Sustainability in Travel Retail
“Clean, conscious and caring”
Rituals Innovation & Sustainability Director Niki Schilling talks about balancing profit and purpose in this in-depth interview about the wellbeing brand’s values and approach to corporate responsibility.
What does sustainability mean in 2021? For Niki Schilling, sustainability is a way of life and one that she is fully committed to putting into practice as Rituals Cosmetics Innovation & Sustainability Director. The wellbeing company has pledged to transition its entire product range to 90% natural-origin ingredients by 2023 and shift all of its packaging to 100% recyclable/refillable or made with recycled materials by 2025. Ambitious? Maybe so – but Schilling is confident that Rituals is well on its way to reaching this milestone. Rituals has already transitioned a significant number of SKUs to 90% natural-origin ingredients with more planned this year. The company has also worked with suppliers to minimise the environmental impact of its supply chain. It has also launched a number of noteworthy social initiatives including its ‘Super Chill Foundation’ project and its upcoming Earth Week initiative. “I firmly believe that brands that are focusing on sustainability tend to do better financially in the long-term,” Schilling adds. “By giving customers more transparency, these brands get much more brand loyalty and profitability.” In this interview, The Moodie Davitt Report (virtually) sits down with Schilling to discuss the three C’s of Rituals sustainability programme, how ‘the Art of Soulful living’ can enhance the travel retail landscape, and what Schilling believes the industry can do to balance profit and purpose. She says, “Theoretically, we should be asking that if you can build up the entire travel retail industry again from the ground-up how would we make it more sustainable? As an entity, travel retail needs to collaborate and find solutions that balance profit and purpose and give brands that are doing better the chance to really shine.”
The Moodie Davitt Report: Talk us through the three C’s of Rituals sustainability programme, clean, conscious and caring?
Niki Schilling: ‘Clean’ represents clean beauty products and formulas. All our products are dermatologically tested, readily biodegradable and not tested on animals. We wanted to strike a balance between performance, efficacy and environment. We’ve done a lot of research on what this ‘perfect balance’ looks like and decided to go for 90% natural origin ingredients. The remaining 10% synthetic ingredients, we choose depending on efficacy. Our goal is to transition 100% of our products into 90% natural-origin formulations by 2023. In fact, our hand, lip and body cream lines have already achieved this goal. ‘Conscious’ means that we take a holistic approach to our packaging. There are four R’s that we live by: refillable, reusable, recyclable, or made out of recyclable materials. Our goal is to have zero waste by 2025. In the beauty world, that’s quite a challenge, but for us it’s all about how you do business with your suppliers and partners. We’ve been with 80% of our suppliers for more than ten years and about 90% of them are based in Europe. We’re very conscious about our supply chain and want to make the minimum amount of environmental impact as possible. I don’t really like the words ‘giving back,’ but our third C, ‘Caring’, is all about promoting social initiatives that are close to our brand DNA. We were the very first sponsor for the Tiny Miracles Foundation which helps poor communities in India get out of the poverty cycle. We give them sustainable work, so the impact is long-lasting, and now they help produce some of our products. Another project that is close to my heart is the ‘Super Chill Foundation’ which teaches children to release stress through meditation and relaxation techniques. We have a Super Chill app which is used in primary schools, because children’s stress levels are very high. The teachers show them three to four-minute videos throughout the day to help them exercise mindfulness. We believe this will set them up as the next sustainable generation. The pilot programme is currently available in the Netherlands and is being rolled out in Germany, but our goal is to reach two million children with this programme by 2023.
“You have to make everything better even if the customer can’t see it”
How does Rituals stand out for how it puts sustainability into practice, and what initiatives are on the horizon?
