The cosmetics industry is under pressure from governments, NGOs, and more importantly consumers, to adopt more sustainable business practices and become responsible corporate citizens with sustainable companies.
As more and more consumers are becoming environmentally aware, they are demanding ethical alternatives to products from mainstream corporations often with dubious environmental records. They are voting with their feet and are seeking out sustainable companies that are eco-focused and are reducing their carbon footprint.
Rising ethical consumerism is engulfing the cosmetics and personal care industry, as its largest group of consumers, the Millennials, are becoming more environmentally aware. They believe in global warming and the effects it is having on the planet, and are choosing products in line with their green values.
Sustainability issues facing the cosmetics industry were debated at last year’s Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, held in the Asia-Pacific region and European. Key industry concerns included contentious chemicals in personal care formulations, resource and carbon management, and the impacts of packaging.
According to several papers discussed at the summit, although there is a high awareness around palm oil and polyethylene beads, other harmful chemicals were still being used. Chemicals used in sunscreens, for example, are having a detrimental impact on the environment and devastating effects on coral reefs in many parts of the world. Conversely, it was also noted that natural sunscreen alternatives were gaining traction.
Another speaker discussed alternatives to plastics, stating that 8 million tons of plastic escape into the ocean each year. As an alternative to conventional glitter, his company had developed a bio-based glitter as well as cellulose-based green exfoliants.
Air pollution and its link to skin sensitivity and pigmentation was another topic of discussion. As consumers become more aware of the effects of air pollution on their skin, it is anticipated that anti-pollution cosmetics will become more mainstream. A few companies are already on the front foot around this issue by developing products using natural ingredients with anti-pollution qualities.
Resource efficiency was also a hot topic at the summit, with a call for more companies to address their carbon footprints.
A New Zealand-based business selling natural skincare was noted for being carbon neutral since 2007. While the largest cosmetics company in South Korea was acknowledged for its reduction of carbon by setting up an organic tea garden, which is absorbing 900 tons of CO2 each year. And an Italian sustainable hair care business was about to launch a sustainable village which will produce natural ingredients, create zero waste, and be powered by green energy.
Packaging, as you would expect, was also discussed. One brand, known in the industry for its planet-friendly and design-driven home and personal care products, stated it used recycled content and a “cradle-to-cradle ethos” – ie, that packaging must be able to go back into the recycling stream. They even went so far as to gather plastic littering the ocean and recycling it into packaging for an Ocean Plastics line.
Life cycle thinking
Developing and staying true to a commitment to use environmentally friendly packaging and ingredients while maintaining a social conscience and sustainable ethos is not always easy. It requires unwavering determination from the top to succeed.
Understanding how to improve your company’s carbon footprint is vital to improving your overall business sustainability. It may also take some investment. However over time, returns should be in positive territory, as good sustainability practices is also good business practice.
For more reading on how your organisation can address the economic, environmental and social aspects of becoming a sustainable company in the cosmetics industry, see the book Sustainability: How the Cosmetics Industry is Greening Up.
Image courtesy of Vavoom Cosmetics