Before you talk about Australia, it's important to first reflect on what it fundamentally is, in the simplest terms: a massive Western country colonized by the British, the original home of an indigenous people later utilized as a penal colony, a 7.692 million-square-kilometer island sat smack dab in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The nearest countries outside its limits are Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to the north; swing southeast and you'll hit New Zealand, with Madagascar way off to the west. From the airport in New York City to my first stop, a hotel in Sydney right near its iconic opera house, it is a solid 26 hours of travel time. Which is to say, Australia is far. It is remote. And for a culture that shares our language, things are very, very different.
Whereas America is a nation built on millions of discarded plastic Duane Reade bags and politicians who routinely deny the role of human influence on climate change, Australia is stringently, almost aggressively committed to environmental consciousness. From the public bathrooms at the seal conservation ("Australia is the driest country in the driest inhabited continent in the world!" a printout above the toilet reminds you before you go to press for a full flush or just the half) to the organic vineyards to its beauty brands, the importance of sustainability drives everything they do.
Can the devoutly green leanings of the world's strangest continent, 90% of which is uninhabitable, teach the rest of the globe how to do it right?
And while there's a certain woo-woo mystique to this vast, unique place in the middle of the ocean, a delightful detachment between Australia and the rest of the boring old world, there's also a sense of responsibility — that all of this is being done out of necessity, not a superiority complex or a competition to see who's the most eco-friendly. It is assumed, like it's assumed that you should always be wary of kangaroos crossing the road, that the environment is something that everyone wants to protect and preserve, not just those special-snowflake "environmentalists" who probably voted for Crooked Hillary. (Even the finest restaurants recycle, treat, and drink their rain water, for Christ's sake.) But can the devoutly green leanings of the world's strangest continent, 90% of which is uninhabitable, teach the rest of the globe how to do it right?
Australia's number-one prestige beauty brand has set the bar pretty high. Jurlique's presence on the island is impossible to miss: large advertisements on bus-stop waiting areas, its elegant, minimalist branding visible through the windows of every spa, chemist, and beauty shop in Sydney. Even in Adelaide's charming vacation town of Glenelg, which spans roughly .3 square miles, I walk past several shops on the strip featuring broad advertisements for the brand. But beyond its clear status as one of the biggest names in Australian beauty, Jurlique is also at the forefront of sustainability measures that go above and beyond using recyclable packaging or shutting down company facilities every year for an employee tree-planting day (though, yes, it does both of those things as well).
Jurlique's 105-acre farm in the Adelaide Hills is fully solar-powered; its employees do not use any machinery in the harvesting of the medicinal herbs and flowers that are eventually steam-distilled into active botanical extracts that form the base of all of the brand's products. "Everything is harvested, weeded, and picked by hand," Sarah Carter, the farm's horticulture specialist, tells me. "The roses are cut by hand in a specific way — there's a technique for everything. A hand-comb for the chamomile is the closest we come to using any tools."
The farm is organic- and biodynamic-certified, and operates under a strict set of guidelines that includes a three-meter-wide buffer zone between the Jurlique farm — a former dairy farm purchased in 2004, and a significant upgrade from the four- and eight-acre properties the brand previously functioned out of — and surrounding farms that might not follow the same principles. And because it's organic, it is required to make its own compost — which it does, producing around 200 tons every year. Poultry manure, excess herbs, and biodynamic preparations are routinely spread over new beds to feed those crops; essentially, everything that's not used is turned back into the ground as a natural fertilizer, enriching the earth rather than depleting it.
And everything that is used goes to Jurlique's factory just a few miles away, where the sustainability agenda reigns supreme. All of the packaging is recyclable and reusable; Jon Westover, the managing director of global operations at Jurlique International, says that the emphasis is on reducing the carbon footprint as much as possible, whether that means shipping products by sea freight to cut down on emissions — it takes about three weeks for each shipment to make its way stateside — or using 98% of the materials recovered from the previous knockdown to build the bigger, better, more advanced facility that stands today. The company leaves no sustainability stone unturned, all in the name of purer, more effective ingredients, better beauty products, and, at the end of the day, saving the world.
Jurlique has been doing this, or some form of it, since the early 1980s, when Dr. Jürgen Klein, a biochemist, and his wife Ulrike, a botanist, left their native Germany in search of "the purest place on earth." They found it in the Adelaide Hills, in South Australia, which is said to have the highest air quality in the world, with virtually no air pollution. (Maybe it's just the power of suggestion, but a few deep breaths and I'm sold; suddenly I'm wide-eyed and invigorated, not hopelessly jet-lagged and desperately in search of a good cup of coffee, not espresso.) But over three decades later, this earth-friendly ethos, this nature-inspired, wellness-driven, distinctly Australian approach, is reinforcing the core of newer brands, too.
