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Children of the Revolution – One Skin, One Planet.

July 26, 2009

Rachel Carson is often credited as the voice that started the environmental movement with the launch of her book  ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962.  That was 46 years ago and the only thing that has changed in that time is the environment. The situation has worsened as our lifestyle choices, the ever swelling mass of humanity and its global consumerist culture cut deeply into this place that we call home.  With everything we do playing a part in our overall “carbon footprint” or “ecological impact”  it is not surprising that many of us become overwhelmed and then paralyzed into inaction believing that no one person can change the world.  While that may well be true, what is also true is that when we dip our toe into the environmental pool, the ripples that we create are far reaching. And if we all dip in a toe or two,  we have the power to create a global Tsunami of positive energy. Now I want to be a part of that!

About once every five or six weeks I facilitate a workshop for the Watershed in Newtown covering the in’s and out’s of natural personal care. The Watershed is a hub of sustainable living information and runs a whole range of workshops from how to set up your own worm farm to how to make your own skin cream. I love being a part of such a positive and active organization and love meeting the people who come along to be inspired or to share their stories.  I am passionate about the planet that we call home and wanted to share my story with the Realize Beauty readership – especially as my story involves cosmetics!

I have been involved in the personal care industry now for eleven years after taking a job with a chemical distributor in the UK back in early 2007.  Like most young people I had very little idea of what I was going to do with my life after school/ uni. I studied Chemistry because  it was hard and few people did it – not great reasons but why else would a 17 year old choose to do anything? Anyway, luckily enough I soon became engrossed in the atomic world and little by little, piece by piece it all started to make sense.  My first job was taken in desperation after coming back from travelling around India and Australia broke and engaged! I had no idea what the job would entail but had agreed to do a post grad diploma in cosmetic formulating anyway as it sounded pretty groovy (and I needed the job so couldn’t say no).

It wasn’t long before I became a label addict. I would spend an unhealthy amount of time loitering around the supermarket personal care aisle, picking up products and making mental notes about the ingredients that they contained. I would do a straw poll on how many products contained parabens or sorbitol, glycerine or cocoamphodiacetate all to enable me to call these companies and make them a better offer on that or a substitute product.  For the first three years  of working in the industry I was just blown away by the glamour, the possibilities and the thrill of it all. It was a change of job that opened up my eyes to another world.

I moved to a chemical manufacturer in order to progress my career. The manufacturer had had a chequered past environmentally and had been the subject of many a Greenpeace protest. Having always been the kind of person that thinks change comes from within rather than without I wasn’t too bothered about the activists – after all, they will always find something to protest about but what I wanted to know was this:  What next?  You may hate what company X is doing at this moment in time but chaining yourself up to the docks now may stop the next ship, make the company squirm and get some publicity but what is the ongoing plan? How are we going to move forward from here?  I was yet to find the answer to that.

So, why did I join such a company? Well, by the time I joined the company had changed tact. The market for their polluting product was coming to an end so rather than shut up shop the company had decided to invest their remaining income into green chemistry and grow some niche market opportunities. Smart move thinks me!  The year was 2001 and my appetite for green chemistry was whetted. As an aside the company involved was also spending a substantial amount of money cleaning up after themselves and generally working to be good corporate citizens.

I moved on from that company when I emigrated back in 2004 but since then I have always looked at ways of developing new products and business opportunities in a sustainable way. Why not make products more concentrated to avoid packaging, use recycled packaging where possible, make multi-functional products, don’t go for too much segmentation – one product fits all, make family sized packs rather than small, travel bottles, source ingredients responsibly, manufacture smartly – save energy (use green energy), the list goes on.  However, my time spent in industry has enabled me to develop a realistic and grounded approach to what is and what isn’t possible – an approach that is constantly evolving and being tweaked and re-visited in this fast-paced world.

My love of our planet goes beyond my work life. I have been lucky enough to travel to the rain forests of Borneo and Java, explore the deserts and sprawling metropolises of India and marvel and the ancient wisdom and creativity of the Greek’s and Romans.  I have seen some of the good, the bad and the ugly and understand the constraints and moral dilemmas facing our modern and overcrowded home. I still believe that we can make a difference. A positive change. We just need to be conscious.

I class myself as a child of the revolution but my revolution is not one of material things.  That era has been and gone. My revolution is one of the mind, one that takes time, patience and an ounce or two of pain.  My revolution is one of consciousness, a revolution faced with one’s eyes, ears and most importantly mind wide open and ready to re-connect with the planet on which we live. And what better place to start than with the cosmetics that we use.

For me cosmetics and personal care products are not something that we use to shield us or to put on a face. They are products that we can use to have fun with, to enhance our moods and to project our positivity and radiance onto others.  It is all to do with reaching out and connecting with people and what could be more human and more grounded than that?  My green journey begins and ends with our skin.

Sixty to Seventy years ago in the western world,  skincare was mainly animal based with whales and tallow being the main source of fatty ingredients for use in moisturisers, soaps and barrier creams. Nobody minded this as utilising animals as feedstock for all types of things was common practice with few people concerned about animal cruelty or over-fishing. Anyway, the market for such products was relatively small as most people couldn’t afford to buy this type of luxury!

