Green Talks at Sustainable Cosmetics Summit


LONDON—It's probably safe to say, ethical business practices, sustainability (and all this term connotes) and green credentials are issues facing every industry across the global board, including cosmetic and personal care companies. The beauty industry has historically received negative media publicity for unethical business practices; but fear not, because green appears to have become the new black, according to Organic Monitor. In fact, seven cosmetic companies were in the recent World’s Most Ethical Companies List by Ethisphere Institute, up from four in 2011.

This spring, the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit will be host to an array of company testimonies, workshops, case studies and more, all detailing the industry's move to a greener future.

In addition to Ethisphere Institute's assessment study, Corporate Knights' study highlighted ethical companies as well, naming Natura Brasil as the second most sustainable corporation in the world. Corporate Knights praised Natura Brasil for its energy and waste productivity performance. The Brazilian cosmetics company has been carbon neutral since it introduced its carbon management plan in 2007. It is using the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) standard to calculate its carbon emissions, and then reducing and offsetting by investing in projects that have positive social/environmental impacts. Procter & Gamble, Henkel, L’Oreal and Unilever and were also listed in the top 100 sustainable corporations list.

Procter & Gamble (P&G) has set ambitious 2020 Sustainability Goals that involve reducing packaging, waste, reliance on synthetic chemicals, and greater use of renewable energy. It rates its suppliers via a sustainability scorecard that helps improve their environmental performance. Unilever has set similar targets via its Sustainability Living Plan, while Johnson & Johnson launched its Healthy Futures 2015 initiative.

The summit will discuss one of the major issues companies face—measuring the environmental footprint of their products. Many cosmetic companies like P&G and L’Oreal are using lifecycle analysis (LCA) tools; however, they are discovering multi-ingredient personal care products often have complex footprints that are difficult to accurately measure. The lack of traceability in supply chains is leading new certification trading schemes to emerge.

Some cosmetic companies are going beyond green formulations and ingredients when considering sustainability. The American cosmetic giant Avon has implemented an "efficiency drive’ to utilize its" resources more effectively. By reducing packaging, paper usage and investing in green buildings, it has lowered its environmental impact and improved its margins.

With a growing number of cosmetic and personal care companies receiving accolade for their green initiatives, questions about benchmarking are emerging. Do initiatives tackling climate change take precedent over biodiversity and ethical sourcing? Do formulations containing natural ingredients take priority over the principles of green chemistry? Lastly, with industry lists only considering large publicly-listed companies, how do privately owned natural/organic cosmetic companies compare? Such issues will be debated at the North American edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit.