Minding Your Business: Profits that Restore the Planet
A Conversation with Horst Rechelbacher, Founder of Intelligent Nutrients and Aveda
Conducted by Dr. Mary McBride and Maren Maier
Issue 4 Summer 2010
As the business world faces a crisis point, new ways of doing business must be found.Horst Rechelbacher tells us about his experiences pioneering two innovative and successful sustainable companies in the beauty and cosmetics industry, Intelligent Nutrients and Aveda. He explains how his crusade to phase out the multiplicity of toxic ingredients in cosmetics has led to a new paradigm of products based on food chemistry and a new model for business. He shows us that by merging self, community, and environment, we can usher in a new age of enlightened capitalism that nurtures wellbeing and creates profits while restoring the planet.
Mary: Transforming big industries is an extremely challenging task. There are so many people who say it can’t be done, and then there are people like you who are doing it. You’ve had amazing successes with Aveda and have just launched your new company, Intelligent Nutrients. What motivates you?
Horst: That’s exactly why I am doing it, because I know it can be done. I want to show the cosmetics industry that it is possible to design a better product. From their point of view, what I am doing with Intelligent Nutrients is absolutely ridiculous. Ultimately, I am trying to go beyond the traditional cosmetic pursuit of outer beauty to the core elements that compose true beauty, in order to find the ultimate sense of health and wellbeing.
“The dark irony is that the things we put on our bodies to cover our perceived defects or make ourselves look better are often toxic.”
Maren: It’s interesting, because the official definition of cosmetics goes against the very idea of beautification and health. The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘cosmetics’ as “something superficial that is used to cover up a deficiency or defect.”
Horst: When we look at the cosmetics industry, we are really looking at the petrochemical industry. And literally to this day, it’s the base of everything that makes up a beauty product, including surfactants, preservatives, lubricants, colorants, packaging, etc. That needs to be corrected. It’s outdated and dangerous. The only testing performed on cosmetics and personal care products are for eye and skin sensitivity. This is unfortunate, because anything that goes on the skin is in the blood seconds later. Any ingredients absorbed by our skin bypasses the detoxifying enzymes in our liver, which protect us from toxins in food. That means the harmful chemicals that you apply to your skin are more toxic and pose greater cancer and other risks, than if you ate them.
Mary: What are the effects of these substances on our bodies?
Horst: We have evidence of the dangers of heavy metals and other hazardous substances on the body, some of which are known carcinogens. Dr. Samuel Epstein, a professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, describes the different types of hazardous substances and their effects on the human body in his books. He also lists products that contain these “horrific substances” by category, and the list is endless: shampoos, deodorants, toothpastes, lotions, blushes, eye shadows, mascara, lipstick, hairspray, etc. On average, women use about twenty-five cosmetic products on a daily basis, and many ingredients in these products are not digestible, not even recyclable. Babies are even born with cosmetic waste, because it is transferred through the umbilical chord and breast milk. A recent study of 31 brands of lipstick sent to laboratories for testing showed 61% contained lead1. Why are we putting things on our skin that we wouldn’t put in our mouths?
Mary: How are you redesigning beauty products to fix this problem?
Horst: To redesign beauty products, we have to look at chemistry. What is available to us? I think the solution can be found in food chemistry. By using food as medicine, we can apply the flavors and colors of things like seeds, berries and vegetables. They are intense in color, concentrated and have high antioxidant food values. I call it skin or lip-delivered nutrition, because it can deliver good things at the same time as you beautify. So, in a way, you are turning super foods into super cosmetics. I like to follow traditional formulas and then stretch them with my imagination to create new aromatic compositions. They all have a purpose and do something of benefit.
Mary: This is what you started at Aveda over 30 years ago. Are you perfecting the process with Intelligent Nutrients?
Horst: I started Aveda more than 30 years ago and left because it was time to reinvent myself. Back then, certified organic products were not available. Raw material manufacturers promised us natural ingredients, yet no one told us, for example, that sodium laurel sulfates derived from coconut was a petrochemical process. We didn’t know that in those days, and it took us decades later to realize this synthetic process. The word natural is very confusing because petrochemicals are also natural. Crude oil is a natural substance from earth; it’s a mineral oil, but it’s not edible and extremely toxic, even when refined. Intelligent Nutrients in contrast is based on hi-tech, nutritional substances. I hired food chemists to help me create a new paradigm of products, where we utilize certified organic, nutritional ingredients to make products that, when taken internally and applied topically, deliver the best benefits to the body.
“Nobody tests these products and ingredients for toxicity or how they affect us on a cellular level.”
Maren: What is your goal with Intelligent Nutrients?
