Deep rooted

Since its inception in the 1970s, Aveda has grown into a design-conscious, global success story whose commitment to the environment is second to none, says Lakshmi Bhaskaran

Founded in 1978 by Horst Rechelbacher, Aveda – a plant-based cosmetic company dedicated to the ‘Art and Science of Pure Flower and Plant Essences’ – has always had a strong affinity with the design world, from the aesthetic appeal of its products and packaging to the execution of its stores and spas.

But in an industry whose very existence is reliant on innovation and change, being at the forefront of the latest trends is also vital. ‘The interesting thing about Aveda is that it’s this Birkenstock-wearing, hippie holdover idea, but it has to be current and fashionable and connected to the design world or nobody is going to buy it,’ says Chris Hacker, who is senior vice-president of the Marketing and Design division. ‘So there’s this strange connection between those two worlds – and that’s what makes it fun.’

In 1997, Aveda became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Estée Lauder Companies – a move that has undoubtedly brought its benefits, as Aveda’s president, Dominique Conseil, explains, ‘We have the financial capabilities to allow us to address faster, and in a bigger way, the business opportunities that arise. Having Estée Lauder as our parent company also helps us focus on processes, so we can put management systems into place.’ Conseil also plans to extend the brand further, both in the US and internationally, focusing on Aveda’s core business of haircare, styling and professional products for salons/spas. From a design perspective, however, the brand ethos, ‘a simple, elegant, almost Asian approach that also takes into account environmental impact’, says Hacker, has remained consistent. ‘We have continued on our path of simple, problem-solving approaches to design, which are more in line with Aveda’s roots than Estée Lauder’s.’

Education is also a major part of the Aveda mission, both internally and externally. The London Hair Academy at the Aveda Institute in Covent Garden offers courses for hairdressers in both classic and creative cutting, colouring and styling techniques, as do Aveda’s institutes in New York and Minnesota, but it is in educating the consumer that the real challenge lies. ‘A lot of people are unaware, or unconvinced, that global warming is occurring, nor do they understand its consequences,’ says Conseil. ‘Because there isn’t enough awareness, there is no political voice and therefore no real ability for change. Only when people truly understand will they create a political voice and create change. As yet, I have not seen this happen.’

This point was further illustrated when Aveda conducted a survey on how people felt about Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are commonly found in paints, glues/adhesives, solvents and caulks. None of the respondents even knew what VOCs were, let alone their adverse effects on health and significant contribution to smog production. Although awareness is beginning to increase, in real terms, says Conseil, environmental sustainability hasn’t really permeated society. ‘How many companies, like ours, have factored environmental realities into their production plans?’ he questions. ‘I have been to conferences such as the World Heritage Workshop and Business for Social Responsibility and met many people who were very dedicated and knowledgeable about the current status of the environment, but I have yet to meet a single president of any of these organisations at these meetings.’

While many consultancies and brands continue to treat sustainability as a subsidiary factor rather than a prerequisite, Aveda has staked its reputation on it, incorporating aesthetically pleasing, environmentally sound design at every level throughout the brand. From the design of its stores to the company’s magazine, printed on 100 per cent recycled material (75 per cent of which is post-consumer recycled, or PCR), Aveda’s quest for improvement continues apace. In 1989, Aveda also became the first privately held company to sign the Valdez Principles (later to become the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies Principles, or The Ceres Principles). These principles continue to serve as a guide to the company’s on-going environmental ethic.

Designed by Jamie Fobert Architects, the Aveda Institute in London (pictured left) incorporates a retail space complete with the Organic Café and Herbal Sanctuary (about 500m2 of plantings that includes plants endangered by non-sustainable harvesting practices), as well as hair, skin, spa and make-up services all housed behind its 6m-high glass facia. Inside, polished concrete, black waxed unfinished steel and English pitch pine combine with plenty of natural light, creating a surprisingly tranquil urban retreat that belies its central London location. ‘Our wood, steel and concrete are long-term construction, prime sources and not processed in complicated ways,’ explains Fobert Architects’ Jamie Fobert. Fobert Architects also designed the lighting for the institute and has been involved in the design of all Aveda’s London Lifestyle Stores.

Adopting such a dedicated attitude may seem like rather a daunting task to some, but as Hacker, himself an industrial designer by training, explains, it is all about the correct approach. ‘Making an environmentally friendly design is really no different than making anything else,’ he says. ‘It is just about applying environmental rules to the high standards of aesthetic development. And while a challenge, it allows us to further develop interesting design ideas.’ A point exemplified by the packaging of Aveda’s new Uruku make-up line, launching next month and designed in-house. With exterior packaging ‘shells’ made from 100 per cent PCR newsprint, not only is the new line environmentally sensitive, it also exudes an urban coolness that many designers would find difficult to achieve at the best of times, irrespective of environment concerns. Another feature of the range is the new lipstick holder that uses 30 per cent Flaxseed (the other 70 per cent is PCR plastic) for the cover and recycled aluminium for the base.

When it comes to sustainability, packaging is a key area – and one in which Aveda continually strives for improvement. It has also set up guidelines for the materials it uses for PCR content. ‘Our approach is to first reduce the packaging to the minimum amount of material necessary to deliver the product,’ says John Delfausse, vice-president of package development. ‘Second, we work with a list of “preferred materials” that have a minimum impact to the environment and allow the packaging to be recycled where recycling is available.’

More recently, this process has been made easier through the use of Merge, a trademarked software program that allows the user to factor the environment into the design and chemical and material composition of products by creating a comprehensive environmental profile of its formulation and packaging. This can then be used to screen and compare alternative designs and materials. It does not provide definitive answers, but what it does do, says Mary Tkach, executive director of environmental sustainability, ‘is allow you to make value judgements’. The system has already proved successful in researching the packaging for Aveda’s Light Elements range of hair styling products (launching in March), which uses minimum 80 per cent PCR bottles, and the Uruku make-up collection. Using Merge the team was able to analyse a number of potential materials before coming to a final decision.

As for the future of Aveda, plans include focusing resources on research and development, gaining more cutting edge bio-botanic technologies and continuing to increase progressive organic content, which supports biodynamic farming – or as Conseil puts it, ‘to get even better at what we’re are good at’.

Environmental sustainability is a phrase to which many brands allude, but few adhere. Aveda is one of the few.

Aveda ranges

• Haircare*

• Skincare

• Bodycare*

• Make-up

• Purefume Aroma

*plus salon/spa treatments, hair colourAveda’s main competitors to its 8000 salons, spas and lifestyle stores worldwide

• Redken

• Matrix

• Paul Mitchell

• The Body Shop and Dr Hauschka

(in terms of their environmental position)

The ten CERES Principles

1 Protection of the biosphere

2 Sustainable use of natural resources

3 Reduction and disposal of wastes

4 Energy conservation

5 Risk reduction

6 Safe products and services

7 Environmental restoration

8 Informing the public

9 Management commitment

10 Audits and reports

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