Understanding the Truth About Organic Products with NYR Organic’s Wendy Livingstone

September 10, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Wendy Livingstone. She’s a Regional Leader for Neal’s Yard Remedies, NYR Organic. Welcome to Green is Good, Wendy. WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Thank you. I’m really excited to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re excited to have you, but before we get into the topic of the company you work with, Neal’s Yard Remedies, I want you to first share the topic of Wendy Livingstone. Talk a little bit about your life and journey leading up to becoming a Regional Leader of NYR Organic. WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Well, I’m actually 50 years old and my husband and I have four children, two adult children and two in high school, and as you can imagine, our life is quite busy. We live in Yorktown, Virginia, and my journey into even being interested in products and ingredients and all of that began about eight years ago when I was talking with a friend of mine and she mentioned to me that there were harmful ingredients in some of the products that I was using and I was really kind of aghast because I was spending good money on products and thought I was buying products for my family that were good. It just had never crossed my mind that there might be cancer causing ingredients or harmful ingredients, especially as a mom, in things that I was putting on my kids at the time so I started doing some research and was really shocked at what I found and that just kind of led me down a path where I did more investigation and looked around more and then about three years ago, I landed at NYR Organic. They’re actually a company that’s over 30 years old, but they had just launched in the U.S. and it was exactly what I had been looking for, everything with their mission. The products were amazing, very effective, and so since I joined NYR Organic, I’ve continued on that path of education and I think it’s really important as a consumer. It can be very confusing in the marketplace and so I think it’s really important. We have to be our own advocates for our health and the products that we use and so not only do I love the products and sharing them, but I also love helping to educate other people so that they can make informed decisions and it’s been great. Obviously, I love sharing these products and I have probably over 1,100 consultants that I work with in my organization all over the U.S. and it has grown very quickly and I think part of that is with the internet, information is easier to come by and people are starting to question what is in these products that I’m using and that my family is using? And, they start looking for information and a lot of people find us on the web and it’s grown very quickly and it’s been very, very exciting and we look forward to growing even more in the U.S. and other markets. JOHN SHEGERIAN: As we get started talking about Neal’s Yard Remedies, I want you to share with our listeners who they are and what they stand for and for our listeners who want to follow along, I’d like you to go to their website while I have this wonderful chat with Wendy today. It’s www.nyrorganic.com. It’s a gorgeous website. There’s lots of information. There’s a lot of color and a lot of great products on it. Share please with our listeners, Wendy, who Neal’s Yard Remedies are and what they stand for. WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Well, the company started in 1981 and a lot of people ask us when they see NYR, they think it has something to do with New York, which it does not, and it actually is the abbreviation for Neal’s Yard Remedies, as you’ve mentioned, so it started in Neal’s Yard, which is a small enclave of shops and covered gardens, and the buildings were very derelict and they were gonna be torn down and some shopkeepers and business owners came together and decided to rehabilitate the area and Romy Fraser, who was the founder of our company, she was a teacher. She had a passion for holistic health and it started as an apothecary and so she had all kinds of dried herbs and she would make lotions and herbal remedies for people and it grew from there. She started developing some skin care ranges and different things like that and then about I think it was six or eight years ago, she actually decided to retire. The company had grown quite large and Peter Kindersley and his family purchased the company from her and they are owners of I believe it’s the largest organic farm in the U.K. It’s called Sheep Drive. I’ve had the pleasure to go there. It’s an amazing place and so they have continued on that path of developing certified organic products that are effective and expanding the range and expanding into the direct sales market, which is how they brought the products into the U.S., so we were the first certified-organic health and beauty company in the U.K., the first mainstream seller to sell certified organic essential oils. All of our products are certified organic by the Soil Association and we use fair wild products as well as certified organic and they have the largest range of certified-organic health and beauty product and we’ve won many awards, so we’re very excited about all of that. That’s just kind of a little glimpse of who we are. