Perfect Partners: Q&A with Jayn Sterland and Amanda Williams

Weleda UK Managing Director, Jayn Sterland, and Cytoplan CEO, Amanda Williams, discuss what makes a great ethical brand, what challenges such brands face, what they love most about their mission-based work and what their favourite products are too!

Jayn Sterland and Amanda Williams
Weleda UK Managing Director, Jayn Sterland, and Cytoplan CEO, Amanda Williams

What ethical initiatives are your brands implementing/have your brands implemented that make you proud?

Amanda: In 2022, we were proud to introduce our eco-friendly compostable packaging, made from natural and sustainable sugar cane, and last year, we removed over 1 million oilplastic pots from circulation. All the materials used to ship our products are now also compostable and plastic-free, including the tape we use to secure the parcels too. Charity is right at the heart of the day-to-day running of Cytoplan and we continue with our business and charity donations. Last year some of our profits were donated to the Funder Commitment on Climate Change; this is a new funding area for The Aim Foundation (our charitable owners) and initially the grants will be focused on restoring and protecting oceans and freshwater habitats. This is something we are passionate about and so proud to be able to support.

We are also proud to have sourced biodynamic ingredients for our supplements, which are locally grown using a sustainable method of agriculture. Biodynamic farming is both respectful to nature and restorative in that it gives back to nature more than it takes. We always aim for the highest environmental responsibility when formulating our products and equally for the highest quality of ingredients produced, which means locally-grown wherever possible!

Jayn: We support regenerative agriculture, working extensively with farmers around the world who grow crops for Weleda and we have done this through fair trade partnerships for over fifty years. One of the reasons Weleda is unique is our business model – we grow our own plant-based ingredients and where we cannot, we will work with co-operatives of farmers though long-term relationships. This gives us excellent quality ingredients – some 80% of all the plants we use are farmed organically and biodynamically. We have recently accredited hundreds of these supply chains through the Union for Ethical Bio Trade Certification scheme “Sourcing with Respect”. This scheme not only acknowledges the impact of agriculture on the natural environment (through biodiversity assessments) but also records the positive impact of this upon people, protecting every part of the supply chain. Through this accreditation process for our cosmetic supply chains we can claim all our products are certified as containing only ‘ingredients sourced with respect’.
Weleda is also an accredited B Corp company. Certified B Corporations are businesses that balance purpose with profit. They are required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. B Corps represent a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good and accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
Finally, as of last year we can now claim all Weleda products are certified ‘Climate Neutral’. 

What makes your brand different to other ethical brands in your sector?

Amanda: Cytoplan is wholly owned by a charitable foundation which means that every single product purchased helps us to help others and unlike other companies in our industry, we are not owned by a larger corporation. This unique and ethical business model allows us the freedom to make strategic and tactical decisions based on our philosophy and principles. We exist to help improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and we believe we can play a part in helping people to optimise their health in a sustainable way, while our profits support vital health projects here in the UK and overseas.
For many years we have seen the rise in chronic degenerative diseases caused by a ‘nutrition gap’ that creates a shortfall in our diets and leaves us lacking the vital nutrients we need for health and protection. The ‘Nutrition Gap’ philosophy drives us to create premium products that will fill that gap with trusted sources of nutrients in the same form as food or similarly bio effective. Our philosophy and products dovetail and this is unique to us.

Jayn: We talk about being a ‘four-fold’ company and this is true for our business as it is for our products. Put simply, we operate holistically – considering our impact on health and wellness, on people and on the planet. The extra bit Weleda has is that we were founded through ‘spiritual science’ – I realise this may sound woo-woo, but put simply we understand we are part of something greater than ourselves and this generates a respect for everything we do. From the way we farm biodynamically, to how we treat people, through to the way we source and process our ingredients. It is an odd word to use for a large commercial company but we create our product reverently and in harmony with nature and the human being.

Can you explain the business models behind Cytoplan and Weleda and point to the benefits and differences between an ethically driven company and a traditionally structured shareholder company?

Amanda: Cytoplan is a ‘with-profit’ company that is wholly-owned by a charitable foundation with an aim to improve the health of the nation and a high percentage of our profits go to nutrition-based charities every year. Therefore, we are not constrained by the typical commercial pressures for profit alone and can freely choose to do what we believe is right to help empower and enable people to optimise their health. This approach has helped us to build a loyal, longstanding, and ever-growing trusting customer base which in turn has created a successful and sustainable business model.

