The accelerating effects of the climate crisis are spurring more people to consider how they impact the Earth and to call on business leaders and government officials for changes in practices and policies. For some of these people, this is the first time an issue has prompted them to take a stand – and take action by becoming advocates for a shift from the status quo. But for Char Love, climate advocacy has long been a part of her life. As the daughter of a leader in the 1970s of one of Canada’s first environmental protection groups, Love saw from an early age how individuals can work collectively for change and through the years has built her own record — and a successful career — out of advocating for climate action.
Currently that means serving as Global Director of Advocacy for Natura &Co, where she coordinates a global network of partners for the Brazil Headquartered company, which includes the brands Avon, Natura, The Body Shop and Aesop. She is also Executive in Residence at the Saϊd Business School, University of Oxford, where she teaches a graduate-level course on the regenerative and circular economy and co-designed and co-directed the Oxford Climate Emergency Programme. These roles build on her previous experience at B Lab UK, which she co-founded with fellow entrepreneur James Perry. At B Lab UK she served as Chair for five years and then as Activist in Residence and Co-Chaired of B Lab’s global work to support B Corps to take radical cliamte action Throughout her career, Love has learned by experience how to work with business leaders in their pursuit of social and environmental change, skills and insights she is bringing to her new role at Natura &Co, the world’s largest Certified B Corporation.
“At Natura &Co, I spend a lot of time working with a global network of partners who are similarly moved by the need to aim higher, move faster, and work together to tackle the interconnected emergencies we’re facing in the world,” she says. “Now is the time for a system change; the challenges we’re facing are far too great for any one business to solve alone.”
During her time collaborating with leaders at B Corps and other companies of varied sizes and industries, Love saw the growing potential for businesses to help get more people involved in social and environmental advocacy, especially those who are feeling the pull to lend their voice and action to a cause for the first time. Many of them are among what is referred to as the “moderate flank” – those who care about issues and want to help create change, but are not necessarily going to glue themselves to buildings. “Business has proven to be an incredibly powerful channel to reach those interested in taking action, but through more moderate action than what we have sometimes seen on the streets,” Love says.
During a recent conversation with Love as part of my research on purpose-driven business, she told me more about her goals in her role at Natura &Co and how her experience in other jobs has helped shape her view and strategise for social and environmental advocacy. Keep reading to learn about the five A’s that are forming the foundation for Natura &Co’s advocacy strategy, and how the B Corp is working with other companies to reshape systems for long-term benefit.
Chris Marquis: You’re an entrepreneur. You co-founded B Lab UK. And now you’re working for Natura &Co, the largest B Corp in the world. Would love to learn more about what are you doing at Natura &Co on a day-to-day basis, and how your career shaped you for this role?
Charmian Love: I am really excited to be in the newly created position, Global Director of Advocacy at Natura &Co. In this role I spend a lot of time working with a global network of partners who are similarly moved by the need to aim higher, move faster, and work together to tackle the interconnected emergencies we’re facing in the world. When it comes to climate action, we currently have an ambitious net zero target, as well as setting targets related to ending deforestation in the Amazon and supporting the creation of science-based targets for biodiversity.
One of the things we’ve done to set ourselves up for success is create a set of principles to underpin our advocacy strategy. The strategy itself is still emerging, but we now know to look toward these principles that we call the five A’s when considering opportunities and projects: authenticity, ambition, agency, activism, and allyship.
Authenticity is about making sure what we do is based on the clarity of where we have come from and transparency on where we are right now. Ambition is about setting our sights on actions which are rooted in what we know is needed – what the science (both physical and social sciences) says is needed, rather than being limited by what feels possible. It’s also about being held accountable for that ambition. Agency is about empowering people – workers, customers, supply chain partners – to take action. This is about how you inspire the desire in people to act. And even more importantly, it’s about transferring the power and creating the tools to enable people to get things done. Activism is about engaging with those involved in social movements, even when it feels uncomfortable, leaning in and listening. Allyship is the final A, and it is about partnering through alliances and collaboration. The word ally is important as it is a reference to the work of the social justice movements. We must always remember that with the privilege we hold comes a responsibility to open platforms we have access to, and amplify the voices of those who might otherwise be left unheard.
