A number of speakers suggested that consumer behaviour was becoming a major barrier to sustainable development of the cosmetics industry. Although operators are implementing a raft of sustainability initiatives, consumer education and recognition of such remains low. Furthermore, lack of consumer demand for green products and ingredients was discouraging brands to make greater commitments.
In its paper, the Union for Ethical BioTrade showed that awareness of biodiversity (and green issues) is rising in Asia. Over 70% of Chinese and Korean consumers state they are aware of such issues, however awareness was not translating into demand. Organic Monitor, organiser of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, stated that the Asia-Pacific comprises less then 10% of global green cosmetic sales. Furthermore, there remain many ethical questions about cosmetics in Asia. As well as the use of animal ingredients in cosmetics, animal-testing methods remain common.
Consumer awareness is also a major issue in Europe. L'Oreal said that it started giving environmental data on some products in accordance with the Grenelle law, however it was discouraged by despondent consumers. The multinational has decided to halt environmental product labelling because consumers could not relate to footprint data. With companies spending thousands of dollars on life-cycle analyses, panellists asked if it was worth it considering consumers showed little concern.
Lack of consumer awareness was also cited as a factor behind the low take-up rate of sustainable palm oil. Although the industry is calling for more sustainable production, demand is not keeping with supply: only half of RSPO palm oil is sold as sustainable palm oil. Higher consumer awareness of sourcing issues could put pressure on companies to ethically source the vegetable oil, especially in Asia where palm oil plantations are causing deforestation and air pollution.
Discussions also centred on marketing and consumer issues related to green cosmetics. According to Havas Media Group, 88% of European consumers are hungry for information about how cosmetic companies source natural ingredients. However, 45% of consumers believe natural & organic claims by cosmetic brands are not credible. The media agency called for brands to inspire consumers by communicating their sustainability efforts more effectively.