Although Dr. Roebuck's technically got its start in 1978, when two Australian physicians developed a topical preparation at home to use on their daughters' eczema, it's identical twins Zoe and Kim who have more recently taken it to market and turned the family name into a full-blown skin-care brand, with a "beauty from the inside out" philosophy that channels their holistic upbringing. All formulated in Bondi, in Sydney, the products are paraben-, sulfate-, gluten-, and cruelty-free and vegan, with no BPA, petrochemicals, fillers, synthetic fragrances, or dyes.
Everything we do is guided by nature and our responsibility to therefore protect it.
Jay Rynenberg, Cofounder Of Asarai
"We’ve taken an eco-friendly and sustainable approach to everyday living to not only minimize exposure to nasty chemicals and toxins, but also to limit our carbon footprint," Kim says. "The unique element of Australian beauty is driven by our culture and its people — nature and wellness is at the very center of our living and being." As part of the brand's sustainability promise, Dr. Roebuck's prioritizes local and sustainable ingredients, like biodegradable jojoba beads. "We research and follow the supply from origin, extraction, and refinement of every single one of our ingredients to ensure it is from a sustainable and ethical source," says Zoe. "Sourcing these local ingredients and having Australian culture at the center of our branding allows us to share our home with the rest of the world."
Jay Rynenberg is a Sydney transplant who, with his wife Patrice, started a skin-care brand called Asarai earlier this year. "I think subconsciously [Australians] learn at an early age how nature can nurture a lifestyle that is healthy and happy," he says. "Everything we do is guided by nature and our responsibility to therefore protect it." While the Rynenbergs operate out of Los Angeles, all the products are manufactured in Australia, and it's the couple's Australian roots that influence everything from Asarai's vibrant, energetic packaging to its (paraben-, PEG-, sulfate-, fragrance-, and cruelty-free) formulations, which highlight native ingredients like Kakadu plum and Australian red clay.
As an official partner of 1% For The Planet, Asarai donates part of its revenue toward a healthier planet. But beyond that, Rynenberg says that the factory where its products are manufactured is Australia’s first fully-certified eco-industrial facility, "complete with solar-power grids and recycled building materials." More than anything, Rynenberg explains, "Everyone on our team is passionate and dedicated to being part of a new generation of businesses that are eco-friendly and think forwardly about the future of our planet." And while that drive may not be uniquely Australian, the difference is that it's their norm, not a new development founded out of the fear that it's about time we reverse the damage we've already done.
Standing on the shoreline at Bondi Beach, where the water is bluer than blue and everyone seems to be having a suspiciously good time, or at the crest of the hill overlooking Jurlique's lush rose gardens in Adelaide (which, Carter tells me cheerfully, the kangaroos have taken a liking to, hopping over to snatch them from their stems in the early hours of the morning), it's clear that there is an ease, and a simple, clean beauty, to the Australian way of life, to its natural resources and potent botanicals (its plants are especially hardy, since they often need to survive extreme conditions) and its extraordinary flora and fauna and landscapes and skies and largely egalitarian society and grumpy koalas munching on eucalyptus leaves. It's clear that this is a special place, and that specialness, like its fiercely environmentally-conscious principles, is worth sharing.
"We have seen how the purity of nature has transformed our lives personally, and we really want to inspire others to also connect with nature," Rynenberg says. But to connect with nature, it's essential that we take care of nature, to preserve it, to nurture it, to save it. This shouldn't fall on the shoulders of any one political party, and we certainly shouldn't be looking to the EPA (its name seems ironic, now); it's on all of us, whether we're under the clear blue sky of Watsons Bay or in the heavily-polluted Bay Area.
This American, a lifelong New Yorker who may as well have been born with smog-filled lungs and debris-clogged pores and an overflowing recycling bin, left weird, green, beautiful Australia happier, healthier, forever changed, the new owner of a reusable water bottle from the souvenir shop at Cleland Wildlife Park — and four days later than originally planned. And if it didn't take a full three weeks to travel from Adelaide to the U.S. via sea freight, I might have even considered taking the long way home.
Travel and accommodations were provided by Jurlique for the purpose of writing this story.