Marquis: Can you tell me about some of your previous roles before you started working at Natura &Co?
Love: Right now, I am fully focused on Natura &Co, but I have worked very closely with the B Corp movement since its very early days. When I stepped down from my B Lab UK Chair role to become their Activist in Residence, I was interested in understanding more about the intersection between business and movement. I spent a year building out what was called ‘The Activist Business Project’, whose goal it was to unpack the idea of what an activist business looks like in practice, and the tensions they face and the strategies and tactics they deploy. For example, we spent time documenting some of the questions that need to be explored by a company that wants to engage in that “activist” model of leadership.
Before joining Natura &Co I was also honoured to work with a dream team of B Lab colleagues as co-lead of an initiative at B Lab to get B Corps take radical climate action. The focus of this work was to support B Corps that were committed to redefining what it means to be a climate leader, setting ambitious net zero targets. A key part of this work was to emphasize that climate action must be grounded in climate justice, and I was really proud to be on the team that developed the Climate Justice Playbook as a tool to help businesses do more in this space. And, of course, the work of this collective was also to engage in partnerships focused on changing the rules of the game and recognising the importance of engaging in policy advocacy.
My family has a history in climate action, as my dad was an early activist in Canada with Pollution Probe, an organization that recently marked its 50th anniversary, so this is sort of in my DNA. But I had a deeper awakening following a brush with a climate-related natural disaster. That woke me up and made me realise climate change is really happening, and we need to act with urgency. I brought this energy and urgency to Oxford, where I designed and teach an MBA course called The Regenerative and Circular Economy: How to do Business in a Climate Emergency. The classroom is electric; I spend a lot of time engaging with students and really love absorbing and sharing their energy. The students this year were distinct in their intense skepticism, and challenges to concept and models, and they were really willing to stretch into very interesting areas, including the role of activists.
Marquis: Based on your professional experience, what are some of your key takeaways in how businesses should engage in activism?
Love: I’ve spent time looking at a range of definitions of activism, and the one I most resonate comes from an activist friend of mine. She talked about activism as being about seeing your edge, and then finding the courage to step beyond it. I love that so much because it means activism is a relative term. For example, someone who has never been to a protest could step beyond that edge by simply joining a march. Speaking up in a meeting where you would have normally stayed quiet is another way to step beyond that edge. So, if activism is a relative concept, then it becomes important that we all understand our individual edges so that we can figure out how to push beyond them.
When you put the word “business” in front of the word “activist,” you have someone who works in a business or is engaging with a business and is taking those decisions to their edge, recognizing the power they have. Because people who work in business actually have a special kind of power: the power to make decisions with huge ramifications. It is vital that we find ways to help channel that power in a direction that can drive system-level change.
Marquis: How do you help businesses navigate this so that the general public knows they are trying to make a positive change in the environment?
Love: One of the most important ways businesses can engage in activism is by supporting their people. For example, The Body Shop, a UK based cosmetics company which is part of the Natura &Co family, created Kindness Days as a way to support their employees engage in issues that matter to them, while also encouraging their people to understand their own personal style of ‘changemaking’ through a personal quiz. The original Natura &Co brand, Natura, is also focused on enabling their people to take action by providing an activation kit made up of a range of tools to help them understand the importance of protecting the Amazon, discuss it with their friends and colleagues and make their voice heard through opportunities to sign petitions and join movements. Then you also have companies like Finisterre, a UK outdoor clothing brand, which hosted an Ocean Activist Training Camp as part of their Sea7 campaign. Like The Body Shop, Finisterre wanted to engage with their stakeholders and give them the tools they needed to be activists. Another approach is what B Corp Ecosia is doing. This search engine that plants trees has publicly said it will pay the legal fees for their employees who are arrested due to non-violent civil disobedience.
