Mary Kay – home of the pink Cadillac and many things pink — is going green.
Turns out the skin care and cosmetics mega sales business that was born in 1963 and elevated and launched the career of the at-home beauty consultant has an environmental bent.
The company recycles compacts, builds nature classrooms at domestic violence shelters and for the past 20 years has been moving the culture at MK towards a greener future.
Crayton Webb, director of corporate responsibility, says Mary Kay Inc. was one of the first corporations in the U.S. to have internal recycling, as early as the late ‘80s.
“Our president at the time was Dick Bartlett, who believed that it made good sense for a business to be good stewards for the environment,” says Webb. “What we do today affects future generations.” Founder Mary Kay Ash also believed in doing well by doing good, Webb says.
In 2008, the global company, based in Addison, Texas outside of Dallas, introduced a new compact. But staff fretted about what women would do with their old ones. In keeping with the company’s new sustainability initiative, Mary Kay put together a compact on compacts — making compact recycling a part of its larger recycling program called Pink Doing Green. The makeup consultants brought old compacts to company events to be recycled. The compacts were broken apart and the end products went to a recycling contractor, thus avoiding the landfill.
“For every one we got back,” says Webb, “we planted a tree.” The company had partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, the nonprofit conservation group whose mission is to nurture trees. Webb says the goal was for 200,000 compacts to be collected, but they received 300,000 by the end of last year, when the program ended.
As a result the company planted 200,000 trees in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana. “It’s more than planting a tree,” says Janelle O’Haugherty, manager for corporate communication. “This area had been destroyed by fire. We are restoring the benefits that trees provide.” The reforestation will help clean the air and water and resore important environmental benefits to the area, said John Rosenow, chief executive and founder of the Arbor Day Foundation.
Mary Kay, which had worldwide sales of $2.6 billion in 2008 and operates in 35 markets around the globe, also recommends that women refill their compacts. The company suggests that women buy a compact for the long term and then reuse it with refills.
Mary Kay’s involvement with the Nature Explore Classrooms and domestic violence shelters evolved from the company’s longtime interest in domestic violence. Mary Kay’s workforce and clientele are predominantly women and domestic violence is an issue the company takes seriously. Statistics show, says Webb, that one in three women are affected by domestic violence at some point in their lives.
Since 2000, the Mary Kay Foundation has donated $22 million to shelters. (The foundation also contributes to causes fighting cancers affecting women.)
The concept of a nature classroom evolved much like music therapy which has been shown to improve kids’ outlook. “Nature is therapeutic to abused kids,” Webb says. “The nature classrooms were created as safe, fun places where kids could learn, play and heal from abuse at home.” Nature has been shown to lessen stress on kids who have faced adverse situations.The Arbor Day Foundation also partnered with Mary Kay on this project.
“These are not just playgrounds,” says O’Haugherty. “There is a curriculum, music, planting, digging and a lot of learning about nature that goes on.”
The company has built five nature classrooms so far. They are located in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas and Hackensack, N.J. In October 2009, the classrooms opened in Chicago, Hackensack and Atlanta. The ones in LA and Dallas will open in the first quarter of this year.
“As an organization, we believe that violence against women is simple unacceptable,” said Anne Crews last October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Crews is vice president of government relations for Mary Kay Inc. and a board member for the Mary Kay Foundation. “We know that helping women and children connect with nature during the healing process will empower them.”
Mary Kay’s hope, Webb adds, “is that these children have the opportunity to heal. If the nature classroom can play some small role in what they do, we’ve done our job,” he says. “It’s more than just writing a check.”
In addition to the compact recycling and nature classrooms, Mary Kay has introduced green initiatives in its Addison-based headquarters. Just by turning off the lights when leaving the office, Webb says the company has reduced its energy consumption by 13 percent. There are motion sensors in the offices and conference rooms that automatically go out after people leave the room.
Initially, says Webb, some employees were resistant because they didn’t want their colleagues to think they had gone home early. “So we created door hangers,” says Webb, “that said: ‘I’m in today. My lights are out to be green.’”
At Mary Kay’s distribution and packaging facilities, bio-peanuts are now used as the packing materials. They are made of corn and potato starch and can either be re-used or dissolve in water. Mary Kay uses product cartons made of recycled paperboard; the packaging of their individual products uses post consumer content, varying from product to product – in some cases up to 35 percent.
At its global manufacturing facility in Dallas, Webb says, 13 tons of alcohol waste is now being removed, reducing Mary Kay’s annual hazardous waste output by 25 percent.
Mary Kay, which is sold by 2 million Mary Kay consultants around the world, has also been the recipient of the Dallas Blue Thumb Award for water conservation for several years, thanks to its reduced water use.
“We’re not perfect,” Webb says. “There’s so much more that can be done. We don’t want to brag. It’s part of our responsibility.”
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