Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Wrap-Up


LONDON—Two of the key messages from the North American edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit were how the cosmetics industry needs to improve measurement techniques for its environmental impacts and increase adoption rates of sustainable packaging.

Many angles of sustainability were discussed among more than 180 executives from the cosmetics industry at the Summit, which took place May 17 to 19 in New York, including methods of measuring the environmental impact of cosmetic products. Although many companies are undertaking life-cycle analysis (LCA), varying methodologies, lack of standardized data and general difficulties in analyzing cosmetic formulations prevent accurate measurement.

According to Denise Alves from Natura Brasil, since her company sources more than 1,000 raw materials, it's not possible to examine the supply chains of all ingredients. Natura Brasil finds 76 percent of its products' environmental impact is from raw materials and final disposal. By measuring and reducing its carbon footprint, Natura Brasil has become one of the few cosmetic companies to become carbon neutral. Its remaining carbon emissions are then offset by investing in reforestation projects. She broke down the Brazilian company's carbon management into three parts:

  1. Inventory: measuring and recording emissions.
  2. Reduction: action and processes to reduce greenhouse gases.
  3. Offsetting: neutralizing emissions that could not be avoided

Also in the Sustainability Best-Practices session, Avon stated it is focusing on resource efficiency, ethical sourcing and green buildings in its sustainability program. Since its business model relies on direct marketing, Avon places great emphasis on reducing paper usage.

Royal Ahold USA shared its approach to sustainability, which involves factoring in consumer knowledge. Reducing waste to landfill is a major preoccupation for the international retailer.

Toby Heaps from Corporate Knights stated the rising consumer expectations have made sustainability reporting no longer the domain of publicly listed corporations, but for all types of organizations. According to Heaps, "Sustainability programs should be implemented from the CEO downwards in order to have real impact."

George R. Thompson, Ph.D., of Chemical Compliance Systems Inc. (CCS) discussed sustainability metrics for cosmetic products through three green endpoints:

  1. Ecological – water, air and soil (these provide a comprehensive sustainable assessment)
  2. Health – acute and chronic
  3. Safety – fire, special and reactivity

These metrics are part of a scoring process and help to create the companies' final Green Grade on a 100-point scale. Thompson noted to get a total objective assessment, criteria and weighting needs to happen upfront (subjective), adding flexibility in these two areas readily accommodates company/industry priorities. He also said integration of green chemical and green engineering criteria provides a full quantitative sustainability evaluation.

The Green Formulations session highlighted new sustainable ingredients, especially for natural and organic cosmetics. With many countries having aging populations, Dr. Alain Khaiat gave details on the range of new anti-aging ingredients available for natural skin care products. He name the classics—AHA, ceramides, emollients and vitamins A and C—but highlighted emerging ingredients such as CODIF's marine-based ingredients, IBR's dormin ingredient Snowflake for melanin and BOTOX-like effects, Lucas Meyer Cosmetics' Progeline, Mibelle's DermCom and more.

Laboratory JaneClare showed how traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) ingredients can be used in organic cosmetic formulations to treat skin conditions. Another presentation discussed the green emulsifier and surfactant options. Other papers by AAK and Evonik reiterated the complexity of measuring the environmental footprint of cosmetic formulations.

Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, opened the second day of the summit with an opening keynote on the Green Marketing Challenges.

Industry challenges were discussed in more detail in the CEO Roundtable session. Heads of natural and organic cosmetic companies stated raw material availability, green washing and lack of legislation as major challenges for the industry. Curt Valva, CEO, Aubrey Organics, said one major challenge is how do companies secure truly natural and sustainable ingredients and ensure there isn't going to be a drought of one ingredient? Another issue Mark Jacobs, president, J.R. Watkins, expressed is what does sustainability mean, as every one defines it differently? Gordon Chalmers, co-founder and COO of Jasmin Skincare said a challenge he struggles with is shelf-life and pricing—a two- to three-year shelf-life and a low price point are hard demands to meet. He said the company is working with green plastic companies, but they have a long way to go. Another issue facing sustainable cosmetic packaging is, well … it's not attractive, Boldjarre Koronczay, CEO, Eminence Organics noted. 

Wendy McLain of PCC Natural Market said the lack of national standards for natural and organic cosmetics puts the onus on retailers to educate consumers. The natural food retailer uses newsletters, in-store sampling and merchandising techniques to inform consumers about its natural cosmetics range. Jacobs highlighted the company’s strategy of multi-channel distribution to expand its consumer base.

The Sustainable Packaging session explored the various options available to cosmetic companies looking at environmentally friendly packaging. In the opening paper, Intertek stressed the magnitude of the packaging problem by stating it comprises a third of landfill waste. Proceeding papers covered the importance of eco-design in reducing packaging impact, innovations in recycled packaging, the potential of bio-plastics and novel packaging materials.

The session ended with case studies of companies adopting sustainable packaging solutions. Procter & Gamble showed how it is switching to environmentally friendly materials for its Pantene shampoos and Gillette outer packs.