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Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Closes with Sustainable Beauty Debates


LONDON—The European edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit drew to a successful close on Nov. 28 to 30, 2011, bringing together more than 160 executives. Participants at the three-day summit discussed new directions for sustainability in the cosmetics industry. Topics on the agenda included greenwashing and false marketing claims, food and cosmetics convergence, growing use of plant-based feedstock, green formulations and distribution innovations.

Bertil Heerink, director general of the European Cosmetics Association (Colipa), opened the summit with his keynote "Sustainability: A New Paradigm for the Cosmetics industry." He said "the environmental pillar was now settled" in terms of programs, urging cosmetic companies to focus on the social and economic pillars of sustainability. He said these would be areas of sustainability Colipa will be promoting in its 50th anniversary year in 2012 at the political and global level.

The premier session, Sustainability Best-Practices, looked at the various ways cosmetic companies are tackling the sustainability challenge. Laurent Gilbert from L’Oreal explained the company took a "holistic approach" to sustainability. The cosmetics giant has set a number of environmental objectives, such as reducing its carbon footprint and waste by 50 percent by 2015. L’Oreal is adopting the principles of green chemistry to develop sustainable products, and using about 500 ECOCERT-certified ingredients in its formulations.

Richard Jean-Claude, CEO of Farfalla, discussed the role of Fair Trade in creating positive effects on social communities. Giving the example of an organic village in Correns in Provence, he stated Fair Trade should not be the domain of developing countries, but also applied to "the western world and northern hemisphere." He also called for a simplification of existing Fair Trade schemes as multiple standards were raising producer costs.

Other papers in the premier session covered climate change, novel approaches to retailing sustainable cosmetics and ecological packaging. The session ended with a lively panel discussion in which a speaker stated, "It was no longer a question of whether a firm engages with sustainability, but only the degree to which it does so." One small cosmetic company questioned how they could cope with the sustainability challenge with limited resources. The panel chair commented, "Challenges should be perceived as opportunities, since it was much easier for a small company to become carbon neutral than a multinational, which may never do so!"

The Food & Cosmetics Convergence session began with a paper on food ingredients for skin nutrition.  Anne Marie Fine outlined the use of Epigenetics in the beauty industry. According to Fine, functional ingredients in green tea, berries and pomegranate have intrinsic anti-aging qualities. Judi Beerling, technical research of Organic Monitor, gave examples of novel food ingredients making their way into skin-care applications. Other speakers discussed the potential of vinotherapy cosmetics, nutria-cosmetics and organic remedies.

For the first time in Europe, heads of leading natural cosmetic firms formed a CEO Roundtable in the third session. When questioned about the major challenges they faced in the current economic climate, the CEOs gave mixed responses. Giorgos Korres, founder of Korres Natural Products, said the euro zone debt crisis remained a major concern for the Greek company. The CEO of Farfalla stated foreign exchange volatility and EU regulations were major challenges, while Florame cited scarcity of raw material supply. The French organic cosmetics company is facing many issues in sourcing organic ingredients because of rising prices and quality issues. When asked how the brands were facing the threat of false marketing claims, Florame stated certification was important to assure consumers. Korres said "authenticity and the brand history" were safeguarding his brand from those jumping on the naturals bandwagon. Michael Lindner, CEO of the Boerlind Group, called on brands to develop a Unique Selling Preposition (USP) to combat the growing number of natural claims.

Effective marketing techniques were further elaborated in the Marketing & Distribution Innovations session on day two. Mathieu Spies from Melvita explained how the brand was building an international presence by taking the direct route. Since its acquisition by L’Occitane in 2008, the organic cosmetics brand has opened 39 concept stores in three continents. Its retailers emphasize the French and organic nature of the Melvita brand when reaching new customers in the United States and Asia.

Organic Monitor presented key findings from its Natural Cosmetics Brand Assessment study. Judi Beerling showed how many natural cosmetic products were not making the grade. Examples were given of cosmetic brands that made natural claims, yet the formulations contained synthetic chemicals not widely accepted in natural products. Earlier, the German retailer SuperBioMarkt gave details on its selection criteria for natural & organic cosmetics. Like other organic food retailers in Europe, SuperBioMarkt has developed dedicated areas for these products. Its CEO stated its selection criteria and customer service were key factors behind the retail chain reporting high sales growth this year. Groupe GM discussed growing demand for natural & organic cosmetics from the hotel and spa sector; the French company has developed several brands for these outlets. Other papers covered reaching the ethical consumer, marketing communications and greenwashing.

A number of speakers discussed the growing use of plant-based feedstock to make cosmetic ingredients in the final session: Sourcing and Using Green Ingredients. Croda stated some of the major challenges were competing with food crops, crop protection methods, technical issues and stability. The chemicals company stated most problems were in making emulsifiers, surfactants, preservatives and sunscreens from such raw materials. Jari Lander from AAK commented that although petrochemical oil supply had peaked, vegetable oils could never replace them since "there was not enough agricultural land on the planet." However, vegetable oils had an important role as renewable raw material sources for cosmetic products.

Highlighting the complexity of using plant-based materials, Peter Becker from Evonik described how a petrochemical-based emulsion can have a lower environmental footprint than a plant-based one. According to Becker, the manner of growing and processing feedstock has a major bearing on the environmental footprint of the finished ingredient. Cark Maunsell, CEO of Oat Services, stated the genetics of plant material also play an important role. The company uses plant-breeding techniques to develop a range of novel actives from oats, wheat and barley. In the closing remarks, Amarjit Sahota of Organic Monitor summed up major discussions by stating the cosmetics industry faced a major challenge in finding replacements to petrochemical-based ingredients. If plant-based materials were not the total solution, what alternatives are there?

The summit ended with Organic Monitor conducting two plenary workshops on the final day. Judi Beerling looked at the use of green surfactants, emulsifiers and preservatives in her technical workshop. In his workshop, Amarjit Sahota discussed the business opportunities in the European natural & organic cosmetics market. About 80 delegates participated in the interactive workshops.

The European edition capped a successful year for the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, hosted in the three continents for the first time. The organizer Organic Monitor plans to host further summits and workshops at various international locations in 2012.

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