form the basis of a new production logic that can advance Brazil’s leadership in the bioeconomy sector and in the low-carbon economy, creating wealth, income, conservation and greater shared value for all of its inhabitants.
A commitment to sustainability guides our strategic direction and integrates our performance management model. Since 2009, the salaries of our employees and executives have been impacted by goals that include social and environmental issues such as carbon emissions and the satisfaction and loyalty of our network of sales representatives. This performance evaluation model is now extended to all companies in the Natura & Co group in Latin America, including Avon, Natura, The Body Shop and Aesop.
Are consumers demanding more from companies when it comes to environmental and social responsibility?
Yes. The pandemic has deepened consumers’ awareness of the impact of their shopping habits and their choices on the world. They understand that in the wake of this crisis, the interdependence of all beings has become more apparent. In this sense, companies face enormous challenges, as their business longevity depends more than ever on their ability to contribute to the development of society and its sustainability. Our “bio-beauty” concept makes this clear: we want to continue developing powerful formulas that benefit our bodies. At the same time, we also want to help nature regenerate and respect those who inhabit and understand the Amazon forest – the local indigenous peoples.
About 17 percent of the raw materials Natura currently uses come from Amazon. How important is protecting the area to the company’s business?
Our business model proves that forests are worth more than being cut down. Regenerative solutions are feasible from both a technical and commercial point of view, offering local residents a more attractive alternative to other economic activities that contribute to deforestation. Partners Local communities generate income while serving as guardians of forests and traditional knowledge that are critical to developing research on biological activity.
One of the success stories of this business model is the case of Ucuuba. Before cosmetic use, the local community saw little economic value of the ukubera tree. The species is endangered because it is felled for the production of broom handles, a very low value added product. After research, we found that harvesting a protected tree each year brings household income three times as much as logging. Rather than just cutting down the tree once, it is better to extract the seeds for at least ten years.
Another example is SAF Dendê, the world’s first agroforestry system to grow palm oil. Since 2008, led by Natura and in cooperation with the mixed agricultural cooperatives of Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, a public company belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture) and Tomé-Açu (Camta), SAF is grown sustainably in the state of Pará Palm oil, brought through the combination of several plants in the production system, this oilseed is cultivated closer to its original environment in the forest. Cultural practices in these areas are based on agro-ecological management without the use of pesticides. Today, palm oil produced by SAF is the main ingredient in our new branded bar, Natura Biome.
Deforestation in the Amazon hit a record high in 2021. Has the lack of public policy on forest protection and the dissolution of environmental agencies created an unfair playing field for companies like Natura?
Ending deforestation is an urgent issue that requires collaborative response and action, and must be the goal of society as a whole.
In addition to the impact on the environment and climate, it is important for society to realize that we also face an economic challenge: illegal practices competing with legitimate businesses and investments. As such, the impact is on the development of businesses and markets that are structured around a global focus on sustainability, and where investments are made legally and in compliance with the law.
Unfortunately, so far, we are far from the ideal path. World-renowned experts are constantly warning that the Amazon biome is approaching a tipping point, when the forest will no longer be able to regenerate. We need to act collectively faster.
What can be done in terms of public policy to make SOEs more sustainable?
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), between January and June this year, nearly 4,000 square kilometers of forest in the Amazon were deforested, a record. According to the latest data from the System for Estimates of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals (SEEG), eight of the ten Brazilian cities that emit the most greenhouse gases are located in the Amazon region. The northern region of Brazil, where the Amazon is located, accounts for 60 percent of all carbon emissions in the country. The destruction of forests clearly shows that current sustainable development policies are not working and need urgent review.
Companies can be great allies when it comes to strengthening development models that promote revenue generation and conservation. Our performance at Amazon is proof. We understand, however, that only if the country strengthens national mechanisms to combat illegal deforestation, promotes accountability for criminals and improves tools to support indigenous peoples and local communities (such as smallholder farmers and extractive industry players, who are the real protagonists), This is only possible. Standing forest economy.
What can companies expect from the country’s next president, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva?
The international biodiversity market is about $175 billion a year, but Amazon’s share of global raw material exports is only 0.2 percent.
The potential is huge. We cannot miss this opportunity.
We hope that the next government will invest in Brazil’s leadership in the global sustainable development agenda and the great potential of Brazil’s bioeconomy to create shared value, respect for land, local communities, and traditional knowledge. This new logic of production needs to go hand in hand with heavy investment in science, innovation and technology.
It is also important that the sustainable development agenda emerges horizontally in public policy, rather than as an isolated aid chapter. It needs to permeate and guide structural discussions, such as tax reform, harvesting programs, infrastructure investment and income transfer programs, to drive Brazil towards a green economy, providing people with more jobs and incomes and a better quality of life.