Natura: Building a New Economy in the Amazon

Why This Cosmetic Company’s Environmental Stewardship Makes Fantastic Business Sense

collecting rainwater at ecoparque

A rainwater collector at Natura's Ecoparque.

Visiting Natura’s headquarters in Cajamar, Brazil, is like getting a glimpse into the future of sustainable business. Housing three factories and a laboratory, the complex is designed to be part of the natural world. It resides alongside a lush forest, which echoes and reinforces the company’s vision to create products that promote well-being and balance with nature.

In late 2014, Natura — a Brazilian cosmetics company — became the largest Certified B Corporation in the world and the first publicly traded company ever to become certified as an Empresa B (B Corp in Portuguese). With more than 100 million customers throughout Latin America and France, the company seeks to develop its products in harmony with nature. Natura works with 32 communities to source the seeds, fruits and oils that form the basis of its lotions, shampoos, and other beauty and hygiene products. In 2015, gross revenues grew by 65 percent, and net revenues reached 7.9 billion Brazilian reais (about $2.4 billion.).

“Our reason for being is to create and sell products and services that promote well-being/being well,” reads the company’s 2015 Annual Report. “Well-being is the harmonious relationship of the individual with him (or her) self, with his (or her) own body. Being well is the empathetic, successful and pleasurable relationship of an individual with other people, with nature and with the whole.”

Since its creation in 1969, Natura has used natural products in its fragrances and beauty products. About 83 percent of the ingredients found in Natura products come from plants. The company distills natural essences from oils, fruits and seeds, which form the basis of its products. But Natura doesn’t support the simple extraction of what they call “plant-based assets” from the natural world — a process that would harm local forests. Instead, Natura seeks to cultivate a forest for the purpose of creating useful products without destroying any fragile ecosystems.

Building a New, Sustainable Economy

In order for Natura’s business model to thrive, it must figure out how to demonstrate that the Amazon forest is more valuable standing than it would be if harvested for wood. Natura’s solution? Create a demand for the renewable products of the forest: its seeds, fruits and oils. In one fascinating example, the company discovered a new ingredient, ucuuba, in the Tocantins region in the Northeast of Para, Brazil. The ucuuba fruits scatter red seeds on the forest floor, which contain an oil that is hydrating, but not heavy.

ucuuba

The ucuuba fruit.

In the past 30 years, the ucuuba tree, which is often chopped down for its wood, has become nearly extinct. Natura’s ucuuba butter — used in lotions and soaps — has demonstrated that the fruit is more valuable than the wood of the tree. The butter is three times more valuable than the ucuuba wood, and, the resulting change in demand is helping to support the preservation of the forest.

The company is also seeking to collaborate with other enterprises in the region by stimulating demand for sustainable products from the rainforest, and making its preservation economically valuable.

Promoting Biodiversity

Environmental stewardship is foundational to Natura’s operations and has been a transformative force in the careers of many of the company’s employees. Renata Puchala is the Manager for Natura’s Programa Amazonia. Having worked with the company for 16 years, she began her career in marketing and innovation, spending 10 years with Ekos, one of Natura’s brands. “I began to get closer to the local, traditional communities in the Amazon region,” says Puchala. “Now I focus on everything connected to creating a positive social impact.”

Natura develops close relationships with the supplier communities that provide its raw materials, and it works with the local people to negotiate a fair price, taking into consideration the costs of labor, raw materials, transportation and packaging. The source communities are very isolated and used to being exploited by atravessadores, dealers who demand a set price for raw materials without consideration for the actual costs in developing and delivering the product to market. Puchala describes the standard practices of the atravessadores as “cruel.”

natura-ekos-products

Natura’s Ekos products.

Natura takes the opposite approach, working to map the supply chain and to calculate a fair price through dialogue with the producers — often three to four times higher than what is offered by the atravesadores. “We begin with a relationship based on trust,” says Puchala. “In addition, we work with the collective group, not with individuals. Many times the members of the community have low self-esteem and don’t see their full potential. We work to strengthen the cooperatives.”

Natura works with 32 supplier communities, 19 of which are located in the Amazon region representing 3,500 families. Natura tries to encourage the cooperatives to expand their role as suppliers, to not only provide raw materials such as natural seed oils but to process the seeds as well, multiplying the suppliers’ profit margins. To make this transition from raw materials production to processing possible, Natura builds the capacity of local cooperatives by mentoring the communities as they develop infrastructure and implement management plans, Puchala says.

Natura also collaborates with other companies that share its values, purchasing raw materials from the rainforest in even larger quantities.

Creating the Natura Ecoparque

puchala

Renata Puchala, the Manager of Natura’s Programa Amazonia.

Opened in 2014 in the Amazon rainforest about 1,800 miles north of Natura’s headquarters, the Natura Ecoparque is an industrial facility promoting sustainable production, with waste from some products being utilized as raw materials for others. For example, Natura makes soap out of the maracuja fruit. Then unused parts of the fruit serve as raw materials for another company also located in the Ecoparque. Natura refers to this process as “industrial symbiosis.”

Since 2015, Natura has produced 80 percent of its soap in the Amazon. Natura predicts that the Ecoparque will eventually host 840 jobs.

The Ecoparque uses geothermal power to cool its facility and provides natural ventilation and lighting, while also capturing rain water and promoting the use of electric cars and bikes. One hundred percent of the wastewater from the Ecoparque is used to water its gardens.

Natura executives say they plan to involve 10,000 families in producing products from the Amazon by 2020 — up from around 2,000 in 2013. Natura currently produces about 20 percent of its products in the Amazon region, and it plans to increase that number to 30 percent.

Symrise — a German multinational company and a global leader in producing flavors and fragrances — is the first tenant at the Ecoparque. Symrise’s customers include companies in the food, beverage, fragrance, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries in more than 35 countries.

According to Puchala, Natura has committed itself to “radical transparency,” and its 2015 Annual Report included Environmental Profit and Loss assessments for the first time, integrating financial performance with the company’s impact on the environment.

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