Sustainability is a nebulous term, but has been moving up the political and economic agendas as businesses adopt responsible practices towards the sourcing and manufacturing of their products. In beauty, it began with a move towards natural and/or organic formulations and has since moved on to how to source ingredients ethically and produce eco-friendly packaging.
Amarjit Sahota, ceo, Organic Monitor, has noted how the issue of sustainability has become more intricate in recent years, covering many environmental aspects, such as carbon footprints, water stewardship, waste management, as well as social impacts. For example, Unilever is currently undertaking advertising campaigns that emphasize social good causes, as part of its Sustainable Living Plan which aims to expand its business whilst reducing its environmental footprint. Similarly, L’Oreal has made a commitment with its Sharing Beauty With All pledge. “In general, the beauty industry has realized that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option; they need to address their environmental and/or social impact,” maintains Sahota.
According to Marie Alice Dibon, founder, Alice Communications Inc., authenticity and ethics are values that run throughout an organization, or not. “They’re not injected into a product one morning because we choose to convey them now,’ she says, stating that communicating authentic values is tricky. Dibon believes that the beauty industry needs to be proactive in order to set industry guidelines, as well as labels to reassure the consumer. In doing so, if the big players apply best practices, these will pull the industry up as the standards will also move up. “We can’t make the same mistake as we did with organic products with too many certifications in the EU and not enough in the US,” she warns.
At the heart of the argument for the creation of new protocols and standards are the changing demands of the consumer. New research from Canadean for 2016 confirms that 51% of consumers globally say that how environmentally-friendly/socially responsible a product is often or always influences their beauty and grooming product choices. “Living ethically is of growing importance to today’s consumers particularly as awareness grows of social and environmental issues,” comments Jamie Mills, analyst, Canadean. “This can be attributed to the accessibility to information as well as those issues being at the forefront of global and national agendas. In turn, this concern is trickling down to influence the choices of today’s consumers.” Mills agrees that accreditation for issues such as fair trade, recyclable packaging are an imperative, as well as greater action of brands to include sustainability initiatives, not just at a product level, but across the wider brand ethos itself.
So which brands are doing it best? Sahota maintains it is green cosmetic companies, including Weleda and Neal’s Yard Remedies who are the pioneers in the sustainability area and who have spearheaded many sustainability initiatives. Weleda, for example, has been undertaking ethical sourcing of raw materials for several decades, while Neal’s Yard Remedies was the first UK high street retailer to go carbon neutral. What this means is that Neal’s Yard Remedies purchases carbon offsets from wind power projects in India and China, supplied by The CarbonNeutral Company, has devised a “Carbon Action Plan” to deliver its carbon emission reductions and uses its CarbonNeutral® company certification in advertising, catalogues, shop windows and its website.
“What has changed in recent years is that large multinationals and conventional brands are also now investing in sustainability. It is common for many such companies to develop natural lines (reflecting green formulations), reducing packaging footprints, etc.,” affirms Sahota. Another approach is for companies to “buy green expertise”, such as Unilever’s purchase of the green brand Seventh Generation with the plan to “re-engineer” its product formulations.
Beauty companies, including Unilever and P&G, are recognizing the commercial benefits of reducing energy use, water footprints and waste management etc. Sahota cites Grupo Boticario, the second largest cosmetics company in Brazil, which has switched to green polyethylene packaging for its Cuide-se Bem brand. The polyethylene is made from sugar, rather than petroleum, therefore saving more than 90 tons of plastics per year. “There are also cost benefits since moving to eco-design as there is 10% less plastic material used in the packaging,” explains Sahota. “Similarly P&G has made a commitment to have zero waste to landfill; it currently has 68 zero waste manufacturing sites across the globe.”
Sometimes, brands come unstuck when taking a particular stance. Taking parabens out of formulations, for example, was once a ploy used to sell products. Only two of the parabens actually showed mild toxicity upon actual scientific review, but Microbiome science is again bringing the issue of preservation back into focus. However, Dibon maintains that companies who jump on the latest sustainability issue often do so without the correct knowledge about the science behind it. “So, understand it,” she advises. “Hire the people that can help you communicate internally about it, informing all levels. Not everyone needs a PhD in science, but everyone who works in our industry needs to understand at least the basics and follow the news.”
Sustainability is becoming a fast-moving area and what concerns companies today are likely to change. “Key environmental and social issues the planet faces today are not the same as those it faced 20 or 10 years ago. The same will be true in 5-10 years time,” predicts Sahota. Organic Monitor expects social issues to feature more prominently in sustainability in the future, as social inequality, third world poverty and political unrest continues to have a profound effect on our lives today. The growing refugee crisis, economic migrants in Europe and the US, the rise of far right political parties, Brexit – all these issues will impact on the way brands do business in the future.
“A good social media policy is essential as it helps with transparency,” asserts Dibon, who believes that before brands can start talking about doing honest things, they must give people reasons to believe them. “But there is no magic bullet and it will take time.”
*Organic Monitor, Canadean and Marie Alice Dibon will present at this year’s in-cosmetics Marketing Trends presentations in London, which takes place 4-6 April.
Further information at www.in-cosmetics.com