We believe sustainability has to be tackled at every angle and implemented across all aspects of your business. You can’t just focus on one thing. We’re on our way to applying for B Corp certification this year, which is a major step. We’re changing our governance and making in-house audits across all our supply chains. We also have targeted initiatives like our continued support of EARTHDAY.ORG and the Canopy Project. During Earth week (21 to 25 April), in celebration of Earth Day (22 April), Rituals will give customers -20% discount on any refill they buy and donate a tree for every purchase. Because of limited space, we don’t sell any refills in travel retail yet, but it is something that is on the horizon. Boosting our refill capabilities is one of our great sustainability projects. Refills are really powerful tools in the beauty industry. Customers often throw away these beautiful packagings which aren’t reusable or recyclable and it’s such a shame. By making our best-sellers available as refills, we’re giving the consumer the choice to help us reduce our footprint. Currently, our creams, fragrance sticks, car perfumes, kitchen products, Rituals of Namaste and day and night creams are available in refill formats. These products have the highest turnover and produce the biggest amount of waste. Turning these into refills really has a huge impact and we’re working towards transitioning other products into refills too. So far, our refill project has been a huge success and people are coming back for more.
“Travel retail needs to collaborate and find solutions that balance profit and purpose”
Going further, how does Rituals ensure that its supply chain is both environmentally and ethically sustainable?
We have a strong code of conduct when working with our suppliers. We are very strict and regularly ensure that our supply chain is free from things like child labour, harmful environmental impacts and unsafe working conditions. We’re also assessing our key suppliers through EcoVadis. This assessment is focused on 21 different criteria embracing four key themes: environment, labour & human rights, ethics and sustainable procurement. Through this auditing tool, we work with our suppliers to make improvements together. Sustainability isn’t something you can achieve alone. You have to work together with your suppliers to achieve your goals. When faced with a challenge, we ask our suppliers, “How do we overcome this? How can we get there together?”
With sustainability a fundamental challenge in the long-term viability of travel retail, how can the travel retail ecosystem join forces to drive greater sustainability in the industry?
Just like working with suppliers, it’s all about collaboration. Transparency is very important. I think travel retail needs to give more transparency to customers by communicating with and educating them about the sustainable options available. They do this now in supermarkets, so why not implement this in travel retail as well? Brands often have to adhere to very specific travel retail guidelines during product development and I think that the industry needs to look at how we can make those guidelines more sustainable. Travel retail should be giving customers access to more sustainable choices by giving sustainable brands better placement; or by giving customers the option to buy carbon credits and offset purchases that aren’t sustainable. It really needs to be a combined effort. Travel retail is also heavily reliant on single-use plastics especially with travel-friendly sizes and executions. The industry should work together to make that aspect more sustainable as well.
“Wellness tourism has always been a huge thing, and I think travel retail is the perfect place to bring these concepts — that people really care about today — to life.”
How does travel retail bring together profit and purpose (can you be greener and still make money)?
You have to be creative and think outside the box. Don’t take anything for granted. Theoretically, we should be asking, if you could build up the entire travel retail industry again from the ground up, how would we make it more sustainable? Sustainability doesn’t always cost more money. Packaging is a decision and if you reduce it, you’ll immediately end up with a cheaper product. Work with suppliers and set yourself a goal. Try and make things better and not necessarily more expensive. Sometimes it will be more expensive, but you have to balance that with everything else. As an entity, travel retail needs to collaborate and find solutions that balance profit and purpose. If only one entity starts, and the others don’t, it will be very tricky to move the sustainability agenda forward. We’ve started to see customers buying less but better. Travel retail needs to give brands that are doing better the chance to really shine. I firmly believe that brands that are focusing on sustainability tend to do better financially in the long-term. By giving customers more transparency, these brands get much more brand loyalty and profitability.
How is Rituals progressing with its aim of having 90% natural formulas across its entire product portfolio by 2023?
We used the crisis as an opportunity to really step up our efforts. So far, we’ve already transitioned our hand and body cream products. This year we’re relaunching scrubs and a few other categories to become 90% natural-origin. In addition, all 30 products in the Ritual of Ayurveda range is also being shifted to 90% natural-origin formulation and so I’m convinced that we are on track to achieve our goal. The only category that is quite challenging is sun care. Sun care protection is often produced with synthetic ingredients and we haven’t found a natural alternative that works as well as synthetic yet. On this instance, we are faced with the challenge of prioritising skin health versus naturalness. Our goal is to find the perfect balance between the environment and skin health. We may have certain products that are 70% natural origin, while others at least 90% natural origin, so it’s really about striking that balance.
What about Rituals’ goal of transitioning to 100% refillable/recyclable/made with recycled materials by 2025?