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wendy, speaking of your awards, NYR Organic has champion status with Environmental Working Groups. What does that mean? I don’t understand that. WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Well, Environmental Working Group is an organization in the United States that came together. Personal care products in the US fall under the umbrella of the FDA, but it’s a little misleading because the FDA doesn’t actually regulate products in the personal care industry, so they kind of pass it back off to the companies, so there’s some self-regulation going on there and so Environmental Working Group came together the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics for companies to sign, which basically states that they would not use certain ingredients that were known to be harmful in personal care products and that they would use products and ingredients that were beneficial and what’s really interesting is there were not a lot of companies that agreed to sign this and abide by their standards, but Neal’s Yard Remedies was one that signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and then to achieve champion status, there’s a list of things that you needed to do. I think it was by 2011, you had to comply with the European Union Cosmetics Directive. You had to disclose all of your ingredients, which a lot of people in the U.S. don’t understand that companies are not required to disclose all of their ingredients, so even if you’re reading labels, you may not be getting all the information you need. And, we have to publish and regularly update product information on the Skin Deep Database, which is an amazing resource that Environmental Working Group has so if you have questions about a product, you can go look at the product in that database and it will list the ingredients and then it ranks the ingredients as far as their toxicity levels. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Are your products all certified organic and does that say that on all your bottles? There’s a lot of confusion, Wendy, as you and I know, in truth in advertising in products in the United States such as certified organic versus other people who say their products are natural. Can you explain the difference and how Neal’s Yard Remedy handles this situation? WENDY LIVINGSTONE: You know, that’s one of the things, the education part of it, that I really love because it is really confusing in the marketplace and anybody who’s been shopping in Target or any of the drug stores or anything like that out there at this point, you realize that the majority of products on the shelf now have some wording on them that says natural or organic. Well, that’s because that is the direction that the market’s going in and these companies want to have a piece of that pie. The issue is that that means absolutely nothing. I tell consumers when you’re shopping, you need to look for products that have been certified by a third-party agency who has no stake in the game and so the tricky thing is when you’re looking at labels, when you’re looking at ingredients, as I said before, in the U.S. they’re not required to list all of the ingredients and the ingredients can be hiding so when they say fragrance, fragrance can have a lot of different things in it so for us at Neal’s Yard Remedies, one of the things we’re really proud of is full disclosure of all of our ingredients and when you look at our labels, each ingredient that is certified organic is labeled with an asterisk and so you know exactly which ingredients are organic and which aren’t. Now, it’s interesting because some people will look at our label and it will actually say 87% organic ingredients and people will say to me, ‘Well, if your products are certified organic, why aren’t they 100% organic?’ Well, for a product to be certified organic, it has to be plant based, so water can’t be certified organic. Minerals can’t be certified organic. So, for example, a shower gel that might have a higher water content will actually have a lower organic content or some of our cosmetics, which are mineral based, because they have a higher mineral content might have a lower organic content, but again, we completely disclose all of that information so that the consumer can see it right there on the label and also, all of our products are sustainably packaged. One of our trademarks are our cobalt blue bottles, which are absolutely gorgeous in the bathroom, but they’re also recyclable and we use them for a lot of different things after we finish with the products, so it’s just kind of from the farm to the production and then recycling when we’re done. It’s all about sustainability and protecting. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, Wendy, the net is that our listeners should be using products that are certified organic, not just natural. WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Absolutely. That’s the only way you can really be sure about the ingredients. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners who just joined us, we’re so happy to have with us today Wendy Livingstone. She’s the Regional Leader of Neal’s Yard Remedies. It’s NYR Organic and you can look them up and buy their great products at www.nyrorganic.com. We met you through our great friends at the Green Festivals and you were an exhibitor there and your great products, Neal’s Yard Remedies, are gonna be on display at all the Green Festivals across America and obviously, there’s a couple more coming up in Los Angeles September 12th through the 14th, Chicago October 24th through the 26th and San Francisco November 14th through the 16th. You guys were a brand award finalist. Can you talk a little bit about that and talk about your involvement in the Green Festivals in Washington, DC, and how you interacted with all the wonderful people that came out and came to your wonderful exhibition area and they tried your products and things of that such? WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Yeah. We were so excited, first of all, to be one of the finalists and then just thrilled that we got second place. We placed number two, which means we were in the top three of the grand winners. You know, I have participated in Green Festival with NYR for the past three years and it’s one of my favorite events every year, not just as an exhibitor but also as a consumer because there are so many great products out there and I’ve changed the way I do my laundry and everything from food to personal care products to things that you use in your house or even building houses. It’s just really, really a great marketplace for people who are looking for