Horst: We are very small, and I want to stay that way. I am focused on small batch production and high quality, because to do what I do, you have to go the extra mile. I don’t just work with one two, three or four species. I’ve been studying indigenous plant species for many years, and it’s a pharmacopeia. I travel around the globe to find the best raw materials. In doing so, I practice what I call ‘pure sourcing,’ which ensures that the ingredients I use are 100% organic, not tested on animals, free of synthetic ingredients, and do not exploit workers. This is an enormous challenge for many reasons, particularly with organic certification, but we are doing it. To ensure quality, I recently started my own organic farming operation, using solar power, electric farm vehicles and purified water for irrigation. I’ve been operating the farm now for six years and grow many of the certified organic preservatives for my products. This cuts out the middlemen and ultimately allows me to have a more holistic understanding of my business.
Mary: What has been your biggest hurdle since starting Intelligent Nutrients?
Horst: Finding honest suppliers and educated consumers. There are so many companies out there screaming organic this, natural that, when in fact their products are not certified. This misleads consumers into thinking products are safe. Even though cosmetics use some of the same ingredients that are in drugs and foods, both of which are regulated by the FDA, there lacks a governmental watchdog. When it takes millions of dollars to reformulate a product or change one small ingredient, it is not surprising when large manufacturers look for ways to cut corners. Senator Edward Kennedy read a statement at Senate hearings on the FDA Reform Bill On September 10, 1997 stating: “The Cosmetics Industry has borrowed a page from the playbook of the tobacco industry by putting profits ahead of public health.”1 Over ten years later, this is still the case. Fortunately, there is a group called the Organic Consumers Association that wants to inform and protect the public. The OCA has tested many personal care products for dioxane, surfactants, fragrances for phthalates and other petrochemical ingredients. Intelligent Nutrients recently joined the OCA, Dr. Bronners and Organic Essence in filing a complaint with the USDA to request a federal investigation into misleading organic labeling of personal care products. Thankfully, the federal courts passed a ruling in 2005 that stated cosmetics companies must also comply with USDA organic regulations specifying the exact definition and parameters of the ‘organic’ label, which should help keep companies from using the word under false pretenses.
Maren: In light of these regulatory issues, do you have any words of advice or inspiration for designers and entrepreneurs?
Horst: We need to redesign, totally redesign everything. If we don’t, we risk becoming collectors of the old, paying homage to a system that is broken. Each individual and every organization must play a part in manifesting a new system of ‘enlightened enterprise.’
“When you look at the legal interpretation of cosmetics, the FDA says it is neither a food nor a drug, which means that the cosmetics industry is largely self-regulated.”
Mary: How would you build the ideas of ‘enlightened enterprise’ into the fabric of a business or an organization?
Horst: I asked myself the same questions while I was running Aveda. After successfully formulating a sustainable line of natural plant-based products, I felt it was equally important to formulate a sustainable business model. So I started thinking of ways to design a creative, humane, and socially responsible environment for my employees, encouraging them to participate in building the organization. With their help, we instated a day care center for working mothers and created internal training programs around the Waldorf education model, both of which were met with resounding success. By listening to my employees, I began to understand that the company couldn’t reach its full potential until the employees were treated just as customers. That is when I truly began to appreciate the art of service, and I learned some valuable lessons along the way, particularly about reframing the very definition of ‘business.’
CATALYST Definition – Pure Sourcing: A method of sourcing materials that ensures ingredients are 100% organic, not tested on animals, free of synthetic ingredients, and do not exploit workers.
Maren: The definition of business in the old Anglo Saxon, which is probably closest to yours, is to “deliver solicitude or solace.” Business, in that sense, is about exchanging in ways that enliven and enable people to thrive. How do you define business?
Horst: I believe at its core, business is an energetic exchange, an equal exchange between two entities. You give me a value such as money and I give you goods. This exchange encompasses the law of preservation of the living organization, whereby the success of the living organization is dependent on the contribution of its members. And the success of the member is dependent on the success of the system as a whole.
A good friend of mine, the Austrian physicist Fritzjof Capra, defines trade, or business this way in one of his books. Nature operates like this as well, and it is the most successful sustainable business there is. It’s design to function and enlightened approach to enterprise.
Mary: You usually hear the term design to function in the context of design disciplines. How would you apply this to business? Horst: Most businesses do not operate on the principles of design to function. Building a company is very architectural, and in order for it to work every part has to function flawlessly. If it isn’t designed correctly, it won’t work. The principles of nature and evolution are the best example of this. In fact, I think the Native American “Seventh Generation” principle is a good guide when introducing any new business idea. Will the idea work seven generations into the future without compromising the wellbeing of our progeny or the planet? So, that’s the kind of business that interests me.
Maren: You didn’t start off with such a dedicated mission, but you had a few crises that turned into huge opportunities in your life.