Another way that business can engage in activism is by taking a stand on the issues that really matter. As a company already strongly rooted in activism thanks to its founder Anita Roddick, The Body Shop publicly opposed the Police, Crime Sentencing, and Court Bills in the UK. This bill would provide new powers to stop public assembly and criminalize protests. The Body Shop took a stance against this bill by joining an initiative called Kill the Bill. A pretty bold stance for a business. Patagonia, an outdoor clothing brand, is another business which took a bold stance on the spread of misinformation by stopping all paid advertising on Facebook, and they have encouraged other businesses to do the same.
Businesses can also use their products and assets to engage in activism. For example, another of Natura &Co’s brands, Aesop the luxury skin-care company, runs its Queer Library at several global locations. Throughout the year, in selected stores, the company will take its products off the shelves and replace them with books written by LGBTQIA+ authors and allies, and give complimentary copies of these books to visitors to the stores. This is another great example of a company using its model to take a stand and drive a change of mindset through its relationship with customers.
Another way to engage in activism as a business is by joining forces with other businesses, recognising that no onebusiness will ever be able to solve all the problems our planet is facing. We must actively find ways to work together. At Natura&Co, we are currently doing this through our engagement with the EcoBeautyScore Consortium, an initiative that aims to develop industry-wide environmental impact assessment and scoring systems for cosmetics products. With this consortium, we are working with key members of the beauty industry to shape voluntary clear and transparent labelling for cosmetics products that would allow consumers to compare them like-for-like. We know that this is something we have to do as an industry to see the level of change that is needed
Finally, for businesses to effectively engage in activism they need to stand for system change. Chris Turner, Executive Director of B Lab UK, brilliantly broke down this idea of system change: it needs to be about both policy change and culture change. People in business have a role to play in the system in changing the way we think about rules. The Body Shop for example has just launched a brilliant campaign: Be Seen Be Heard. Its focus is about driving greater youth participation in the political system, whether through voting ages or how old you must be to run for office in different regions. They are working on how to push back against the rules that leave an important part of the population outside important conversations that directly impact their lives.
Regarding the cultural side of system change, businesses need to encourage conversation, surface issues, and make them normalized. Avon, another one of Natura &Co’s family of brands, is making a culture shift by being committed to raising awareness of gender-based violence. The company works with local organisations to fund vital frontline services and provides information to their employees to recognise and respond to violence safely, and on their own terms. An issue like this might otherwise be overlooked if companies didn’t bring it to the surface and normalise talking about it.
Marquis: When it comes to calling for change as a business, what types of issues should companies consider as they shape statements and policies?
Love: It’s tricky, and that’s OK. Because if it wasn’t tricky, then it wouldn’t be something new. As a business, you should always ask yourself the right questions to make sure you are going in the right direction. The first question should be, “Is this work rooted in what is needed, rather than limited by what feels possible?” This is important, because with a challenge like the climate crisis, the science is screaming at us. We need to find ways to work closer together as a civilization to tackle these existential threats, which is where we need to tune into what the social scientists are telling us, as well as the physical scientists.
The second question to ask is: “What is the intent? Is the work that your business is engaging in serving as a tool for the activism, or is the activism being used to benefit the business?” This is a critical point because you must distinguish businesses that are seeking to sell more stuff through activism, from businesses that actually believe in their missions.
The third question you should be asking is whether your activism is linked to the idea of changing the rules of the game. It shouldn’t be seen as an incremental step forward. Now is the time for a system change, which we’ve talked about earlier in this conversation
Another question should be about whether the philosophy of change is underpinned by science and the purpose of your business, rather than on unproven and unaligned values. Ultimately, the business needs to make a clear choice about its values.
Finally, a business needs to ask whether the team or teams you’ll be working with is diverse and encourages multi-generational dialogue, rather than representing a catalog of its usual suspects. This is another reason why I love The Body Shop’s Be Seen Be Heard campaign, as it brings the voices of the youth to the forefront.