Education is a large part of our business model. We offer unbiased objective information in many areas of health and wellbeing with nutrition playing a pivotal role. With a purpose to improve the health of the nation, and the ability to put customer needs above profit, we are able to focus on self-empowerment, to help people make their own informed health choices. This is complimented with a wide product range to serve many different customer groups, including doctors, dentists, international distributors, health practitioners and well informed consumers - we know the positive effect our products can have on the lives of our customers and it is important to us that as much of the population as possible can access and receive the benefits.

Jayn: Weleda remains a privately owned company, owned by its original non-profit foundations (one of which is a holistic healthcare clinic) and this enables us to be truly purpose driven rather than shaped by the financial pressure from public shareholders to deliver profit for profit’s sake, like most pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies. This means at Weleda we can prioritise people and planet alongside profit – an ethos that is central to the business. Every decision is made with this lens of “is it right for the planet?”, "is it right for the customer?” and finally, “is it right for the future of our business?”. 

Why is it important to make products that work in harmony with nature?

Amanda: We believe that nature should not only be respected during the making of our products but supported, so it is beneficial for the health and vitality of the planet, the soil, the plants that grow in the soil and subsequently the health of all people too.
Something we always keep in mind when creating our products is that since our physiology evolved with nature; a law of survival is that humans are able to utilise natural ingredients for health and wellbeing and nature provides all that we need to live in health. Therefore, it  is logical to us to create products for health from the natural world as they will always be efficacious, appropriate and gentle.

Jayn: This is central to our work. We understand the effectiveness of our products must come from the sum of the parts – the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) through to the way we operate our business model, and everything must be sustainable. We know growing plants biodynamically delivers high levels of APIs, and the way we process them - by working in harmony with nature - locks in this goodness to produce highly efficacious products. We will harvest at the right time, on the right day, and process as close to the field as possible. Our gardeners, who have sown the seed from our own seed bank and tended the plant from seedling through to maturity, will capture the plant essence by making the fresh plant tincture which is the first stage of production.

Both of you were born into medical families with parents who were doctors, has this influenced you at all?

Amanda: My desire to understand nutrition began as a child, when my parents, both doctors, died at an early age of lifestyle-related cancers. I will never forget the overwhelming fear that prevailed for both of them, who, as doctors, could do nothing to change their own health destiny. My parents turned to nutrition before they died, and although too late to save them, I was empowered by their new way of thinking, which was that there may have been something that could have changed the course of their diseases, if only they’d known earlier on.
From that moment I was driven by the desire to understand the cause-and-effect relationship in disease, influenced by the view that this was the only way we could prevent the fear that arises from the belief that disease is all-powering and potentially change outcomes.
Most non communicable diseases are caused by diet and lifestyle missteps and hence the logical way to prevent these diseases is by addressing the root cause. My life experiences have taught me that the orthodox medical model is a ‘disease-centered’ model, necessary to save lives and address infectious diseases, but it is a nutrition and lifestyle medicine model that is vital for preventative health and well-being.

Jayn: Having a mum as a GP has definitely influenced my outlook and approach to illness. For a start I quickly realised you had to be very poorly to stay home from school! Instead, we would get lots of TLC, some very practical care and advice to look after yourself and apply a positive mindset. I soon learned that our day-to-day illnesses were part of developing a healthy immune system – just a part of life, and nothing that rest, a healthy diet and a healthy body couldn’t handle. In fact, getting a day off school when poorly was considered quite an achievement amongst my siblings.
Learning about health, the absence of illness, and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own health, have been life lessons well learnt and they have provided the backdrop to my time at Weleda. I often wonder, if I hadn’t been the offspring of a medical doctor and a farmer if I would have ended up here at all. Weleda has felt like a natural extension of my life’s experiences and upbringing. How lucky is that?

What is the biggest challenge ethical brands will face in the next few years?

Amanda: We cannot gloss over the fact that the rise in energy, raw material prices and raw material supply chain shortages will affect ethical brands too and although we will continue to offer quality ethically sourced ingredients at affordable prices for our customers, this is will become increasingly challenging in the next few years. With a difficult economic environment forecast over the next 12-18 months, it is important that companies continue to think long-term about the choices they make because there will be more pressure than ever to take the easy and conventional road, but we must continue to push boundaries in our quest to promote a holistic way of living as well as working in a sustainable way.
We have been working as an ethical brand for over 30 years and it has been so lovely and satisfying to see the demand for brands like ours grow in popularity, especially in recent years as they become part of the consumer buying process. However, with more brands trying to occupy this space and with little guidance for consumers in terms of credentials, it may become harder to demonstrate one brand's ethical approach vs the competition too.

