By Daniel Schemer, September 2009
If there is one industry that continues to successfully incorporate the concepts of sustainability it is beauty/skin care. Today, all companies and brands must be very conscientious not just with what is put into their products, but also its ecological effects. Whether this means going the natural and organic route or applying high environmental standards to satisfy their demographic, companies require employees knowledgeable in sustainability and eco-friendly applications. That is Lisa Sykes’ job.
“I rigorously examine products and encourage vendors to reformulate, redesign, and implement their own sustainability strategies,” said Lisa Sykes, who is the Sustainability Specialist for Universal Companies, one of the largest international distributors for skin, beauty, and body products, equipment, and supplies to spas, professionals, resorts, and destination properties. Universal Companies is highly dedicated to promoting sustainable practices, so it places emphasis on what it calls Green Leaf products; all vendors wishing to have the Green Leaf label must go through evaluation from the Sustainability Specialist. This, according to Ms. Sykes, involves very careful label-reading, investigating marketing and manufacturing claims, and a whole lot of fact-checking. Her job also entails educating fellow employees on standards and policies. “I also implement environmental measures internally, write informative articles for publication, conduct webinars, and serve as the company’s liaison to the Green Spa Network and LOHAS.” LOHAS is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability and refers to the market demographic focused on environmental responsibility and health & wellbeing. She has even written many articles on eco-conscious living published in Day Spa Magazine, Spa Business, Self Magazine, Spa Trade, and LOHAS Journal.
Though carrying a title that deems her a professional, Ms. Sykes wanted to continue her education in sustainability through online programs, which led her to enroll in UMass Dartmouth’s Sustainability Studies Certificate Program. “Because I work full-time, I needed a program that was flexible. I looked at a variety of online programs, but the University of Massachusetts had everything that I needed: cost-efficiency, a well-rounded curriculum, and an impressive reputation.” Some of the courses she took were on principles of sustainability, environmental law, the impacts of globalization, and corporate responsibility. “One of the most useful tasks that I completed was the creation of a sustainability action plan for an existing company and defending it, like a thesis, in our class message boards.”
It took about a year for her to complete the online certificate program and is looking forward to integrating her newfound knowledge with her career. “It has helped me widen my lens a bit. I’ve learned some interesting concepts from my professors, which I intend to put into practice.”
With an MA in English from East Tennessee University, Lisa Sykes, 37, spent years in education as a “somewhat eccentric” English Professor, teaching composition and literary criticism at her alma mater and also Emory & Henry College in Virginia. Her career didn’t hinder her zeal for environmentalism. “I’ve always been interested in sustainability. Growing up, we always had a garden, and my mom used to sell her produce at the farmers’ market.” She adds that she became a vegetarian in college after making the connection between animal welfare and meat consumption. “At the time, vegetarianism was not a mainstream concept, especially in the South.”
A little over two years ago, she started working for Universal Companies in Abingdon, Virginia as a technical writer. Before long she was asked to head the company’s sustainability initiatives. “My ‘greenie’ lifestyle combined with my experience as a writer helped.”
Between her work at Universal Companies and completing her education, Ms. Sykes concurs that, from an economic perspective, sustainability is very viable right now. “At first, many perceived that sustainability was a fad and that it would go away, but what we’ve seen is quite the opposite. There is tremendous growth in wellness, renewable energy, and green building. Major multimillion dollar companies are investing more into research and development because they know that in order to be competitive they must comply with the wants and needs of the conscious customer.”
Her advice/warning to current students interested in sustainability courses is that it may quickly become a passion. “Because sustainability is a relatively new study, it requires constant consideration. It isn’t something that you learn and put aside—it’s not static. You never stop learning.”