“Changing the World by Changing the Way the World Does Business”
Horst M. Rechelbacher, a native-born Austrian and founder of Aveda (1978), a worldwide cosmetic company known for its natural plant-based products, has established a reputation as an environmentally concerned business leader, author and artist. After the sale of Aveda to Estee Lauder in 1997, he created Intelligent Nutrients, a company producing organic beauty and cosmetic products. Voted by the Austrian press as one of the most notable Austrians currently living in the United States, Horst Rechelbacher has won many awards. During his career he has made a significant contribution to the ‘wellness’ industry which has been driven by his concern for the global environment.
In recent years the rise in number of businesses providing goods and services that are ecologically friendly and help to sustain the Earth has grown considerably. In the 1970s before the growing concern with global warming, Horst Rechelbacher was an entrepreneur who had turned ecopreneur. By looking beyond the competitive, free market economy, he found ways to create an environmentally sound business that remained committed to long-term sustainability. By eliminating toxins and chemicals harmful to the human body and the environment from his products, Horst M. Rechelbacher was changing the market and contributing to environmental standards. In his latest book, “Minding your Business, Profits that Restore the Planet,” he summarizes what he has learned in thirty-five years of creating a successful business at Aveda and in his new business, Intelligent Nutrients.
Born in Klagenfurt in 1941 Horst Rechelbacher was the youngest of three sons. His mother worked in an apothecary and his father was a shoemaker. His mother’s interest in herbs and their medicinal effects proved to be a strong influence in his life. At 14, as part of a vocational program, he began a three-year apprenticeship to become a hairstylist. After completing his training he worked in fashionable salons in Italy and Germany and became well-known in Austria and throughout Europe for his talents as a hairstylist. He won many European competitions before coming to the U.S. in 1965 where he opened his first salon in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His business was strongly client-based, something he attributes to having grown up in Austria. “In Austria the client is a part of one’s training. We learned to have respect for good service. By watching my elders, my mentors and my customers, I learned manners and how to demonstrate respect on the job.” As an apprentice he had already won several prizes. During his three-year vocational training, opportunities were provided each year to enter competitions on the local and the national level. “On the other hand,” Rechelbacher recalls, “it was in America where I received the necessary support from banks which made it possible for me to establish my business.”
After five years of success he began to question the safety of the chemicals he and his clients were exposed to everyday. In 1970 he left for India and studied Ayurveda, meditation and yoga. Upon his return to Minneapolis, he started developing plant-based hair and skin care products with his mother’s help as an herbalist. Using only natural ingredients, he began selling the products in his salon. In 1978, after returning from another trip to India, he founded his own company and named his product line Aveda (the name associated with ayurvedic medicine meaning “knowledge of nature” in Sanskrit). At that point he began to sell his natural products to salons and stores nationwide.
“I was interested in the study of plants and how that was significant for my work having studied Ayuveda medicine in India. My specialty was etheric oils, used for aromatics,` and I used to fly one to two times per year around the world in order to find new species of plants.” It was at that time that he saw that the environment was already damaged and this spurred his interest to do something about it. “So, I became an activist. I have always done fundraising and have offered support to biological movements. Now it is no longer a secret, thanks to Al Gore, the movie and his Nobel prize. In Austria, anthroposophy and the ideas of biological farming was made famous by Rudolf Steiner. I now have a Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten as an integral part of the company.” Meanwhile Horst Rechelbacher has been involved for the past four years with biological farming for the purpose of distilling etheric oils. “I own six hundred acres of land and use wind and solar energy and next year I am buying my first electric car.”
For two decades Aveda flourished as a company that had “gone green” while proving also highly profitable. In 1997, Rechelbacher sold his company to Estée Lauder, an international cosmetic empire with former ties to Austria. Today Aveda products are sold in 27 different countries throughout the world, with the U.S. accounting for 65% of the sales. Rechelbacher continued to study plant-based medicine, analyzing the chemical makeup of plants. He collaborated with chemists and physicians (Mayo Clinic) as well as with experts and traditional healers, especially in India and Asia. He also worked with the tribes in the Brazilian rainforest and in North America. His studies culminated in the creation of a new business, Intelligent Nutrients.
Rechelbacher’s company, Intelligent Nutrients, offers a line of ‘functional foods,’ (foods that have not only nutritional value but promote health and prevent disease, i.e. oats, bran, soy, etc.) as well as nutraceuticals (dietary supplements in capsule, tablet or powder form that claim to have a medicinal effect on human health (ginseng, garlic oil, etc.). Together they work toward improving natural health, beauty and wellness. Rechelbacher claims the ingredients are not just organic but are chemically tested and certified. The products are made available at select locations, such as in spas and professional hair salons. In Minneapolis his store and manufacturing center trains spa and salon staff and holds seminars and workshops for consumers.
After having created Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, Rechelbacher has been increasingly involved with profit and non-profit organizations: He acts as advisor to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and has created the Horst M. Rechelbacher Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to social and environmental preservation projects that operate at the grass-roots level. He also organized the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), which focuses on how businesses find opportunity to foster sustainability. He is author of several books, including “Rejuvenation,” “Aveda Ritual” and “Alivelihood” and lectures internationally on topics ranging from socially-responsible businesses to the differences between societies based on petrochemical versus those that are plant-based. He specializes and teaches team and environmental integrated business management, and was the executive producer of Hidden Medicine, a film that premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival. His continued involvement earned him the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ from the beauty industry while being featured in Vanity Fair as one of the most influential stewards of the environment in the 2005 ‘Best of Best’ issue.
Hans Rechelbacher, who currently resides in Wisconsin and New York City, has always maintained close ties to Austria and actively promotes the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota. At a recent conference on “Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture, and Bioresources,” sponsored by the Horst M. Rechelbacher Foundation and the Center for Austrian Studies, forty experts from Austria and the U.S. discussed issues surrounding sustainable agriculture and global climate change.
Public Forum “Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture, and Bioresources”
Minnesota and Austria are on the cutting edge of organic farming, innovative and sustainable uses of biological resources, and research on climate change. Experts from both sides of the Atlantic came together to share their knowledge on topics such as general trends in climate change, its effect on sustainable and organic farming, water and habitat, and the challenges of and opportunities for effective public policy to slow or even reverse climate change.
In addition to Michael Braungart, University of Lüneberg, Germany, featured speakers included polar explorer Will Steger, noted organic farmer Carmen Fernholz (A-Frame Farm, Madison, Minn.), the Institute on the Environment director Jon Foley, and many experts from the U.S. and Austria.