December 29, 2008 / 9:38 PM / 9 years ago

Green Living: Lush founder revels in funding activism

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - As the wealthy co-founder of eco-friendly cosmetics chain Lush, Mark Constantine also revels in a more controversial role that he says is in line with his environmental creed - financier of anti-aviation activists.

Constantine, who set up Lush with his wife Mo in 1995, does not drive a car, cycles to work from his home near Poole, Dorset, to Lush's British factory, and still leads school tours around the local harbor to show them natural features of interest.

He spends a large proportion of his personal time bird-watching, and has published books cataloguing bird song.

So Constantine says he has no qualms when people accuse him of hypocrisy for running a retail chain of 600 cosmetics shops in 44 countries and being a frequent flyer -- while also funding anti-air travel pressure group Plane Stupid.

Earlier this month Plane Stupid activists staged a sit-on on the runway at Stansted Airport to protest expansion, grounding hundreds of flights and thousands of travelers. As well as funding the group, Constantine gave activists legal funds.

"I supported them before the Stansted occupation), and I support them now. I supported people chaining themselves to trees to stop roads," he said in an interview in his London office.

Pro-aviation groups have branded the entrepreneur a hypocrite as he has stores at various airports around the globe.

"You cannot be the perfect green person if you are encouraging people to consume," he readily acknowledged.

But Constantine, 57, said action was needed to make environmentalists' views heard as governments in general, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in particular, were failing to provide a lead for people.

"We need great planning and not green talk from our government if we are going to see something happen," he said.

Constantine is adamant that he lives by his beliefs as well as he can despite the accusations he has recently faced.

He became a vegan at the age of 21 but recently began eating fish again because: "I found it too embarrassing."

"You go to dinner with somebody and they cook something (with fish) and what are you going to do? Make a big fuss and spoil their evening?"

Constantine's company, Lush, wears its green credentials on its sleeve, proud that 70 percent of its products such as soaps or "bath bombs" are sold without packaging -- which also helps cut costs by up to 75 percent on some products.

Constantine, whose personal worth is now estimated at 112 million pounds, says there was no master plan to his business but he did ensure the company adhered to his environmental beliefs.

Profits from the sales of certain Lush products are donated to environmental, animal welfare and humanitarian groups and no Lush products are tested on animals.

"I've been trying all my life to set some sort of example of green living and eventually I've come to the conclusion that this is something we have to do together and without being too earnest," he said.

Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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