Interview: Sustainable Policies in Amazon’s Benefits Industry
ProMarket spoke with Denise Hills, Director of Global Sustainability for Natura & Co Latin America, about how her company, the industry as a whole, and Brazil are benefiting from sustainable policies in the Amazon.
Over the past four years, Brazil has experienced record rates of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and other Brazilian biomes, jeopardizing the country’s main and most undervalued resource: its biodiversity. Denise Hills, global director of sustainability for the Latin American subsidiary of cosmetics group Natura & Co, explained in an interview with ProMarket why Brazilian forests are more economically valuable standing than felled. She also disclosed what the company expects from the country’s next president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in terms of environmental policies.
Despite more than 5 million square kilometers of rainforest, raw materials from the Amazon account for just 0.2% of global biodiversity exports, Hills said. Illegal activity in the region and the lack of public policies to encourage companies to explore the Amazon sustainably are some of the factors that prevent Brazil from reaching its potential.
Hills believes that it is no longer possible to imagine a profitable and unsustainable business. She added that an environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda should inform all facets of public policy rather than being pursued as an isolated item in many of these bills.
Founded in 1969 and owner of cosmetics brands like Avon, The Body Shop and Aesop, Natura began incorporating ingredients from Brazilian biodiversity into its products in the late 1990s. sustainable use of raw materials from the Amazon its main platform for innovation.
Listed on the São Paulo Stock Exchange (B3), the company has been carbon neutral since 2007 and aims to be zero carbon by 2030.
ProMarket: Natura has historically championed the sustainable use of Amazonian resources, as opposed to the rampant exploitation of the region. Is it possible to have economic development and preserve the environment at the same time?
Denise Hills: The opposition between economic development and preservation of the environment is a false paradigm. Today, it is no longer possible to imagine a profitable and unsustainable business. In fact, biodiversity loss is currently one of the biggest threats to the global economy, along with climate change, as highlighted by the World Economic Forum. We must change the development logic of the Amazon region.
Natura has been present in the Amazon for more than 20 years, and we are witnesses to the fact that economic development, social progress and forest conservation are not incompatible. On the contrary: together they are the basis of a new productive logic that can strengthen Brazil’s leadership in the bioeconomy sector and in the low-carbon economy, generating wealth, income for local populations. , conservation and greater shared value for all.
The commitment to sustainability guides our strategic direction and integrates our performance management model. Since 2009, the salaries of our employees and managers have been influenced by objectives that include social and environmental issues, such as carbon emissions, satisfaction and loyalty of our sales network. This performance assessment model now extends to all Natura & Co group companies in Latin America, including Avon, Natura, The Body Shop and Aesop.
Are consumers demanding more of companies in terms of environmental and social responsibility?
Yes. The pandemic has heightened consumer awareness of their shopping habits and the impact of their choices on the world. They understood that the interconnectedness of all beings became even more evident after this crisis. In this sense, companies have a major challenge to meet, because the sustainability of their activities is, more than ever, linked to their ability to contribute to the evolution of society and its sustainable development. Our concept of “biobeauty” makes it clear: we want to continue to develop powerful formulas that benefit our bodies. At the same time, we also want to help nature regenerate and respect those who inhabit and know the Amazon rainforest – the native indigenous people.
About 17% of the raw material used by Natura currently comes from the Amazon. How important is preserving the region for the company’s activity?
Our economic model proves that the forest is worth much more standing than being felled. Regenerative solutions are viable, both from a technical and commercial point of view, offering local populations more attractive alternatives to other economic activities that generate deforestation. The local partner communities generate income and at the same time become the guardians of the forest and of the traditional knowledge which is fundamental for the development of research on bioactivities.
One of the successful examples of this business model, among many others, is the case of Ucuuba. Prior to cosmetic use, local communities saw almost no economic value in the ucuubeira tree. This species was on the verge of extinction because it was slaughtered for the production of broomsticks, a product with very low added value. After research, we have found that the annual harvest of a preserved tree produces three times more income for families than logging. Instead of cutting down the tree, which only happens once, the extraction of the seeds can be done for at least ten years.
Another example is SAF Dendê, the world’s first agroforestry system for oil palm cultivation. Led by Natura since 2008 in partnership with Embrapa (Brazilian Society for Agricultural Research, a public company linked to the Ministry of Agriculture) and the Mixed Agricultural Cooperative of Tomé-Açu (Camta), SAF cultivates palm oil in Pará in a sustainable way, bringing the cultivation of this oilseed closer to its original environment in the forest thanks to the association of several plants in the production system. The cultivation practices of the zones are based on agro-ecological management, without the use of pesticides. Today, the palm oil produced at SAF has become the main ingredient of Natura Biome, our new brand of bar products.
Deforestation in the Amazon reached a record high in 2021. Are the absence of public forest conservation policies and the dismantling of environmental agencies creating an environment of unfair competition for companies like Natura?
Ending deforestation is an urgent issue that requires collaborative responses and actions and must be a goal of society as a whole.
Beyond the environmental and climate impact, it is important for society to be aware that we also face an economic challenge: illegality competes with legal companies and investments. The impact is therefore on the development of companies and markets which are structured from the global concern for sustainability and which invest legitimately and respect the laws.
So far, unfortunately, we are far from the ideal path. World-renowned experts have continually warned of the near tipping point in the Amazon biome when the forest will no longer be able to regenerate. We must act faster and collectively.
What can be done in terms of public policies so that national companies become more sustainable?
From January to June this year, nearly 4,000 square kilometers were deforested in the Amazon, according to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), reaching a historic record. Of the ten Brazilian cities that emit the most greenhouse gases, eight are in the Amazon region, according to recent data from the System for Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals (SEEG). The northern region of Brazil, where the Amazon is located, accounts for 60% of all the carbon released in the country. The devastation of the forest clearly shows that current sustainability policies are not working and need to be urgently overhauled.
Businesses can be great allies in strengthening a development model that promotes revenue generation and conservation. Our performance in the Amazon is proof of this. However, we understand that this will only be possible if the country strengthens state mechanisms to combat illegal deforestation, promoting the accountability of criminals and improving instruments to support indigenous peoples and local communities, such as small farmers. and the extractivists, who are the real protagonists of the standing forest economy.
What does the company expect from the country’s next president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva?
The international market for biodiversity represents about 175 billion dollars per year, but the share of the Amazon in world exports of raw materials is only 0.2%.
The potential is huge. We cannot miss this opportunity.
We hope that the next administration will invest in Brazil’s leading role in the global sustainable development agenda and in the enormous potential of the Brazilian bioeconomy to guarantee a more prosperous future for the country, based on the generation of shared value, the respect for the land, local communities, and traditional knowledge. This new productive logic will have to go hand in hand with solid investments in science, innovation and technology.
It is also important that the sustainable development agenda be present across public policies and not as an isolated assistance component. It must permeate and guide structural discussions, such as tax reform, harvest plans, infrastructure investments and income transfer programs in order to lead Brazil towards a green economy with more jobs and income and a better quality of life for the population.