It can be simply defined as the evaluation of the future impact of cosmetic products presently developed, and not only the products but also the way they are being produced with ingredients which must be traced. With forceful market pressure and the irreversible shift toward naturality with sustainability, cosmetic companies must effectively answer the right questions if they seek growth in a very competitive and fast-paced market.
Sustainability Is a Must
With greater use of natural resources, numerous reports about its negative effects on the planet and communities, available information through social media and special mobile apps, there is growing knowledge and awareness from consumers about sustainability issues. This increase in their consciousness results in growing demand for product sustainability.
Recent surveys clearly highlight this situation: 68% of consumers indicate that product sustainability is important when making a purchase and 66% are willing to pay more for brands that are committed to positive social and environmental impact;1,2 86% of Gen Z and 84% of Millennial consumers say sustainability influences their purchase decision, 75% of Gen Z and Millennial consumers say they favor brands that offset their environmental impact.3 Consumers are demanding that the industry address their expectations for sustainable beauty products and be accountable for their product design and practices. The pressure to move in the direction of more sustainable patterns of production is greater than ever.4
Sustainability encompasses not only environmental, but also the social and economic aspects; i.e., the three pillars (Chart 2). It has a holistic approach on product lifecycle: starting with sourcing and extraction of ingredients, then formulation and manufacturing of finished products, packaging, distribution and finally ending with consumer use and post-consumer phase.
Today, more consumers care highly about environmental protection and social responsibility and they demand “truly greener” products, requiring a holistic approach from cosmetic manufacturers. It will be based on the whole lifecycle thinking and involving the three pillars of sustainability. Developing sustainable products and implementing sustainable practices allows companies to be successful, enhances brand reputation, boosts sales, creates savings and ultimately generates a positive return on investment. Then, they can keep investing and expanding sustainable practices in their process, promoting effective protection of the environment and driving social progress.5
Eco-sustainability Is Paramount
Eco-sustainability or eco-friendly products and practices minimize immediate and future environmental impact and is key in supporting the overall company sustainable development objective. While each phase of a cosmetic product lifecycle will affect its sustainability, a significant part of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the design stage, recognizing the importance of the ingredient sustainability aspects.6 Not harming the environment represents a key consideration when developing a new cosmetic ingredient.7 Its “eco-footprint” must be thoroughly studied and all eco-concerns addressed. It is important to “think green” at every step of the production chain, from sourcing the plant raw materials to manufacturing the plant extracts, addressing critical issues and questions; this “eco-conception approach” checks:
- Access to resources (seeds, fields, location);
- Responsible, ethical sourcing and biodiversity preservation (are the resources renewable?);
- Managing all steps of the supply chain with full traceability;
- How are the resources cultivated? What are the agriculture and collection practices?;
- How are resources handled once harvested (e.g. drying)?;
- How are resources stored? When is the best time to grind the plants?;
- How can energy consumption get reduced at the production level?; and
- Evaluate the impact of waste (raw materials, water, solvents, lab waste, etc.). Are the resources biodegradable/compostable?
Eco-conception is part of eco-responsibility and it helps reviewing all processes where each technological step is perfected resulting in lowering the global impact of the ingredient production process for the betterment of the planet:
- Energy consumption is monitored for low carbon footprint output;
- Water consumption is reduced;
- Waste management is organized; and
- Recycling (water, solvents, etc.) is part of the production process (implementation of the circular economy approach throughout the process).
For example, Alban Muller International uses a specific drying process called zeodration. In addition to preserving the quality of the actives in the extracts, its design addresses sustainability goals8 (Chart 3 and photo).
Eco-sustainable sourcing and manufacturing objectives in the production of natural plant extracts can be summarized in critical aspects and outcomes (Chart 4). For example, access to local resources is a win-win-win situation: for the company, it has a lower carbon footprint, offers better quality control, shortens delivery times and is Nagoya Protocol compliant; locally, it maintains the environment and fosters employment; and for the consumers, it brings authenticity and transparency.
Social and ethical responsibility is a key aspect of natural ingredient sustainability. It includes specific concerns about fair trade, traditional culture protection, community development programs, benefit sharing, fair wages and working conditions (safety in the workplace, inclusion, equal opportunities);9 e.g., it is important to use efficient, low impact solvents for the selective extraction of actives from plant raw materials, but also ensure the safety for the manufacturing teams. Social responsibility supports local economy, communities and jobs. Today, with the coronavirus disruption, there are more concerns about refocusing on local farming, creating local jobs and local products which are easily available.
Transparency & Certifications
Full traceability and transparency are paramount in sustainable beauty. Consumer expectations for greater transparency and disclosure around the products they buy and the companies that make them is an important market dynamic; 73% of consumers say transparency is valuable to them. This includes information about product ingredients—how they are sourced, where they are made, and by whom.1 In the absence of regulatory definitions, certifications and awards are critical in greenwashing prevention. They are crucial proofs to communicate the producing company values and commitment to consumers, and that they can trust. Well-recognized certifications include Cosmos Standard10 (COSMetics Organic and Natural Standard) for Naturals, EcoVadis platform that assesses the company social and environmental performance (Corporate Social Responsibility—CSR).
Sustainability of natural ingredients and finished products is a matter of expertise and experts with many in-depth details demanding a complete control of the supply chain from the seed to the skin; i.e., of sourcing from the seed to the field and harvested plants, then of the manufacturing process from the plants to the extracts, and up to the production of cosmetics. With the fast pace of change driven by compelling consumer demand for naturals and the accompanying shift toward sustainable beauty products, companies must adapt extensively to stay ahead. Natural beauty activism with a holistic approach leads to excellence for consumers by managing eco-concerns from seed to skin to foster green, clean and efficient phyto-cosmetics.
1 Creating a more beautiful world – Sustainability report. Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) 2019
2 Sustainability is critical for consumer brands. CGS retail and sustainability survey, 2019
3 Unlocking loyalty among Gen Z and Millennials. GCI, April 2020
4 Bom S., Ribeiro H.M., Marto J. Embracing sustainability. Important practices and impact in cosmetics. Cosmetics & Toiletries Vol. 135 No. 3, 40-47, March 2020
5 Good sustainability practice for the cosmetics industry. Cosmetics Europe, 2012
6 Environmental sustainability report. Cosmetics Europe, 2019
7 Mellou F., Varvaresou A., Papageorgiou S. Renewable sources: applications in personal care formulations. Int. J. of Cosmetic Science 41, 517-525, 2019
8 Jeanneau A. Cosme-Phytami New generation of plant actives for efficient and natural cosmetics. Euro Cosmetics, 38-40, Oct. 2016
9 Kilham C. Sustainability and sourcing conditions for novel beauty ingredients. Natural Product Insider, Sept. 2016
10 Cosmetics Organic and Natural Standard v3.1, June 2020