Marquis: I love hearing about these companies that have proven to be champions in their industry. Let’s say a company came to you for advice — perhaps a family-owned manufacturing company that has been engaged in their community. What’s the first thing you would advise them to do to support climate change or take on an activist role?
Love: The most important thing to think about as a company is your purpose; think about the origin of the business and all the things that you were set up to do. Then think about your people and find a way to align the purpose of the business with what your people want to do.
Next, I’d say to find friends and fellow travelers to figure out other businesses or organizations you can travel alongside, and learn from. Engage with these companies and build trust with them by being open to both the areas where you see opportunity as well as the challenges you’re facing. I’d also obviously consider certifying yourself as a B Corp because it’s a great way to find communities for collective action and show consumers that you are fully committed to your purpose.
Once you have the framework in place, find people who will make you feel uncomfortable. The world is an uncomfortable place. If the people with whom you surround yourself don’t make you shift your feet just a little bit, then you’re probably not being radical enough.
Right now, I feel like the world needs some very strong and solid examples of big businesses willing to set ambitious, radical climate strategies rooted in what we know is needed rather than limited by what feels possible. That’s a word I really love: radical. If you look at the origin of the word, radical was first an adjective borrowed in the 14th century from the Latin radicalis, itself from the Latin radix, meaning “root.” So, whenever we talk about radical action or radical collaboration, it doesn’t mean the action is necessarily extreme, but rather deeply rooted in its urgency. I’m interested in working with a business that is willing to engage in radical ways regarding the changes we need to see in this world, and a business that understands the importance of being connected to our communities. I also like that, as the world’s largest B Corp, Natura &Co has the framework in place that allows its leaders take on the sorts of decisions we know are important. It is also a business that understands what it means to be global by operating across both the Global North and the Global South.
Marquis: How do you see yourself situated in the work that you do, and the work that businesses should do?
Love: I was a part of some early conversations with groups like Extinction Rebellion, which uses non-violent civil disobedience to compel government action. I love getting on the streets where people who feel moved to get involved are able to feel a connection with one another. Extinction Rebellion has continued, but it has become more focused on disruption. Although that’s important, they haven’t had mass involvement as a result. We know that getting more people involved is key to change; Erica Chenoweth from Harvard has done some amazing research on social movements. She found that when 3.5% of any population engage in non-violent civil disobedience, throughout history, governments have not been able to withstand that amount of people power. She recently revisited some of this research and further refined her conclusions which indicate that it is not just about the quantity of those involved, but also about the influence of those involved in shifting the status quo. This is another reason why I think it is critical to engage people in business in this change – they have the influence needed to be a key part of this system level shift. But let’s be honest, not all of them will want to want to glue themselves to a building.
One of the areas I’m following closely is a movement within a bigger movement called ‘the “moderate flank’.
Business has proven to be an incredibly powerful channel to reach these moderate change makers which can bring both the numbers of people, and those with access and influence in the places where change is needed. If you provide the tools or the encouragement and support for people in business to engage in these more moderate forms of activism, we might be able to shift mindsets and eventually drive change, turning businesses into more of a distribution channel, not only distributing information but also mobilizing people.
I respect Extinction Rebellion. They went out there and started a new set of conversations this and continue to do some radical and important stuff. And I also think this newer energy around the moderate approach will bring more people together, in particular people in business
Marquis: Today, September 5th, is World Amazon Day. This must be a pretty big deal for a company which strong roots in the Amazon. What will you be doing today?
You’re right! Today is World Amazon Day, and I’ll be cheering on my amazing colleagues at Natura who have launched an important new campaign called Amazonia Viva. The tag line is ‘the power is in our hands’ and it is designed to support people to take action across three pillars – 1. Participate in the campaign by connecting with movements focused on regenerating the Amazon 2. Vote consciously by informing yourself and voting on proposals that defend the Amazon 3. Choose products that help regenerate and conserve the Amazon. So I’ll be spending time today talking to peers, friends and family about how important it is for us all to use our power to protect the Amazon.