Comment: Sephora is being used as an environmental soapbox

Sephora Queen Street opening

You can’t help feeling sorry for Sephora about the negative news coverage of their New Zealand launch driven by a totally different agenda – one of local politics.

Sephora is investing in New Zealand, bringing the world’s most popular beauty retailer to our doorstep and, in the process, creating jobs and paying taxes, and boosting Queen St as a desirable shopping centre. Planned over many months, their Auckland launch, which inevitably drew huge excited crowds, would have involved extensive liaison with Auckland Council.

So the fuss over Sephora’s use of bio-degradable, water-soluble and plant-based confetti must be a major disappointment to their NZ management who have probably from their own point of view done everything right in terms of liaison with Auckland Council, but yet got hammered on the news by New Zealand Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki (who had a point) but more questionably Phil Goff, who from my own experience could do better on the environment.

I have sympathy with Tukaki’s frustration and I wasn’t there to see how much really went into stormwater and how much into bins, but at least it was bio-degradable, water-soluble, plant-based confetti.

Travel a few kilometres out West and you’ll find a far bigger problem.

I have since April been trying to get Auckland Council to clean up thousands of small polystyrene balls, which spilled on Konini Rd in Titirangi.

Despite several phone calls, many emails, a formal council complaint and two letters to Phil Goff, what is left of the spillage that nature or neighbours haven’t swept away (still amounting to thousands of balls) remain on sides of the street and the adjacent bush.

Polystyrene balls have a much more serious impact on our waterways and risk to wildlife than Sephora’s bio-degradable, water-soluble, plant-based confetti.

Yet, there are no cameras in Titirangi for politicians to leap in front of. Goff’s protestations about Sephora’s confetti that its “unacceptable waste” and that “waste must be collected and disposed of responsibly” rings hollow to my ears, where he and his council have for months ignored a much more significant problem out West.

Sephora, like a lot of major international retailers, are innately aware of their environmental impact, and are well known for their use of paper rather than plastic wherever possible (including paper bags for many years) and plain cardboard shipping packaging. They have a focus on removing unnecessary packaging with their suppliers and diverting rubbish from landfill, and have a three-year goal to reduce by 50 per cent the number of products containing chemicals that environmental or health groups have identified as “problematic”, working with their suppliers on this.

To date, Sephora has spent an estimated $5 million to fit out its three-storey Queen St store and have plans to open soon in Sylvia Park. That’s great for Auckland. We need and want retailers like this here. And it’s to be applauded that global retailers are expected to conform to our environmental standards, and it’s great that Sephora themselves take it seriously, and worked with Council and told them what they had planned for the launch.

It’s just a shame that our own Council and Mayor simply pay lip service to it and then leap to political grandstanding.

Phil Goff said “I’ll be writing to Sephora for an explanation and council will investigate”. Maybe they should do what he has done to me, and have an automatic reply saying “Everything the Mayor receives is read and considered. However, due to the volume of mail received, we are not always able to respond to correspondence.”

Ben Goodale is a New Zealand marketing expert with decades of industry experience, and a passionate Westie.  This article originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald, 22 July 2019.




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