products that are organic and green and sustainable so we actually in our booth that we have there, we have products that people can come right into the booth and demo. We have sample packs that they can purchase and take home if they want to just give the product a try. We have products that they can order and take home right there with them or they can order from our website and it’s really, really great because so many people have never heard of us and so we’re really getting the word out there about NYR Organic and you know, there’s this huge range of people who come to Green Festival. A couple years ago, I met a lady there who had just been diagnosed with cancer and she was changing over and going organic and so this was really a marketplace for her to see what was out there and how she could make some positive changes in her life and then there are people there who’ve been using organic sustainable products for years and they’re there to kind of see what’s new and see all the exhibitors there so it’s fantastic. I would recommend if you live within driving distance of one of the Green Festivals. It’s well worth the time and effort to go there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wendy, Neal’s Yard Remedies follows the precautionary principle — and I say that in quotes. I read that on your website, with regards to their regulation. What does that mean and can you explain to our listeners what precautionary principle means with regards to your great products? WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Well, the best way to describe it is in the United States and some other countries, companies who are producing products, they will use any ingredient, whether it’s been proven to be safe or not, and even when products have been proven to be harmful, for example, a couple of years ago, the FDA came out and they labeled parabens, which are used as preservatives in a lot of products, as cancer causing ingredients. They said, yeah, these are cancer-causing ingredients and you shouldn’t be using them but they did not require companies to take them out of the product, which really, for the life of me I can’t understand so what happened was it was a big splash in the news for a couple weeks and then it went away and companies to this day continue to use parabens in products even though they know that they’re cancer causing and a lot of times not just one parabens. I looked at an eye cream in the store the other day that had four parabens in it so they’re using ingredients even though they know that they’re harmful so the precautionary principle, which is the principle that we follow, basically says if we’re not 100% sure that an ingredient is safe, we just don’t use it so we’re not gonna put anything in our product that is not 100% safe for you and I think that that’s really, really important. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last three minutes or so, but it’s important to talk about transparency and ingredients. Where are your ingredients sourced from and where are the products actually made? WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Our ingredients are sourced from a number of different locations and we’ve had relationships with our growers, as you can imagine, for many years so just to give you an example, our frankincense is set from Kenya. Our roses come from Turkey. Our orange flower comes from Morocco. Our calamaris are from Madagascar, so we actually source from the locations where the products are grown and our products are actually made in our eco-factory in Dorset, which is outside of London, and I have had the pleasure to travel there and go to that factory and watch them make the product and bottle them. It’s an amazing place. The factory is run with solar panels and they have a farm there as well where they grow some of the ingredients and one of the things that really struck me when I visited there was when I went on a tour. I had my camera and I was gonna go put it away and the guy who was doing the tour with us, he said you can bring your camera with you and I said, “I didn’t know if you guys were gonna allow us to take pictures,” and he looked at me and he said, “Wendy, we have nothing to hide,” and that really is what we’re about. We have nothing to hide. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love that. That’s an exclamation point behind the name of your brand, Neal’s Yard Remedies. Last question for today: For our listeners out there, giving them some solutions, Wendy. What can they do to transition from traditional products, which they’ve been conditioned to and socialized to for many years, to now organic products and the great products that you’ve had at Neal’s Yard Remedies? WENDY LIVINGSTONE: Well, what I tell people is unfortunately, we live in a world where we can’t be 100% organic. There are toxins in the food we eat, in the air we breathe, and all around us, so I think you start just like you would anything else. Start by educating yourself. There’s a lot of great information and resources on the Internet. There are some great documentaries on YouTube that you can see and start looking at the ingredients. Again, in the U.S., if it’s not certified organic, you have to take that with a little grain of salt, but I tell people if they’re not at the point where they can afford to throw all their products out and completely start over, as you run out of the products that you’re using, replace them with products that are gonna be safe and I really think even small changes that we make in the food we eat and the products we use can have a really great impact long term and hopefully, of course, they’ll go on to the NYROrganic website, check out our products, and start using those but even if it’s not NYR Organic, I’m really for helping people to make safer choices for their long term health. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, thank you, Wendy, for being a sustainability evangelist and leader. You are truly living proof that green is good.