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Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Closes with Success


LONDON –Authenticity and efficacy were the key messages at the fourth edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, which took place in New York on May 12 to 14, 2011. The summit brought together more than 180 executives from various sections of the beauty industry to discuss critical issues relating to natural and organic cosmetics, and sustainability.

Organized by Organic Monitor, the summit covered a diverse range of sustainability topics, including environmental impacts, social footprints, sustainable supply chains, ethical marketing and distribution, natural and organic cosmetic standards and green formulations.

Various speakers and delegates called for greater authenticity from brand owners, in response to the high level of consumer confusion about natural claims and green marketing. Although many brand owners have taken the certification route to authenticate their products, the major agreement was that certification should be no substitute for product efficacy. A number of summit participants stated the challenges of adopting natural and organic standards, with product performance sometimes sacrificed for certification logos and symbols.

William McDonough, co-founder of MBDC, addressed the summit with his opening keynote. He showed how the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) design approach can be used to create positive impacts on the environment and social communities. Examples were given on how C2C can utilize waste materials when a product reaches the end of its lifecycle.

According to McDonough, “A global population of 9 billion is not a problem, but an opportunity for the beauty industry" since it creates additional demand. He stated the problem is managing this growth by designing beauty products that do not have just zero impacts, but positive impacts.

Aveda, a sustainability pioneer in the beauty industry, highlighted the ecological and social footprints of cosmetic products. Charles J. Bennett stated growing public concern means the beauty industry needs to engage more with consumers. The importance of a mission-based corporate ethos was emphasized, as this is guiding Aveda in all its sustainability actions. The company uses renewable energy to power its operations, recycles more than 75 percent of its waste, and 90 percent of its botanical ingredients are from organic agricultural sources.

Procter & Gamble shared its systematic approach to sustainability, and how it uses lifecycle assessment to implement sustainability programs. It has set ambitious 10-year goals for raw material sourcing, packaging reduction, renewable energy and waste reduction. The consumer goods multinational stated it has already reduced more than 20 percent of plastic packaging of some brands by eco-design and using biopolymers.

Also in the pioneering sustainability initiatives session, another multinational shared its vision of reducing its ecological footprint by a third by 2030.To meet this target, Henkel is focusing on eco-innovation and sustainable partnerships with its stake-holders. Pete He raised the question of undertaking the lifecycle analysis of a natural personal-care product. How does it compare with a conventional product? The company is looking at algae-based biopolymers so that it does not divert agricultural land from food production.

The opening session closed with a panel discussion on sustainability metrics. The difficulty in obtaining external metrics led some speakers to suggest that ‘intentions are more practical than checklists’ when considering sustainability.

Building sustainable supply chains was the theme of the second session. Beraca stated how sustainable sourcing can contribute to biodiversity and social communities in the Amazon. Shea butter was used as an example by Dr. Peter Lovett on how ingredient sourcing can create positive social impacts in African countries. Social impacts by Fair Trade were explored by Maya Spaull from Fair Trade USA. The growing popularity of Fair Trade has led to more than 320 beauty products to carry the Fairtrade mark in the United States.

One of the main highlights of the three-day summit was the CEO roundtable. CEOs of leading natural personal care companies formed a roundtable to discuss key industry challenges. On the question of standards, the general consensus was that certification was secondary to product efficacy. As one speaker stated, “A poor certified product lets everyone down, as we have to try twice as hard to convince consumers to try an organic product again."

Another CEO stressed the importance of positive marketing, “It is better to accentuate the positive elements," rather than undertaking fear-based marketing that focus on paraben-free, SLS-free, etc. Another CEOs re-affirmed the major challenge for natural and organic brands was providing greater authenticity to consumers, especially with so much confusion about what is natural.

Day two of the summit opened with a keynote from Stacy Malkan, author and cofounder of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. According to Malkan, demand for green cosmetics was stemming from consumers becoming more information savvy. In a later paper, she highlighted the dangers caused by environmental chemicals to human health and the need for public education.

Karen Behnke, founder of Juice Beauty, highlighted the challenges of taking an organic brand into mainstream channels. Behnke shared her experiences in taking her brand into Target retailers and the difficulties in competing with mass-market brands.

The potential of biodynamic cosmetics was discussed by Dr. Hauschka Skin Care. By taking a holistic view, it was shown how biodynamic products can have a healing effect on the skin. Other papers in the marketing & distribution session covered sustainable packaging, global distribution developments and ethical retailing of natural personal care products. In her paper on consumer insights, Kathy Sheehan from GfK Roper Consulting showed how USDA NOP had become the second most important eco-label in the United States. She suggests beauty companies prepare for a future in which all brands will have an associated sustainability value.

Green ingredients and standards were the theme of the final session on day two. Updates were given on natural and organic personal care standards in North America, including the new USDA bio-based standard. Many summit participants expressed concern that the eco-label can be applied to products containing GM ingredients, adding to the existing consumer confusion. Other papers in this session covered natural and organic fragrances, paraben-free preservative systems, and innovations in natural actives.

The summit came to a successful close with 50 delegates attending the interactive workshop on day three. Judi Beerling, head of technical research at Organic Monitor, discussed the various options available to formulators when using green fragrances, emulsifiers and surfactants. The challenges of natural and organic ingredients, including efficacy, safety and stability were once again highlighted.

The fourth edition of the executive summit raised many questions about sustainability in the beauty industry:

What are the approaches to measure the environmental and social footprint of a cosmetic product? What about water stewardship?

Are natural & organic beauty products always safer than conventional products?

Are consumers really aware of what comprises a natural beauty product?

How are organic brands tackling raw material issues?

What makes an effective natural & organic cosmetic formulation?

The next editions of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit aim to address such questions.

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