Jump forward a few more decades and suddenly, rubbing animal fat onto the skin was not so attractive.  More people were in work, disposable incomes were rising and more people were looking for products to make them feel and look as beautiful as the actors that they adored on the big (and small) screen.  Bring on the oil industry – cruelty free, reproducible and cheap! Now every household could have moisturisers, soaps, shampoos and colour cosmetics without having to worry about the sacrifices made to get the product to them.  Petroleum would cure all!

Well, we all know what happened next. Skip to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and Europe is hit by Mad Cow Disease killing what is left of any remaining tallow ingredients for personal care and medicinal use.  At the same time the consumer was falling out of love with petroleum. The gulf was becoming unstable again putting petroleum supply under stress and the environmental consequences of the oil industry were becoming more well known although the “carbon footprint” was still a few miles away!  What happened? We decided to “go natural”.   While there had always been cosmetics based on more naturally sourced ingredients (Body Shop and Lush were early market leaders) the movement began gathering pace and a new and lucrative market segment was born.  At long last the market and the consumer could go forth with a clear conscious knowing that their purchase was safe for them and better for the environment, or was it?

Natural is always good, yes?  Well maybe, I can’t say outright as every product and situation is different.  I traveled through Indonesia and witnessed the deforestation first hand. While only a small proportion of that could be attributed to the personal care industry the move to “Natural” cosmetics and personal care products still has strings attached. That plant based ingredient had to come from somewhere and unfortunately for many “green” consumers, myself included, that plant originated in a palm plantation. A plantation that was once virgin rain forest, once a place that Orang Utans thrived but with so many people wanting to look and feel so good, what else can we do? We want it, they provide it – the basis for a market economy.

So as you see, the situation is complicated and that is why I am passionate about it. About what? Well, about working out how we as a global economy, a global village can have it all.   I am passionate about access and equity – what I have access to, everyone should have access to. I am passionate about sustainability – why do I need to use 10 products a day and why do I buy things just to use them once and throw them away. I am passionate about our well being  – why do I want that lipgloss?  Because it makes me feel good, it communicates something about myself to people, it helps me to have fun and to celebrate.  Finally, and I think importantly I am passionate about people.  About you, about me and my family, about my business relationships and about those people who’s voices can’t always be heard.  I believe that the cosmetics industry is not just about window dressing. I believe that it is about One skin, one planet and one revolution. Vive le Green Chemistry! Viva la Vida.

To sum up and put this into the Realize Beauty context, One of my core motivations behind Realize Beauty is the wish to spread good information while  inspiring  and motivating others to make better choices.  It is easy for companies, independent groups, activists and charities to jump on a band wagon, especially if there is sufficient money and enthusiasm greasing the wheels. What is more difficult is to build a series of solid and rational relationships between consumers and the world in which we live. To say “we don’t know”, to ask questions and to promote intelligent and evidence based decision making. I like to think of this as the Kaizen approach to consumerism.  Or a system which enables continuous and stepwise improvements.  This approach puts the individual at the heart of the process, after all isn’t it all about you? Of course it is.

Amanda Foxon-Hill

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2009 3:43 am

    I’d like to elaborate a bit on the relationship between orangutans and palm oil that you mentioned in your blog post.

    The palm oil industry is guilty of the most heinous ecological atrocities imaginable, including the systematic genocide of orangutans. The forests of Borneo and Sumatra are the only place where these gentle, intelligent creatures live, and the cultivation of palm oil has directly led to the brutal deaths of thousands of individuals as the industry has expanded into previously undisturbed areas of rainforest.

    When the forest is cleared, adult orangutans are typically shot on sight. These peaceful, sentient beings are beaten, burned, mutilated, tortured and often eaten. Babies are torn off their dying mothers so they can be sold on the black market as illegal pets to wealthy families who see them as status symbols of their own power and prestige. This has been documented time and again.

    Some of the luckier orangutans are confiscated and brought to sanctuaries such as the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rescue Center, which is home to around 650 orphaned and displaced orangutans in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Many of these orangutans are only several weeks old when they arrive, and all of them are psychologically traumatized and desperate for their mothers– who were slaughtered right before their eyes.

    To learn more about the crisis facing wild orangutans because of palm oil and see how YOU can help protect them, please visit the Orangutan Outreach website: http://redapes.org

    Thank you for taking the time to read my long response to your post…

    Richard Zimmerman
    Director, Orangutan Outreach
    Reach out and save the orangutans!
    Adopt an orangutan today!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      July 31, 2009 8:32 am

      Dear Richard,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to elaborate on this. I spent 8 weeks working on an Orang Utan rehabilitation centre in central Kalimantan and I must say that these really area amazing and fascinating animals. The deforestation going on back then – 15 years ago was horrific so I dread to think what the area looks like now. Conscious consumerism is the only way forward which is why I spend so much time getting to the heart of the issue rather than perpetuating urban myths. Thanks again Richard and keep up the great work.
      Amanda

  2. October 23, 2013 3:27 pm

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    existing here at this webpage, thanks admin of this web page.

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