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An Environmental Concern

Anita Roddick's Body Shops have products - and a vigorously `green' philosophy - that sell. PROFILE: BRITISH ENTREPRENEUR

ANITA RODDICK, a passionate environmentalist and an entrepreneur, broke every rule to emerge - in a scant 14 years - as one of Britain's great success stories. The market value of her worldwide chain of Body Shop franchises selling natural body-care products is estimated at 348 million ($626 million). The Sunday Times (London) Magazine recently listed Mrs. Roddick as one of the five wealthiest women in the United Kingdom.

The goals and values of her company - rooted in her concern for Earth's future - are far more important than either profits or the products she sells, she says.

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``We run in the opposite direction to the rest of the cosmetics industry,'' she says in an interview at The Body Shop headquarters in London. ``They train for a sale. We train for knowledge.''

The same week that Roddick announced that profits for the year had jumped nearly 30 percent, to 14.5 million ($26 million), she took delivery of 300 bicycles to replace the cars many of her middle-managers drove.

``I got my directors together and said, `We're no longer going to be giving cars to people who don't need them. We're front-runners in environmental education, and yet we're hanging on to our cars?

``I said, `Three of the Jags will have to go, and make sure whatever's left is running on an unleaded catalytic converter!''' Executives bristled, ``but they're coming around,'' she says.

Since starting The Body Shop at her kitchen table in 1976 in order to survive hard financial times, Roddick has been talking a language which, until the recently popular swing to conservation issues, had been an anomaly in the business community.

Roddick's argot is that of the '60s: ``love'' and ``education'' and ``empowerment'' and ``patent rights.'' ``My message to Big Business is, `You're a global citizen, now. You have to measure your greatness by how you treat the weakest,''' she says.

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David Gee, director of Friends of the Earth, England, says that ``As far as one can support consumerism, The Body Shop comes from the more responsible end. One can only hope that other outlets will follow Anita Roddick's lead.''

``Our responsibility is purely social and environmental,'' says Roddick. Posters in her shop windows give information on recycling or the plight of the rain forests, rather than what miracles a moisturizer might work. Body Shop delivery trucks have phone numbers and campaign messages printed on them, so if you're stuck behind one you can learn how to join Amnesty International or Friends of the Earth.

Anita Lucia Perella was born in Littlehampton, Sussex, in 1942. The daughter of Italian immigrants (her father had been raised in America), Anita helped run the family caf'e.

She was the requisite '60s teenager: a student teacher of history and English, a feminist and a political activist. At 20, she joined the United Nations in Geneva, working for the International Labor Organizations. Disillusioned by the bureaucracy, she left to travel. (Ironically, Roddick's numerous honors include the 1989 United Nations' ``Global 500'' environmental award.)

Her first stop was a Polynesian island, where she lived with a family for several months before moving on to the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, Australia, Reunion, Madagascar, South Africa, and Zambia.

``You change your values when you change your behavior,'' she explains, ``and you change your behavior through education. So when you've lived six months with a group that is rubbing their bodies with cocoa butter, and those bodies are magnificent; or you wash your hair with mud, and it works, you go on to break all sorts of conventions, from personal ethics to body care.

``Then, if you're me, you develop this stunning love for anthropology.''

Stunning though this love for anthropology was, a tired and homesick Anita returned to England, where she met and married Gordon Roddick. They went into the restaurant business and started raising two daughters, Justine and Samantha. ``A few years in the food business teaches you a lot,'' she observes wryly. ``But it's exhausting. Gordon and I wanted out.''

Anita, in an effort to keep the family afloat, came up with the idea of a shop, ``bottling and selling all the wonderful natural ingredients I'd learned about on my travels.'' With 4,000 borrowed from the bank, she opened a store on a side street in the seaside town of Brighton, England. She had 15 products for sale in refillable, reusable containers. The labels were hand-written by Anita: pineapple face scrub, peppermint-oil foot lotion, goat's-milk bath powder, floral shampoos, and fruity soaps, among others.

There is not one image in any Body Shop, anywhere, of what is perceived as female beauty (there are products for men, too).

``I started shopping there because the ideology appealed to me, and the prices were good,'' says Laura Allan, a freelance TV editor who has been using Body Shop products for a few years. Not every product works well, she says, ``But I wouldn't be without the Banana Hair Conditioner or the Hair Salad.''

An example of the company's contributions toward third-world self-help is a papermaking project in Nepal: ``They have a culture of making paper, but we discovered that their method of chopping down wood was causing landslides,'' she says. ``So we sent out someone to teach them to make paper from banana fiber and water hyacinths, which were clogging up all the waterways.''

There are also textile projects in India and Bangladesh, an aloe farm in southern Texas, and work has been started in the Amazon Basin to protect the forests and their people.

Wherever in the world she trades, from Turkey to Costa Rica, Roddick has cast-iron rules: ``We're not just theoreticians; we're also pragmatic. We go in with small groups of trained people - we're hand-held all the way by groups such as the Boston-based Cultural Survival, by ethno-botanists and by anthropologists,'' she says.

`What excites me'

Roddick finds her business ``an honorable pursuit, and it's fun. Sometimes it costs us hundreds of thousands of pounds and if we're lucky, we pull it off.''

She doesn't ``give a toss about the money,'' Roddick says. ``What excites me is education, empowering people, coming up with with initiatives and alternatives to the tedious politics that we have, changing business and putting a human face on it. ...'' Dividends go to foundations or are ploughed back into projects. She planned to be in Romania this week with a truck convoy and some 30 volunteers (including plumbers, carpenters, and child-care workers), to ``clean up and scrub down orphanages.''

Jeffrey Archer, the best-selling novelist and former member of Parliament who knows Roddick, is dismissive of the seeming incongruity of Roddick's apparent wide-eyed attitude and her huge commercial success. ``Why shouldn't she be a moral person who wants the world to be a better place, and have the ability to make money?'' he said by telephone. ``Anita ... had a genuinely original and brilliant idea, and she's made it work.''

Roddick's energy and enthusiasm are formidable. What drives her? ``Fear of death. A loathing of mediocrity. Besides,'' and here the earnestness gives way to a twinkle, ``I'd rather wear out than rust to death!''

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