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A Lesson in Sustainability: Natura's Marcos Vaz

By: Fernanda Bonifacio
Posted: August 31, 2010, from the September 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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In addition to developing and maintaining relationships with the communities, which is an intricate job in itself, time and bureaucracy are also obstacles for companies willing to invest in sustainable projects in Brazil. Vaz got used to dealing with these issues even before heading the sustainability department. Since joining Natura, he was responsible for product safety and technical and regulatory matters. “For a new community to be added to Natura’s chain, it takes about six months of articulation with NGOs, anthropologists, independent consultants, and even the government,” he says. A case involving Natura and a cooperative of producers from Esperantinópolis, in the northeast of Brazil, is an example on how delays may jeopardize projects. Aiming to replace the mineral powder used in its makeup with babassu flour, Natura first contacted the Esperantinópolis community in 2004. The trade agreement was only signed in early 2008, and the product is yet to be launched.

Vaz believes that meeting the prerequisites imposed by Brazilian law are even more complicated than closing deals with the communities. The most criticized of these prerequisites states the need of prior approval from both the local community and the government before starting any research on a new ingredient. Specialists say this not only creates expectations about a product that may never reach the market but also limits R&D resources.

Natura currently has 49 pending projects waiting for approval from the Genetic Heritage Management Council. “Such legal hurdles may culminate in an environment of vulnerability for organizations that want to develop technologies or products from the Brazilian biodiversity,” says Vaz. “Several companies that could promote environmental conservation, fair trade and social development tend to abandon their projects, or [execute outside the boundaries of] the system.”

Effort Pays Off in Consumer Response

The barriers, however, are offset by consumers’ response. Vaz is optimistic about the level of awareness of the Brazilian people—revealed in the last Biodiversity Barometer conducted by the Union for Ethical Bio Trade (UEBT). With 94% of consumers surveyed having heard of biodiversity, Brazil appears as a champion. Out of these, more than one out of two defined the term correctly, a marked difference from consumers in Europe and the U.S. where 60% of consumers indicated they had heard of biodiversity.

According to the report, companies wishing to expand in the emerging Brazilian market should take this information to heart. UEBT’s annual overview also stated beauty companies should be prepared for increased scrutiny of their biodiversity sourcing practices. To date, only 21% of the top-100 beauty companies report on biodiversity.

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