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Defining British Luxury

In Focus
NAME:Mark Johnson
COMPANY:Molton Brown
POSITION:Global President
Molton Brown was sustainable before sustainability was on trend. Global President Mark Johnson is proud of the fragrance brand’s strides in being among the first to effortlessly marry luxury with sustainability.

Throughout the ages, different trends have shaken up the beauty industry. From Botox to beachy waves and smoky cat eyes to a sun-kissed glow, the face of the beauty industry has constantly evolved. And where in the past, these trends would trickle down from the catwalk to the ordinary Jane; now, thanks to how content is delivered and absorbed in the ultra-quick realm of social media and the age of the influencer, trends aren’t trending like they used to. And Molton Brown Global President Mark Johnson is loving the shake-up.

“This industry ebbs and flows, but the one thing that’s really keeping me going right now is it’s a really exciting time to be in it,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “All of us, as competitors, have essentially come together to think about how we can bring beauty that has a positive impact on people and the planet. It’s a really pivotal moment for the beauty industry.”

Of course, sustainability was also a trend before COVID-19, but according to Mark, the pandemic only worked to accelerate it, mainly because people got to see the world through a new lens. “Lockdowns happened overnight. There were a lot of major metropolitan areas that saw bluer skies, lower levels of pollution and even improved water quality. And I think it gave consumers a moment to sit back and re-evaluate what matters and what they value most,” he says.

“It was about the realisation that we’re all living in what could be called excess consumerism and, now, consumers have put that onus on us as brands to help find solutions to that. So now, the entire industry, beauty brands in particular, is really being pressured to speed up and prioritise clean initiatives and find solutions to that over-consumption.”


Fortunately, Molton Brown finds itself ahead of the curve, as Founders Caroline Burstein and Michael Collis incorporated sustainability right into the very essence of the business back in 1971, well before sustainability was even on trend. “They had that ambition of delivering beauty that was far kinder to the environment, manufacturing cruelty-free products right from the start,” Mark explains. “And they always made sure that they were sourcing the best natural ingredients, completely rejecting the typical chemical formulas that were the norm 50 years ago.”


Going forward, Molton Brown continues to endure by capitalising on this strong, natural foundation it’s been built upon. Taking it into the future, Mark reveals, are three distinct pillars: quality, sustainability and individuality. “Obviously, we continue to focus on quality,” he says. 

We can still provide a luxury experience that’s incredibly desirable, doesn’t compromise on quality and experience, and is as sustainable as possible.

“And in continuing this journey and making sure we are pioneering positive luxury, we’ve put sustainability practices into place that support and nurture people and places. Finally, the idea of individuality is inspired by London, our home, which is one of the most diverse and open-minded places around the globe. For us, it’s staying true to our founders’ original ambitions and ethos, which are arguably more relevant today than they were perhaps even back then.”

However, this isn’t always easy. As an ambitious company, Molton Brown isn’t satisfied in changing only its business operations to become more sustainable; no, this pioneering fragrance brand wants to change the face of the entire industry. “We operate in the luxury sector and historically, luxury has always been about excess,” Mark shares. “We’ve been redefining the sector, in general, making sure that people understand it’s no longer about the excess. 

“We can still provide a luxury experience that’s incredibly desirable, doesn’t compromise on quality and experience, and is as sustainable as possible. It’s not easy, but we truly believe that, in this case, less is more. And it’s no longer about being ridiculously extravagant; it’s about being authentic.”


It’s a mission that is backed not only by altruism, but also by consumer demand. “Consumers are demanding brands that put purpose over profit,” he asserts. “And for us, that has meant making sure the entire business has been aligned behind our sustainability initiatives from the way we run our operations to the final products going on the shelf and the website, along with the experience we’re trying to deliver to our consumers. It’s about putting really ambitious commitments out there at every touchpoint within the business.”

So far, Molton Brown has done everything from introducing refill pouches and glass bottles to achieving a net carbon-neutral position in its factories by the end of 2021. Even more, the company developed a signature hotel dispenser program, which helps it eliminate more plastic. “We were quick to come to the conclusion that our biggest material impact was our plastic footprint,” Mark reveals. 

When you really start to peel back the layers, you begin to see that plastic isn’t necessarily the worst of all evils – it’s plastics in the wrong places that become the challenge.

“As such, we tried to understand how we could best minimise this footprint and soon realised it wasn’t as simple as saying that we would move from 100 per cent virgin plastic to 50 per cent rPET or recycled or glass and aluminium. When you really start to peel back the layers, you begin to see that plastic isn’t necessarily the worst of all evils – it’s plastics in the wrong places that become the challenge.”

While glass is sustainable and recyclable, its total carbon footprint can actually be pretty high after it’s shipped from warehouse to consumer because it’s heavy. Aluminium seems like a sustainable option too because it’s lightweight and very recyclable; however, virgin extraction of aluminium is “extraordinarily bad” for the planet in terms of carbon footprint, Mark points out. 

At the end of the day, he feels that as a luxury British brand, Molton Brown has a duty of care to evolve responsibly. “It’s about all of us having that unwavering passion for our craftsmanship, our ingenuity, and at the same time, having a more pioneering and progressive mindset that will help us define what British luxury means and looks like moving forward,” Mark says.

“We’re incredibly proud to deem ourselves among the first of the luxury beauty brands to be truly committed to making luxury and sustainability work together.”

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