Packaging is a challenge, but our goal is to be zero waste. To do that, every product needs to be either refillable recyclable or made with recyclable materials. We are completely reinventing packaging through this lens and we’ve certainly come a long way. For example, most of our PET packaging is recyclable, aside from white PET plastics which are very hard to replace. However, this only represents 6% of the assortment. We’ve also transitioned our tubes to mono-materials which make them easier to recycle. We’ve also reduced our aluminium cans by -10% and at some point, want to only use fully-recyclable aluminium cans. We also make life cycle assessments for every product. When I started at Rituals, everyone was saying to use bio sugarcane plastics, but when you look at the life cycle of bio sugarcane plastics – recycled PET plastics were actually the more sustainable option. We look at everything from sourcing to transport to make informed scientific choices about our changes. These assessments costs a lot of time and money, but if you do them correctly, you can really make a lasting impact.
More broadly, what can be the role of the wellbeing sector in the recovery of the travel retail channel?
The wellbeing sector saw a huge rise in the last 12 months as people have become much more aware about their personal wellness. There have been huge increases in hair care, home fragrances and health supplements because everyone wants to create a sanctuary at home. Wellness tourism has always been a huge thing, and I think travel retail is the perfect place to bring these concepts — that people really care about today — to life. A lot of people will travel to go to spas or mindfulness retreats, and we can integrate that a lot more into the traveller journey. Our philosophy is all about ‘The Art of Soulful Living.’ We create products to allow our customers to live soulfully and so we are perfectly positioned to leverage the heightened awareness for wellbeing. Will the wellbeing sector be the only thing to help the travel retail industry recover? Probably not. However, I believe the sector can help travel retail become a more attractive place for people to be. Creating wellness spaces in travel retail could make a big difference. In fact, we’re working with The Moodie Davitt Report to sponsor the ‘Wellbeing Curated Newsletter’ to show our support for the industry. We should make the airport a place not for rushing around but for people to relax.
How do you view the continuing impact of COVID-19 in the wellbeing sector and the wider travel retail industry?
COVID-19 has only helped drive the wellbeing sector. You see it in all the trends about self-care and the rise of healthy-living due to people being afraid of getting COVID. Hygiene products are on top of this trend and I think there is a huge opportunity for the industry to adapt and make people feel safe again. For travel retail, this could mean adapting stores for contactless shopping, click-and-collect and pre-order.
You mentioned how COVID-19 has helped grow the wellness sector. Has this been the case for Rituals too?
The nature of our company doesn’t help. We have almost 850 retail stores and a lot of them were closed throughout the pandemic. Lockdown has also made it very difficult for our new concept store, the House of Rituals, to make any headway. It was only open for six weeks before closing its doors. Despite this, we saw the loyalty and love of our customers stay consistent throughout the pandemic and our ecommerce sales are doing super well. Before Christmas, our retail staff got on their bicycles and delivered products directly to our customers’ homes themselves. It was so much fun to do and it really energised everyone. We got very creative to find ways around closed doors.
How long have you been with Rituals and what has been the biggest sustainability milestone?
I joined Rituals five years ago. I started with innovation and began integrating sustainability initiatives. From the beginning, I kept asking myself, “How can we do this the right way?” I think our biggest sustainability milestone is right now. We’ve audited everything, put everything on paper, made so many improvements and so now were ready to go for our B Corp certification. It’s been a huge team effort.
“Find something to improve and go for it. It is what our planet deserves.”
Now more than ever, sustainability is increasingly front of mind for both consumers and brands. How can brands better serve consumers’ demand for sustainability in an authentic and economically viable way?
This is where innovation comes in. You have to look at your baseline and make sure that every product is as sustainable as can be. You have to make everything better even if the customer can’t see it. Whether it’s refills, naked packaging, or natural-origin formulations, find something to improve and go for it. It is what our planet deserves.
The Moodie Davitt eZine Issue 292 | 15 March 2021
The Moodie Davitt eZine is published 15 times per year by The Moodie Davitt Report (Moodie International Ltd). © All material is copyright and cannot be reproduced without the permission of the Publisher. To find out more visit www.moodiedavittreport.com and to subscribe, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org