The Heart of the Matter

This is the third post in a series of questions with Shannon Hess, associate director – Responsible Sourcing for Burt’s Bees. She’s on the front lines, meeting the farmers, harvesters and suppliers of the natural ingredients that go into Burt’s Bees products.

Previous entries have discussed why Burt’s Bees aspires to know the story of every ingredient in Burt’s Bees products, and also how personal relationships lead to better outcomes for our farmers and our products.

Here, we discuss how this strict commitment to responsible sourcing and supply chain transparency make the Burt’s Bees brand even stronger and why this work is best done in partnership with others.

Shannon visits a village in Tanzania where a Burt’s Bees responsible sourcing project has provided beekeeping suits.

Has responsible sourcing had a positive impact on how the brand is perceived?

So much of our responsible sourcing work is behind the scenes. We haven’t really publicized this work very broadly.

But Burt’s Bees consumers really care about responsible sourcing, so we’re going to start talking more about why our natural ingredients and the communities where we source them matter. We hope that will be meaningful to people.

Who are some of the partners you’re working with to drive transparency, traceability and positive impacts in the Burt’s Bees supply chain?

This work can’t be done alone. Having a collaboration of brands industry-wide working toward social and environmental improvement will have a much greater impact than Burt’s Bees can have on its own.

I’ve always advocated for partnerships in this work, even with competitors, since responsible sourcing is so important, and that stage is not where we compete. It helps all of our companies when we share what we’ve learned on our journeys. So what can we share with other personal care brands about vulnerable natural-ingredient supply chains? How do we further our research and sustainability actions together?

Here are some of the things the Burt’s Bees brand is doing to strengthen the industry as a whole:

  • We’ve created a sustainability partner program with one of our shea butter suppliers and are actively encouraging our peers in the cosmetic industry to join it. It’s a really exciting collaborative group effort.
  • We also have five responsible-sourcing projects underway with our ingredient producers in Tanzania and Vietnam for beeswax and in Burkina Faso for shea kernels. These projects include more than 6,000 people. We see tremendous opportunity to scale these efforts with our peers to drive transparency, transparency and positively impact livelihoods and biodiversity.
  • We also work in partnership with many international responsible sourcing groups, including AIM-PROGRESS,the Natural Resources Stewardship Circle and The Responsible Mica Initiative. We’re members to The Forest Trust, which helps us become better informed on palm supply chains. I am also part of the executive committee of the The Global Shea Alliance, which works with shea kernel and shea butter value chain projects throughout West Africa.
  • And this past year, we worked with retailers like Target and Walmart to develop a Beauty and Personal Care Product Sustainability Rating System. This retailer-based effort will make it easier to get sustainable products on shelves and provides a framework for retailers to communicate those benefits to shoppers. We believe this will help shift the entire natural personal care industry toward a more sustainable future where it’s easier for people to know what’s in their products and which ones are most sustainable.

Beekeeping suits Burt’s Bees has provided to communities in Tanzania and Vietnam where we source our beeswax.

When can you consider your work complete?

My work is never complete. These supplies are dynamic. I can go visit and see one set of circumstances and between weather, political environment, drought — the list is endless — things can be completely different a year later.

I’m off to Brazil in January and Indonesia, Malaysia and The Philippines in March to meet more individuals who can teach me about our ingredients and the impact of these ingredients on their communities.

This week, I’m celebrating eight years with Burt’s Bees. What still most motivates me is that we treat those who grow, harvest and produce ingredients for our products as an extension of ourselves, respecting human rights, the environment and learning from each other. To me, an ingredient supplier is a person, not a company.

As I mentioned, I am very excited about our 2020 sustainability initiatives, including visits to the origin of our ingredient communities and global supply chain investment projects. That’s going to be an exciting and personally rewarding focus area in the next few years.