The success of sustainability

Charlotte Hodgson, Via Media Ltd, 01 June 2011 09:30

in-cosmetics events, packed as they are with innovations, products and research often make it difficult to whittle down the information to a single defining trend. This year’s focus on sustainability, however, has been impossible to overlook. Not only was the Sustainability Gallery one of the most talked about features of in-cosmetics 2011, Euromonitor has also identified sustainability as a major selling point for companies hoping to achieve post-recession success. Many cosmetics firms are still grappling with sustainability issues, recognizing their importance but failing to make any real movement towards change. Major organizations such as L’Oréal, Aveda and Procter & Gamble have been identified as seriously addressing the issue, but other large companies must also accept their responsibility as market leaders and set a good example.

In the past, consumers have frequently assumed that product terms such as ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ also pertained to ideas of sustainability. Often, they have been mistaken! Palm oil, for example, is a natural product that’s present in roughly 70% of cosmetic and personal care products, but is not currently being developed or sourced in a sustainable way. In fact, quite the opposite is true; it’s part of an industry associated with deforestation, pollution and threats to endangered species. Sustainability discussions should not simply focus on reducing negative impacts to ease consumer and company guilt, but identify what can be done to create a positive impact. Though initiatives such as GreenPalm endeavour to provide a means for companies to ease the environmental and human costs associated with the beauty industry, those organizing them acknowledge that, alone, they are not a full and final solution. Mechanisms must still be implemented to allow sustainability to become an accepted and necessary part of the industry. Perhaps part of the problem is that ideas of ecofriendliness and sustainability are perceived by consumers to be at odds with the ‘high tech’ innovation that promises incredible results. Senior L’Oréal professionals insist that these demands are not mutually exclusive: the debunking of this false belief may lead to an even larger market for sustainably sourced products

There is a real chance to reduce the ecological and social footprints of the beauty industry. Manufacturers are exploring the potential of green chemical alternatives to synthetic chemicals, emulsifiers and fragrances, and the increasing prominence of ethical trade and sustainable sourcing has promoted the growth of sustainable supply chains. Most importantly, there is an impetus, from both within and without the industry, to undertake this challenge.

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