Horst: Yeah. I’ve had good guiding forces. Somehow they always showed up to help me work through them. I honestly believe that, because I’m definitely not that smart. Through the years, I’ve learned to recognize opportunities when they present themselves, by developing a sense of self-awareness through routine self-observation. I really believe the concept of I, Inc. is so important.
Mary: It sounds like an interesting concept. Can you elaborate?
Horst: I, Inc., as I call it, is the foundation of every aspect of our life, and of every enterprise we will undertake. I believe the first question we should always ask ourselves before endeavoring to create a successful business venture is: am I successfully operating my inner business? The reality is few of us are, because most of us were not taught inner skills when we were growing up. In business terms, our mind is the CEO of I, Inc., and our job is to be an effective manager of the company we own–our life. Our bottom line is to create harmony, balance, health and ultimate wellbeing. Unfortunately, many of our problems occur out of ignorant, inept, reckless or irresponsible management of I, Inc. Until we learn to effectively manage I, Inc., we can’t create a sustainable personal life, let alone a successful business.
“We need a new understanding of health, a new relationship with ourselves,
a new respect for wellbeing.”
Maren: How have you strengthened your own inner skills? Do you have any tips for other entrepreneurs who are interested in doing the same?
Horst: It all boils down to mind-body relationship, learning to manage your emotions through consciousness, or daily inventory. For instance, I meditate three times daily and find ways to give thanksgiving. Take anger as an example. Like all of us, I get angry, but for me it’s like thunder in nature. It’s an energy release. I pay attention to its cause, and usually it’s something I haven’t fixed within myself, or something that is still around me that I allow to be. But then I always go to my healing moment, where I use a technique just like on a computer. I delete it. Release it. I don’t stay attached to it. I honestly believe that pain needs to be ’thanked,’ rather than avoided or suppressed. It’s inflammatory, and every time you avoid dealing with it you add more fire to the emotion and make it bigger. I think it’s the dis-ease, which eventually becomes the disease, both within our bodies and within an organization.
CATALYST Insight:Designers must effectively manage themselves internally before they can manage external forces and assets.
Mary: How would you suggest applying these skills in a business environment?
Horst: Every successful entrepreneur knows the importance of doing a regular business inventory. An inventory helps us to know the condition of our business, to set goals and to know when and how to adjust or reset them. Yet one of the most common problems in business is the toxic relations that often develop, through poor management, unclear protocols and procedures, poor communication, interdepartmental bickering, low employee morale, etc. Regular ‘detoxification’ through conscious observation is equally important in maintaining the health of an organization. It is where we invent ourselves to go into the next level. And it helps remind us that the causes of all dysfunction and disease are linked to our psychological and physiological environments, as well as the interpersonal environments in which we work.
A process of weekly inventory is a good guideline and should be built into the operating procedures of any company. And it is important to look beyond the financials. Is there synergy between each department? Are the right people in the right positions? Is communication flowing in every direction? Is the company consciously seeking out the bliss and the pain, and finding ways to heal? By doing this at Aveda, we became a real learning organization. Intelligent Nutrients has adopted this model as well.
Maren: These ideas take us to an entirely new realm of awareness with respect to enterprise, and a different concept of a healthy organization.
Horst: That is correct. I often define the health of the business using the philosophies of traditional medicines. Traditional medicines never treat the symptom. They use the symptom to find the cause and then they eliminate the cause by making the necessary changes. I think business needs to do the same. If you do the comparison, a business is just another body, a living organization, something which is alive. It has a brain, it has a kidney and it has to eliminate waste. Of course healing isn’t always pleasurable. Sometimes the pain hangs out for a while, but those are the creative challenges of operating an enterprise. Designing a business like the human body is the first step in building a healing organization. Again, it is design to function, and you find ways to fix it before it becomes unmanageable. That is a true healing organization.
Mary: How can we encourage designers and business leaders to start the process of healing?
“I think we often forget that we operate in a unified system in which every part and function is linked in dynamic interdependence to the whole.”
Horst: It is going to be very interesting. There is a lot of healing to be done in business today. Nature has ultimately become the teacher. Business doesn’t affect just humans but it also affects Nature – our environment. Separating people from Nature is no longer practical. In an inventory of the last hundred years, we know we have done more harm to our Planet than ever before. This is a crisis, but also the opportunity to redesign consumer product chemistry utilizing carbohydrate or plant based, non-toxic food chemistry to make products nutritious and safe. Recently there were major issues with children’s toys containing lead, phthalates and heavy metals. These issues exist in water bottles, toys, furniture fabrics, carpets, lipstick containers, etc. But it is possible to make plastic out of carbohydrates. Unfortunately, very few material manufacturers are aware of these options.
