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Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Highlights Need for Positive Change 02.11.10

Practical sustainability initiatives for the beauty industry were extensively discussed at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit which came to a successful close in Paris at the end of October. Held at the Paris Marriott Champs-Elysées hotel, the summit was organised by Organic Monitor and brought together 180 senior executives from 26 countries. Source:Organic Monitor

Practical approaches to lower environmental and social impacts were the central theme of the 3-day summit, with several speakers calling for positive action from the beauty industry. Professor Dr. Michael Braungart, one of the featured speakers, challenged beauty companies to be more positive rather than lessening their guilt. ‘The discussion should be about having positive impacts, not reducing negative impacts’, according to the founder of the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) design approach. By drawing examples from the beverage industry, he showed how pioneering companies were becoming carbon positive, rather than just carbon neutral. He stated there was a concern that too many beauty companies were considering sustainability because of guilt, rather than a genuine desire to change.

The need for positive change was also iterated by Jean-Yves Berthon in his opening address. The founder of Greentech urged cosmetic companies to develop ethical relationships when sourcing raw materials. He suggested more education and knowledge sharing between companies to support the environment and social communities in developing countries. Alexis Kryceve, co-founder of Pur Planet, further stressed the importance of ethical sourcing in his paper on carbon offsetting. Kryceve stated ingredient sourcing has a direct impact on climate change since deforestation is responsible for 20% of carbon emissions that cause global warming. He endorsed fair trade as it encourages farmers to continue agricultural practices, thus mitigating carbon emissions.

Speakers in the opening session highlighted various sustainability initiatives for cosmetic and ingredient companies. Rainer Plum from the New Ethics Institute showed how CSR and sustainability were increasingly converging in the beauty industry. Filipe Sabara from Beraca shared his experiences in implementing sustainability programmes for cosmetic ingredients. The Brazilian company is spearheading various social and ecological projects in the Amazon. Another paper by the Union for Ethical BioTrade provided latest findings from its Biodiversity Barometer, highlighting the rise of biodiversity in the corporate agenda.

An update of the leading European standards for natural & organic cosmetics was given in the Green Formulations session. Valerie Lemaire from Ecocert introduced the new labelling scheme for the harmonised Cosmos standard. New logos for Cosmos-Organic and Cosmos-Natural are in the pipeline, enabling consumers to clearly identify certified products. Julie Tyrrell gave an update on the NaTrue standard, including how the NaTrue label can be used by consumers to download ecological and ethical information from the internet.

Some of the major technical & formulation issues associated with natural & organic cosmetics were also covered in the second session. A review was undertaken of the various emulsifier and surfactant systems for natural & organic products. The International Fragrance Association and CPL Aromas looked at the sustainability issues concerning natural and organic fragrances. David Reccole, founder of Couleur Caramel, went through the pitfalls of developing certified organic colour cosmetics.

Ido Leffler, co-founder of Yes To Carrots, opened the second day of the summit with his key note ‘Going Beyond Naturals and Product Differentiation’. Amarjit Sahota, founder of Organic Monitor, stressed how marketing had come to the forefront in the increasingly competitive natural cosmetics market. According to Sahota, ‘the goalposts in the naturals arena were moving, with pioneering companies now focusing on CSR & sustainability’. Andrew Dixon from Burt’s Bees explained the sustainability ethos of Burt’s Bees, including a ‘Dumpster Dive’ day at the American company in which employees get involved in waste management.

Also in the Marketing & Distribution Innovations session, Whole Foods Market shared its experiences in selecting and marketing natural cosmetics. According to the global natural food retailer, product design and packaging footprint were key factors when selecting new personal care products. The importance of online retailing was covered by, outlining the pitfalls and challenges of this exciting new marketing channel. Other papers looked at distribution, social media and consumer behaviour.

Sustainable Packaging was the focus of the last session of the conference. Key speakers explored the gamut of sustainable packaging solutions available to beauty companies. Summit participants learned that cosmetic companies mainly focus on recycling and eco-design to lower their packaging footprint, whereas the take-up rate of bioplastics remains low. Case studies were given of companies with novel approaches to sustainable packaging. Aveda was commended for its sustainable approach to packaging. John Delfausse, Global Package Development of Estee Lauder Companies, stated that ‘environment was at the heart of every packaging decision for Aveda’. The US company is the largest user of Post Consumer Regrind (PCR) plastic in the beauty sector, saving over 1 million pounds (0.45 million metric tonnes) of virgin plastic a year. It is also one of the first beauty companies to adopt the C2C design approach.

The summit came to a close with 80 delegates attending two interactive workshops on 20th October. The workshops honed in on two key aspects of sustainability in the beauty industry: green formulations and packaging. Judi Beerling, head of Technical Research at Organic Monitor, explored the paraben-free preservative options available to cosmetic formulators. The second workshop, hosted by Material ConneXion, gave a practical guide to sustainable packaging.

Over the 3-day summit, a wide range of practical sustainability issues were covered by the summit. Although many best-practices were highlighted, the general consensus from speakers and delegates was that much remains to be done, especially in the areas of packaging and resource management. As declared by Mr. Sahota in the closing remarks, ‘the summit has shown that companies are taking steps in the right direction, however greater strides are required’.

One of the key learning of the summit was that positive impacts are often more rewarding and motivating then guilt management. As Professor Dr. Michael Braungart commented, ‘we should look to instill positive change in the cosmetics industry, and not feel guilty about consumption.’ The next edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit (New York, 12-14th May 2011) plans to further explore such issues.

About the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit

Organised by Organic Monitor, the aim of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit is to encourage sustainability in the beauty industry by bringing together key stake-holders and debate major sustainability issues in a high-level forum. The proceedings of the European summit (Paris, 18-20th October 2010) are available for a small professional fee. More information is available from

Peter Shield

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