Companies tend to think sustainability will force them to compromise on profits, but beauty chain The Body Shop finds that it can win and retain customers precisely because environmental awareness is embedded in its business.
Its sustainable ethos helps keep it relevant in a retail environment where customers flock to online sources and brand-hop.
Ms Yang Kean Hye, The Body Shop's general manager for the Asia-Pacific and Singapore, told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview: "We achieve sustainable business growth and our customers are also loyal because of this value that we have.
"If it were just about products, they could always buy them from any other brand. But for us, each product tells a sustainable story."
One of the retailer's recent moves in Singapore was to introduce in-store recycling boxes for customers to drop off The Body Shop's clean and dry plastic bottles and tubs.
The Body Shop members are rewarded with a digital stamp for every clean and dry bottle or tub returned. They can redeem a trial-sized product such as a mini tube of hand cream when they have collected five such stamps.
The brand's recycling partner Sembcorp collects the bottles and tubs and sends them to the material recovery facility.
Ms Yang said: "We worried a lot initially about customer behaviour, because we know they can be very busy and perhaps not wash the bottles properly.
"But people washed the bottles, and store teams could explain to them why we were doing this. That whole process is important to raise awareness and it helps us to have a positive impact on society."
She added that staff are there not just to sell products, but to teach customers about sustainable living, which is a task that will become even more important with a new concept store the company plans to launch here early next year.
The Body Shop, whose headquarters is in Britain, has been in Singapore since 1983 and has 38 outlets.
Ms Yang said: "The concept store will have an environment that is focused on customer engagement. There will be a big sink in the centre with key ingredients in the middle used by The Body Shop. Customers can experiment and play around with the ingredients, perhaps even make their own products. It will give them a reason to physically visit the store."
There will also be a refill section so customers can take their clean and dry empty bottles to the store and fill them up. "This encourages reusing and being sustainable as well," Ms Yang said.
"The stores can even be like schools that raise awareness of activism campaigns."
She added that discussions on sustainability issues can occupy as much as 40 per cent of the time during staff meetings.
Another plan is to launch its own online store where customers can buy products as well as engage with sustainability messages.
The Body Shop has an online presence on Lazada and Ms Yang noted that online sales have done well, but added that it is working on its own online store "so we can provide the same experience online as in physical stores".
"This means people can get more information on our campaigns and activism rather than just buying products. For instance, people can learn about our anti-animal testing ethos and add their comments."
She said the company hopes to launch the website in 2021.
Meanwhile, it continues to push social causes. It is supporting the Singapore Children's Society in a scheme under which 10 cents from every transaction made in stores this holiday season will go towards helping four youth centres. The business aims to donate $20,000.
For next year, the theme is the empowerment of women in society.
Ms Yang said: "Cosmetic brands typically focus on anti-ageing products, such as making wrinkles disappear. But for us, it is about pro-ageing, where every woman is confident and embraces ageing beautifully and with purpose.
"This Christmas, we are also supporting girls in showing them they can be whatever they want."
Its rocket-shaped gift box, for instance, displays a Miss Santa and astronaut motifs featuring girls.
The Body Shop has also worked to support women who are waste pickers in India this year through its community trade partners, who help the company collect recyclable plastic for the production of its bottles. The intention is to give the women a better working environment with predictable income.
Worldwide, the company aims to buy 250 tonnes of recyclable plastic from its community trade partners in India by the end of this year, which is the equivalent of three million bottles. It has suppliers in over 20 countries that ensure ingredients are sourced sustainably while benefiting local communities.
These efforts in sustainability and fair trade helped The Body Shop earn the B Corp certification in September.
It is issued by global non-profit organisation B Lab to recognise companies that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
Ms Yang said: "For The Body Shop to get the certification, it shows that it was not just a one-off effort but a whole journey to get there. The bottom line of planet, people and profit informs every business decision and action. It has to be embedded in our DNA."