The 21st century paradigm will be to redesign materials and therefore reinvent consumerism. I think it’s inevitable in the new economy, and it will happen through activism. But activism without show and tell is not as effective, so clearly the best way to prove that you are doing something good is to be successful. And to be successful is art, science, math, analytics and intuition. It requires a whole spectrum of consciousness. Whatever business you are in, you have to seek out the bliss and pain. Is the customer in pain? Is your employee in pain?
CATALYST Definition – Healing Organization: An organization that consistently integrates a system of conscious observation and learning into business practices in order to re-invent itself to a level of enlightened enterprise.
Maren: Do you have examples of other organizations that are paving the way and redesigning the way we do business?
Horst: There is a group of professors in Berkeley, called the Good Guide. They are designing an instrument that senses danger in consumer products, such as insecticides, pesticides, heavy metals, mercury, etc. Their goal is to give the consumer the ability to test products for safety before they use them. Another example is the Henry Ford Clinic in Michigan, a LEED certified hospital. They serve organic food to their patients and their staff uses non-toxic cleaning and skin care products. They even have a gift shop dedicated solely to environmentally-friendly products, including the organic mattresses they use in their hospital beds. So it is being done in different sectors, but we need many more examples if we are ever going to get past this critical juncture and transform our troubled world. No matter how small the endeavor, we have to start now.
A Sustainable To Do List Minding Your Business, Horst Rechelbacher
• Wake up and embrace our interdependence with all living things.
• Visualize our goals and pursue them with positive discipline.
• Recognize the opportunity in every crisis, and turn every crisis into an opportunity.
• Be a dedicated apprentice to great teachers and to life itself.
• Tune our mind and senses through meditation to connect with the intelligence of nature and the spirit of the cosmos.
• Manage the laws of cause and effect in our own lives by conducting a daily inventory and adapting our behavior and actions accordingly.
• Ask ourselves: How can we serve, nurture and sustain the planet and its people in our business ventures and our lifestyle choices?
• Educate ourselves through study and direct experience about the realities of our planetary crisis.
• Serve selflessly and joyfully, seeing our customers as ourselves.
• Purchase wisely, knowing that every dollar we spend is a vote cast for or against a sustainable future.
• Learn to work and communicate as part of a dynamic team-system.
• Let our gifs and knowledge outlive us by teaching and mentoring others.
• Create healthy, ethical, creative, holistic business and home environments.
• Make a business opportunity of the environmental crisis by desining innovative, sustainable products and solutions.
• Express gratitude in our prayers for our successes in every area of our lives- past, present, and future.
• Rejuvenate and reinvent ourselves daily through spiritual practice and creative evolution.
• Appreciate and learn the lessons of past and present painful experiences, and unconditionally forgive those who may have caused them.
• Gracefully accept challenges and lessons- they are gifts of God.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
How to Effectively Manage I, Inc.
Before endeavoring to create a successful business venture, ask yourself if you are successfully operating your inner business. Then, lead your inner life like you are its CEO:
Hold daily meetings
Understand the interdependence of each department
Be a dedicated apprentice to your organization
Conduct a weekly inventory
Focus on service toward all stakeholders
Never lose sight of the bottom line
About the Authors:
Horst M. Rechelbacher an Austrian by birth, and the son of an herbalist, is an active environmentalist, innovative business leader, author, artist, and organic farmer. In 1978, Horst founded Aveda Corporation, a global plant-based cosmetic company. Nearly two decades later, he sold Aveda to Estee Lauder but remained a consultant until March 2003. Since then, he has focused on a new product paradigm by founding Intelligent Nutrients, a health and beauty product company utilizing 100% food-based and organic-certified ingredients. Horst is one of the three original founders of Business for Social Responsibility, which promotes the idea that businesses have the greatest responsibility and opportunity to provide sustainability to all living species. In his continuing study of plant-based medicine, he collaborates with noted physicians, chemists and pharmacologists, as well as with experts and traditional healers throughout the world.
Dr. Mary McBride is the Director of the Design Management program at Pratt Institute where she has been building out the program and teaching in it since 1999. Mary is also a Partner in Strategies for Planned Change. She, leads their strategic leadership and stewardship practice coaching and facilitating change in individuals and organizations.
Maren Maier is a graduate of the Design Management Program at Pratt, and is currently a Buyer at ABC Carpet & Home, a home furnishings store in New York City. She oversees a department of socially and environmentally responsible home products, entitled ‘ABC Home & Planet’ and she is in charge of transitioning suppliers to more sustainable production processes, while simultaneously educating consumers about the value of conscious consumerism.
Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health, by Samuel Epstein
Safe Shopper’s Bible: A Consumer’s Guide to Non-Toxic Household Product, Cosmetics, and Food, by Samuel Epstein
Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, by Stacy Malkan
Skin Deep (www.cosmeticsdatabase.com)
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.safecosmetics.org)
Organic Consumers Association (www.organicconsumers.org)
1. Epstein, Samuel (1996).Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health.