The beauty industry's shift towards sustainability

Updated: Feb 5

If you are an avid user of the internet, you have probably been exposed to the term “sustainability” before, but what does it actually mean? Sustainability from an environmental standing point asserts that the extraction of raw materials used for production should not exceed the rate at which they are renewed. Ideally, many factors contribute to the overall movement, sustainable products are encouraged to also be clean, ethical, and financially feasible. The shift towards sustainability in the beauty industry might be slow but it’s consistent [1]. Unilever, a world leader in cosmetics, faced backlash in 2009 when Greenpeace named it a top buyer of unethical palm oil. This led the corporate giant to drop its initial seller and commit to only harvesting palm oil from a sustainable source [2].


Figure 1. Event for the environment in Milan, Italy. Credits: Simone Buzzoni. Taken from: Unsplash.


In 2015, the US government prohibited the use of polyethylene microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics. These tiny spheres were found to be an environmental hazard as soon as they get washed down the drain. They are non-biodegradable and end up littering different water bodies, then they are consumed by the animals inhabiting the polluted water. While apricot scrubs were a common go-to after the ban, they were found to cause micro-abrasions on the surface of the skin due to the jagged edges of the particles leading to premature aging of the skin. A great non-irritant alternative would have to be jojoba wax beads [3].


Zero waste products are not easy to innovate, let alone produce. The call for “zero packaging” can seem bizarre and impossible to fully achieve [4]. On a positive note, the handmade cosmetics company Lush cut back on “single-use” plastic and reports that 35% of their products are “Naked”, meaning that they are sold as-is without any packaging. They were able to achieve that by reducing the use of excessive amounts of water which helps preserve their range for longer. For example, they specialize in solid shampoos (Figure 2), body wash jellies, and massage bars. They also ensure full recycling of their iconic black pot containers if you return them to the store after consumption [5].



Figure 2. Solid Shampoo bars sold at a Lush store in Granville Road, Hong Kong. Author: Huichimai Fang.*


L’Oréal, the biggest cosmetics company in the world pledged earlier this year to become fully sustainable by 2030. Alleging that 100% of their biobased ingredients and packaging will come from renewable sources and will not in any way be linked to deforestation. The L’Oréal Fund for Nature Regeneration is also set to help restore one million hectares of degraded ecosystems. The company explained this will become possible by allocating 100 Million Euros to resolve urgent environmental issues by 2030 [6]. Chanel, the luxury brand, also followed suit: by 2025 they promise that 100% of the electricity used by the company will be renewable [7].


More individuals are driven towards greener and more environmentally conscious alternatives to their everyday essentials. This stems from the alarming acceleration of the climate crisis and the fear of its aftermath [8]. Subsequently, beauty brands are switching over to an eco-friendlier production approach, using sustainability as an innovation strategy. This, while supporting a “mindful” brand image, allows consumers to feel like they are reducing their carbon footprint and positively impacting today’s environmental issues [1]. Hoping to see more beauty brands raising awareness of the importance of sustainability in the industry, followed by a comprehensive plan to do better.




*This file is licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. All credit goes to the original author Huichimai Fang, no changes were made to the photograph. (Last accessed December 12th 2020)




References:


[1] Sahota, A. Sustainability: How the Cosmetics Industry is Greening Up. (Wiley, 2014).

[2] Unilever (2011), Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, Progress Report.

[3] Bom, S., Jorge, J., Ribeiro, H. & Marto, J. A Step Forward on Sustainability in the Cosmetics Industry: a review. Journal of Cleaner Production 225 (2019). (DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.03.255).

[4] Amberg, N. & Fogarassy, C. Green Consumer Behavior in the Cosmetics Market. Resources 8, 137 (2019).

[5]Lush Cosmetics, Our Values: Naked, <https://www.lushusa.com/stories/article_our-values-naked.html> (Last accessed: December 12th 2020)

[6] L’Oréal for the future: Our sustainability commitments for 2030', https://mediaroom.loreal.com/wpcontent/uploads/2020/06/EN_Booklet_LOreal-for-the-Future_2020.pdf (Last accessed: December 12th 2020)

[7] Rosenbaum, M. & Wong, I. Green marketing programs as strategic initiatives in hospitality. Journal of Services Marketing 29, 81-92 (2015). (DOI: 10.1108/JSM-07-2013-0167.t

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