Sustainability Pioneer: Dame Anita Roddick 

To say that Dame Anita Roddick achieved a great deal in her years on this earth would be an understatement. A woman who dedicated most of her life to better this world for the benefit of humans and animals alike. Anita had a formidable reputation as a businesswoman, an entrepreneur, a human rights activist and an environmental campaigner, she was probably best known as the founder of the Body Shop, a household name famous for pioneering ethical consumerism. 

Anita opened her first business in Brighton in 1976, a cosmetics company like nothing we had seen before, she named it The Body Shop. Anita would later joke that the iconic green Body Shop colour we can all recognise a mile off was chosen simply to camouflage the mould on the walls. I don’t know about you, but mould or not, I can’t imagine The Body Shop any other colour. 

It was one of the first companies to prohibit the use of ingredients tested on animals, a stance that The Body Shop is famous for to this day. In addition, all products were sold in refillable containers, a decision that may seem like a no-brainer now, but that was certainly not the norm in the 1970s.  

Anita was renowned for going against the norm, she has often been described as ahead of her time and her sharp clarity on the way the world works, or rather, should work, still resonates to this day. 

As consumers, we have real power to effect change. We can ask questions about supply and manufacture. We can request new or different products. And we can use our ultimate power, voting with our feet and wallets – either buying a product somewhere else or not buying it at all. 

Anita Roddick, foreword for The Green Consumer Guide 1988

By 2004, The Body Shop was a global name, boasting 1980 stores worldwide and unsurprisingly voted the second most-trusted brand in the United Kingdom, and 28th top brand in the world… the world! What an achievement. 

Source: The Body Shop

The Body Shop was bought out by L’Oréal in 2006, and with that came some controversy due to L’Oréal’s reputation for using animal testing, something that was in stark contrast to Anita’s own values and the values of her company. Thankfully, I think it’s safe to say that the core values she instilled into her company from the offset have continued to be at the forefront of every move The Body Shop has made, even when it changed hands. Right from the get-go Anita championed sustainability through her business, by 1993 The Body shop had initiated its first recycling scheme; Bring Back our Bottles, and in 2019, under L’Oréal’s ownership, the rapidly expanding cosmetics brand launched its Return, Recycle, Repeat scheme in five countries. By 2020 The Body Shop had started a refill revolution with refill stations across 500 stores globally, contributing to a more sustainable future. 

Aside from her work with The Body Shop, Anita is well known for campaigning on environmental issues. She campaigned for Whales with Greenpeace, for the ozone layer with Friends of the Earth, for human rights with Amnesty International, and those are just to name a few. In 1990 Anita founded Children On The Edge, to help manage the crisis of poor conditions in the overcrowded orphanages in Romania. She then went on to write a book ‘Take It Personally’ which encouraged equality and an end to the exploitation of workers and children in underdeveloped countries. 

Anita symbolised what had never really been seen before, the CEO activist. She believed that changing the planet starts with helping people to change, by spending time with them and understanding their lives and limitations. For someone who had a lot of money, the fact that she chose to spend her time with people, all over the world, in a bid to improve this planet, speaks volumes to me. 

What we have learned is that the art of giving is not simply doling out money nor dishing out things we assume people want. It is the ability to work with them. The art of development is helping people find the right tools, and the right approach, to develop themselves.

Anita Roddick

Quote source: World Vison Award for Development Initiative

Source: Entrepreneur

Anita and her husband Gordon were married for 37 years, and during that time, I think it’s fair to say, they took on the world together. Anita truly had found her partner in love as well as her comrade-in-arms. To name just some of their conquests, Anita and Gordon together were responsible for setting up three orphanages in Romania, an organic farm cooperative in Nicaragua, numerous health and education projects in India, a brazil-nut cooperative in Brazil, a healthcare initiative in Nepal, a shea and cocoa butter cooperative in Ghana, a soap-making factory in Scotland and many, many more. Finally, the Roddick Foundation was set up by Anita and Gordon, dedicated to the support of organisations and individuals who strive to make the world a better place. The foundation has been awarding grants to those engaged in results-oriented work in the areas of social, labour and environmental justice, and human rights since 1997, and is still very much active to this day. 

Anita and Gordon Roddick. Source: The Big Issue

Anita’s work didn’t go unrecognised, she was awarded the World Vision Award for Development Initiative in 1991, the OBE in 1988 and made a dame in 2003. Anita sadly passed away in 2007 after being diagnosed with cirrhosis but my goodness did she leave a legacy. What a woman she was. Anita managed to combine beautifully her products and brand with her political views and her fight for a better world. I fondly remember religiously returning my empty Body Shop bottles as a teenager, long before recycling was mainstream word.  

Her concept was pioneering and her cause sustainable. I would love to be able to compare myself to Anita but she did more than I could ever dream possible.

Gillian Garside-Wight, Aura

If there is a similarity, it would be our desire at Aura to ensure all our clients have the ability to have sustainable products and brands without compromise. And from a very personal perspective, if I can contribute to educating and raising awareness for sustainability then maybe in time, I too will leave some kind of legacy.  

The impact Anita made during her life, and her legacy that lives on has reshaped this planet for the better, a true inspiration and a role model – thank you Anita. 

Key takeouts: 

  • Be brave: Don’t be afraid to speak out and go against the grain 
  • All or nothing: If you’re passionate about something, give it your all, you won’t regret it
  • Really listen: Spend time listening to people, you will learn so much 
  • Support: A life spent helping others leaves a legacy to be proud of 
  • Passion: Politics, causes and products can combine without compromise

Gillian Garside-Wight Consulting Director

About the Author

Gill leads our consulting offer, with over 20 years’ experience in the packaging industry, strategically developing packaging strategies, roadmaps and packaging solutions to meet the needs of clients, consumers and the planet. She has worked with many global retailers and household brands on projects spanning sustainability and innovation to supply chain optimization. With a real passion for sustainability, her quest is to educate, influence and drive a circular economy wherever possible while complementing creativity, technical functionality and commercial realities.

Gill grew up on a tiny island in Scotland and this is where her passion for sustainability started. She loves nothing more than (trying) to grow her own veg and exploring nature with her son.