The business case of sustainability – Rupert Schmid, co-chair of Biologique Recherche

Sustainability and financial success go hand-in-hand – but only if a company’s or a brand’s approach to sustainability is part of a wider, corporate social responsibility strategy.

That is the message from Rupert Schmid, co-chair of Biologique Recherche – a brand partner of SSA. Biologique Recherche CSR programme has been underway for several years now and is underpinned by the commitment, made in 2018, to the United Nations Global Compact, as well as international benchmarks – such as the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and ISO 26000.

In 2021, the company has made further advances into CSR, including a move to define a set of values common to all of its employees, an in-depth study of its packaging recyclability to identify improvement areas, developing its online training offer and gaining ISO 9001 certification for its quality management system.

We spoke to Rupert about the company’s CSR strategy and sustainability in general.  

What does environmental sustainability mean to Biologique Recherche

The benefit of all human activity must be seen through the lens of the global benefit it delivers to the stakeholders and the planet. This is also true for any company and it cannot be limited to environmental sustainability – it is much wider and cannot be segmented.

The best way to express it is CSR. In our industry we’re already committed to delivering wellness, which gives us a unique platform and opportunity to deliver CSR. As such, sustainability should be seen as a state of mind which affects each and every action – now and in the future. It may start with recycling and a focus on nurturing natural resources and go as far as dictating how we take care of our employees and stakeholders.

For us, sustainability covers all of this and extends to the NGOs we support – whose goals may not be directly connected with our business. So for us, sustainability has no boundaries. It is a state of mind and a commitment that affects everything we do. It is not necessarily an easy approach. It is our belief that we have to work hard – and we’ve forbidden ourselves to choose the easiest way, such as buying carbon credits to offset our actions. CSR is a subject on each of our board meetings.

What is the business case for sustainability and are there still people who have the mistaken belief that the costs outweigh the benefits?

First of all, we all know that the costs will always be lower than the benefits – this has been proven. Does anyone still have doubts about that today?

If you look around, you can see how things are moving very quickly. There are plenty of examples in our sector. Take the way treating people with cancer was not accepted a mere five years ago – but is now very common. Or how, not so long ago, wellness communities were nothing but a dream. And mental wellness is now totally included in the political health approach worldwide.

Sustainability is now at the heart of the quickly developing aspects of life and business. For our sector, it should be seen as part of the overall need to move towards wellness.

Do you think there is still a resistance/hesitancy in the spa and wellness industry in general towards sustainability, which needs to be addressed?

No. But there are still questions over how to achieve sustainability – about implementation. A lot of people have yet to understand that sustainability is a profitable move, which starts with a lot of small and inexpensive changes.

As an industry, we have some great advantages. Not only are we already about delivering wellness – which should, by definition, move us towards sustainability – but our workforce and teams are relatively young. This is a very important point. Just listen to the people around you – your teams and stakeholders – and they will show you the way.

If you would be tasked with “selling” the business case of sustainability to the wellness/spa sector, what aspects would you focus on?

My main point would be to emphasise that wellness already includes sustainability – they are linked. I do not believe that we have to “sell” that in any way.

What we have to do is to support/guide/help those who may be afraid of going ahead. And this is where the Sustainable Spa Association can come in.

Within Biologique Recherche we’re also actively doing so, with our spa and distributor partners. Six years ago when we published our first CSR report, our partners were not really listening or reading. When we made a commitment to the United Nations Global Compact, people were surprised.

Now, today, in the whole value chain the question is no longer “why”, but “how to”.

What sustainable initiatives has Biologique Recherche undertaken?

Year after year, we’ve progressively brought down greenhouse gas emissions directly and indirectly generated by our operations through energy efficiency, ecodesign of products and packaging, waste management, and other measures. We wanted to go further by measuring our carbon footprint to assess the impact of what we do and give us better oversight of how to reduce our emissions. We commissioned EcoAct to calculate our carbon footprint in 2020 as a first essential step in this process.

We now intend to devise a low-carbon roadmap by defining high-priority actions to be implemented, along with targets and indicators that will help steer us towards operating a low-carbon business.

Some of the particular actions we’ve taken include moving to new, greener US offices with eco-friendly equipment, such as LED lightbulbs, energy-efficient air conditioning, and double glazing.

A major initiative was our move to new production facilities in Argenteuil, France, this year. In preparation we thoroughly investigated ways we could keep down our power usage there – to use less power and to run on green energy. This green approach to designing the new plant constitutes a major step forward in our programme for reining in our carbon footprint.

What would your advice on sustainability be to the industry?

I truly think that CSR management – and the approach to sustainability – should be driven by humility and encompass every action. I don’t like to see sustainability being overly simplified. For example, people or companies who recycle some of their waste thinking they’re doing a great job.

Especially in our industry, which is about delivering wellness. Focusing on the way you touch someone, when delivering a massage or treatment, is probably more beneficial to the rest of the world than, say, ensuring the lifecycle of a paper napkin is managed sustainably. It comes back to sustainability being a mindset and part of CSR.