Jayn: The greatest challenge ethical beauty and pharmaceutical brands face today, is how to rid our whole supply chain of plastics – from our packaging through to the petrochemically-derived microplastics we find in the majority of mainstream formulations because they have a proven negative and irreversible environmental and human health impact when there are many safe and sustainable alternatives. It can be done, but it isn’t easy and takes a lot more time, effort and investment.

What future ethical trends are you excited about in your industry?

Amanda: We are finding that many consumers are now self-empowered and well informed and are desiring a more natural approach to their health, and it is so good to see that there is an increased understanding not only of environmental impacts but also how these are intrinsically related to our own health too. For example, I think there is a much greater awareness about the association between the health of our soil and our own health and the farming and growing practices that are employed in the development of our products are extremely important to us. Many of our products contain organic and biodynamic ingredients now and we will continue to expand our range further and look to grow locally wherever we can.

Jayn: Not surprisingly, given the economic climate and the squeeze on our bills we are seeing consumers economising, swopping expensive skincare to more affordable and multi-tasking products, and this is creating opportunities for brands like Weleda which deliver functional products at affordable prices.

There is no doubt the market for authentically organic beauty will continue to grow as an increasing number of consumers are turning away from synthetic ingredients and demanding greater sustainability and further transparency. The market is there for brands who invest in their supply chains, their processes and can cut through all the greenwash. It’s exciting that the natural and organic beauty sector has this incredible opportunity to be part of the solution to our planet’s problems.

What changes would you like to see in your industries?

Amanda: I feel we must stand shoulder to shoulder with other companies in our industry as ultimately our collective focus is to offer healthful products for the consumer. However, the reality is that the industry is minimally policed and there are wide ranging differences in the quality and efficacy of products on the market. I would like to see all products come through GMP-supply chains to guarantee the quality being offered on the market and see that they are more carefully scrutinised and policed for warnings and contraindications that need to be on some labels to ensure consumer safety too.

Jayn: An end to the use of synthetic ingredients in beauty and a switch back into natural or naturally derived plant-based ingredients that are grown through regenerative farming methods. This would be a huge win-win, for nature, for health and for the planet as it would sequester carbon back into the soil. Weleda has proved a company can do this at scale and be profitable.

What's the best thing about your job?

Amanda: Working for a company that genuinely wants to help the health of the nation and having freedom and autonomy to do the best for people at all times is the very best thing about my job as CEO. This can include gifting products to those in real need and developing products that will genuinely make a difference to health even if the profitability is not as good, which sets us apart from the restrictions that we might have if we were a more commercially-focused company rather than a people-focused company.

Jayn: I love working at Weleda. Firstly no two days are ever the same, the people I work with (and have worked alongside for over fifteen years now) are just brilliant and even on a difficult day I know that we, Weleda, make a difference in the world, for both the health of humans and for the health of the planet.

Favourite product from Weleda and Cytoplan?

Amanda: Cytoplan - Superfood Multi with biodynamic ingredients. This is the most encompassing high end multi-nutrient formula for health, wellbeing and protection for all people that we have ever produced. Young and old alike will derive numerous health benefits from this fabulous phytonutrient-rich formula and I’m so proud we have been able to develop it.
Weleda – I LOVE Weleda’s Skin Food. It is a beautiful cream that softens, moistens and re-nourishes skin, leaving a plumped-up youthful and dewy glow. I take it everywhere as it is so quick to rehydrate tired skin and make me feel “glowing with health”.

Jayn: Gosh, this is like asking which is your favourite child! If I could only take one product to a desert island I would take our famous moisturiser Skin Food. It is the most luxurious rich, cream which smells divine and was created back in 1926 – from five key natural ingredients. And from Cytoplan, I am never without my Immune Complete daily supplement which supports my general health.

At Weleda, we know that skin is unique and can change throughout your life, which is why our products are created in line with our Lead Plant Philosophy to provide holistic, natural care for all skin phases, but we also know healthy skin starts with great nutrition. This is why we've teamed up with food-based supplements pioneer, Cytoplan, to bring you an exciting competition to win a comprehensive collection of skin-nourishing treats worth over £250 for healthy skin inside and out! Collaborating with Cytoplan is a natural fit; from sharing our ethical philosophy to sourcing ingredients that support nature, both of our brands create products that truly work in harmony with the body.

To win this prize which includes Cytoplan's new Beauty Bundle and Weleda's entire Pomegranate Firming Facial Care range and Pomegranate Regenerating Gift Set (plus some Skin Food for good measure!), simply head to our Instagram page, find the relevant post and follow the instructions to enter!