Global poverty and sustainable development probably aren’t the first things on your mind when you get ready for a big night, but the cosmetics and beauty products you use may be helping indigenous communities half a world away.
Douglas J Aveda Institute, 331 E. Grand River Ave., sells beauty products made from 95 percent plant ingredients, said Kate House, a Douglas J guest services coach. “There’s no plastics, synthetics, things like that,” she said. “People in their lives are trying to become more green. This is a way they can switch their beauty regimens over to a more sustainable product.”
Evan Miller, director of global communications for beauty products manufacturer Aveda, said its products are not certified as organic, but use as many natural ingredients as possible. According to Aveda’s website, it also has agreements with organic ingredient providers in Peru, Bulgaria, South Africa, Australia and Morocco. “We have a mission … to not only provide people with the most high-performing products possible, but to be as environmentally friendly as possible,” he said. “Aveda’s philosophy is that you shouldn’t put anything on your body … that you wouldn’t consider putting in your body or back into the earth.”
House said customers who use natural products see a difference over time, such as less build-up in their hair. “The ingredients are all water-soluble, so every time you wash your hair they all wash out,” she said. “Most people, once you use it, end up using mostly Aveda products. A lot of people come here primarily because it’s an Aveda salon.”
Some of the ingredients in the cosmetics come from traditional communities in the Amazon rainforest. The company has relationships with traditional communities around the world, especially in South America, and has been working with the Yawanawa tribe in Nova Esperanca, a town in the Brazilian rainforest, for 17 years.
“The founder of Aveda went to a summit about climate change in Rio de Janeiro” where he learned about rainforest destruction, Miller said. “What he learned was the Brazilian government was stealing [traditional tribes’] land.” The Yawanawa originally owned 200,000 acres of rainforest land. Miller said Aveda sent the tribe’s Chief, Tashka, to college so he could learn how to defend his tribe’s rights in court. The Yawanawa now have about 160,000, some of which had already been cleared for development. Now, the Yawanawa used the land that was already cleared for urukum, a nut containing a red pigment they use for sun protection. Miller said the urukum is useful for products with sunscreen or red coloring in them.
“We’ve provided them with a sustainable economy,” he said. “We’re helping communities in other parts of the world remain self-sustaining. … We want to not only help ourselves run a successful business, we want to help other people.” He said in addition to providing the urukum trees and jobs for the people who harvest the nuts, Aveda helped to build a pharmacy there. “We’re not just looking to buy an ingredient and leave,” he said.
Another traditional group with which Aveda has an agreement is a women’s cooperative in Maranhao, Brazil. Miller said the company found the babassu nuts the women harvest in 1996, while looking for a new ingredient for soap and shampoo. “We started looking for an alternative to some of the ingredients in our products that are petroleum-based,” he said. The women’s cooperative had formed before Aveda’s involvement, in response to threats to the women’s traditional way of life. “People … were burning sections of the forest to raise cattle on,” Miller said. “It was the women that actually fought back. They lobbied … and there was a law called the Free Nut Law” which gave forest-dwelling peoples the right to gather nuts and protected the land where they live from development.
Miller said Aveda agrees to pay traditional communities a fair price for ingredients, but he does not consider the agreements to be part of the fair trade movement. “We work as directly as possible with these people to get the products,” said Miller. “The people get all the additional benefits of us helping them economically and socially.”
Still, House said sustainable products are more expensive than others. She said Douglas J’s business dipped with the economy as customers bought fewer products. “It is more expensive, but it’s also a lot better for you,” she said. “Ultimately [our customers] understand that the difference is worth it.” She said, despite display boards highlighting traditional communities, the sustainability is probably not a major motivation for customers who buy their products. “The average guest coming in here probably doesn’t understand the depth of the commitment,” she said.
Jessica Wendlandt, a junior majoring in landscape architecture, said sustainability is one factor she considers when buying beauty products. “I like the fact they’re made of all-natural products. I think they’re good quality too, so that’s why I buy them,” she said, adding that she doesn’t buy them often because of the cost.
Jessica Stull, of Ada, Ohio, who was visiting friends in East Lansing, said sustainability is not usually something she considers when buying beauty products. “Most of the time I just buy name brands,” she said. “I’d rather buy the stuff here than go to WalMart and buy their products.”