A beauty company has appointed a director to represent nature on its board, giving the natural world a legal voice in its business strategy.
Faith In Nature, which sells soap and hair care products, as well as household cleaners and shampoo for dogs, says it is the first company in the world to give nature a formal vote on corporate decisions that could affect it. ‘affect.
The move by the Edinburgh-based company is part of a growing global movement to award legal rights over nature, although it has had little success so far in the UK.
Simeon Rose, creative director of Faith In Nature, said he hopes other companies that take their responsibility to the natural world seriously will follow suit.
“We’re really happy to share the details of how and why we did this,” Rose said. We’ve always wanted nature to be at the heart of what we do, and this seemed like the next serious step we could take to make that a reality.
Working with attorneys from Lawyers for Nature and the U.S.-based Earth Law Center, as well as a pro bono team of corporate experts from international law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP, the firm has updated its company documents over the summer to say that, as well as a beneficial shareholder, it would do its best “to have a positive impact on nature as a whole” and “to minimize the prospect of any adverse impact of its commercial activities on nature”.
A new non-executive director will join the company’s next board meeting later this month to speak on behalf of the natural world. The first person to hold the post is Brontie Ansell, lecturer in law at Essex Law School and director of Lawyers for Nature, who told the Guardian his role would be similar to that of a guardian acting on behalf of of a child in court.
Ansell believes Faith In Nature takes this decision seriously and is willing to make significant changes to the way it operates to accommodate it. “We needed a very strong methodology to hold this advice to account so it doesn’t just become greenwashing. And that comes through public accountability and peer pressure.
The nature keeper’s salary is separate from the main board so he can remain independent, and the company has pledged to be transparent about the decisions of its board – even those that go to the bottom of the board. against the statements made by the Guardian of Nature – and to publish his reasons for taking them.
Precisely what business decisions will require input from nature is a question that will be refined over time.
Ansell is particularly pleased that the company has agreed to pay experts to participate in a special committee, which will advise it on the substance of key issues such as biodiversity, pollution, plastics, energy or environmental management. water.
“It’s not up to me to have all the answers. I think my role is to take complex information and translate it into something the board can actually [take] stock [on]”, Ansell said.
She even plans to ask the council to hold some of its meetings in natural settings like a woodlot “to force them to make decisions about things that affect nature, in nature itself.”
“I don’t think it’s going to save the world overnight, but immersing companies where their decisions have an effect is really important.”
Simon Tilling, a partner at law firm Steptoe & Johnson UK who is not involved in the move, said it aligned with a growing trend for companies to define a specific corporate purpose beyond that of the Companies Act. 2006.
He said: “The aim here – to positively impact nature and to minimize the adverse impacts of business operations on nature – has many parallels to the wording proposed by other initiatives, such as the Better Business Act campaign. .”
Last week, the billionaire owner of outdoor brand Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, announced he would donate the entire company to fight the Earth’s climate devastation.
But Tilling warned the nature keeper would have the same legal responsibilities as any other director under the Companies Act 2006, including a duty to promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole. .
“Although there has been a trend in recent years to move away from a rigid interpretation that this means an absolute primacy of shareholder returns to include more discretion for directors, there is still much debate in the legal profession on the freedom of administrators.”