Changing the Face of the Beauty industry by Sustainable Development

Dr. K. Huettner, Chief Editor of

The European edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, a 2-day conference, organised by Organic Monitor took place in Paris on 21-23 October. It covered major advances in green materials, sustainability metrics, ethical labels, and digital marketing. 110 participants out of the professional world of cosmetics industry joined the event to learn more about the current affair of green cosmetics business.

The aim of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit was to encourage sustainability in the beauty industry by bringing together key stake-holders and debate major industry issues in a high-level forum. Hosted at Paris Marriott Champs Elysees, the summit gave an opportunity to receive an update on the diverse range of green ingredients used in personal care formulations. Featured speakers included major decision-makers in the beauty industry e.g. CEOs & founders, directors, buyers and other senior executives from leading firms. An interactive workshop, that took place on the day before the conference, focused on green surfactants and emulsifiers.

Sustainable metrics

Sustainability Metrics – that is quantifying product footprints, carbon neutral and metrics case studies, packaging impacts, retailers’ perspectives, etc. Showing us, how the practical use of sustainability metrics can help brands on the green journey.

A leading Canadian environmentalist and author kicks off the summit with a keynote on the importance of safe cosmetics for sustainability: Bruce LOURIE, co-author of Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World and Slow Death by Rubber Duck made an important statement: environmental pollution as it used to be got a lot better in Western countries, but now the risks come from plastics and chemical in our daily environment. They made metrical experiments to demonstrate how quick and how much we get chemicals into our bodies. They measured before and after usage of products containing crititcal chemicals (like Triclosan, Bisphenol A and others) over a certain period, and it could be proven, that Triclosan, for instance, can be measured in our body quickly. The good news is that after usage stops, figures quickly went down again. He stated that special attention must be paid to the chemicals that mimic hormones and act as endocrine disruptors. For example BPA acts like oestrogen, which can have measurably affects like breast cancer or changed ratio male / female. In particular it is worrying that very small amounts can be very harmful at a particular time in the development of children. So if this happens on large scale, this can have effects on an entire generation. He urges industry to go for market transformation to get away from such harmful substances and action. A start is made, by having convinced such companies as Avon or Revlon to stop using Triclosan.

Amarjit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor and organiser of the conference adds that P&G and L’ Oreal, too, have tried to reduce negative environmental impacts. It is important to actually measure ecological impact. So important metrics are e.g. carbon footprints, energy input, output of emissions, waste and packaging. According to the idea,” …what gets measured gets done.”

Greening up Yves Rocher

A highlight was the presentation of Claude Fromageot from Groupe Rocher, of the famous vegetale (Растительной)-cosmetics producer Yves Rocher, telling us about their CSR (Corporate social Responsibility), their sustainable achievement and long term strategic ambitions. They have a sustainable department and steering tool, coordinating 31 countries, 71 sites and 400 indicators. Already now YR is concerned about respectful supply chain, decrease of paper consumption and improvement of product packaging (eco design e.g. new eco tube with 25% less plastic). Of course energy management (use more renewable energy and energy efficiency – 2020 Objective: -20% less energy per finished product vs. 2010), and reducing waste (material, water – 94% waste of the Groupe are reused or recycled in 2014 etc.) are important issues. They even organise an annual "green day" on all industrial sites, and organise special trainings for the employers. As it looks YR is quite actively involved in sustainable action, but so far they have not talked about it too much. But they start communicating it more now.

Of course there were questions from the site of the audience, because YR is none as a producer of only “inspired by natural” cosmetics. Fromageau confirmed that the turnover of their certified eco line is very small with regard to the rest of their assortment. They are not positioning themselves as natural cosmetics company. But seemingly they are eliminating at least the most harmful substances as ingredients out of their products.

Chemical company going sustainable

In the same line is the presentation of Stephane Lacoutiere, Head of Strategic Marketing SkinCare, BASF PERSONAL CARE. BASF claims that they "create chemicals for a sustainable future to improve quality of life.” They confirm that there is a shift to more environmental needs and BASF is trying to move accordingly to more sustainability through “Sustainable solution steering”. So they analyse the overall company situation set metrical goals and try to implement these goals. Indeed their eco-friendly ingredients increase, e.g. in surfactants and others. Also they try to improve ecological purchasing of raw material (e.g. sustainable sourcing of palm kernel oil) – a sophisticated target! So supposedly they try "to steer their entire portfolio towards more sustainable supporting of customers’ needs!" It will be interesting to observe how BASF will to move towards sustainability. Of course this would mean to eliminate products out of their assortment and be very strict about palm kernel oil production (200.000 to of palm kernel is bought by BASF every year). Already now there is not enough RSPO palm kernel oil available. However, the path is not an easy one: for example when BASF tried to sell more sustainable surfactants it was a failure because it was too expensive. If BASF would meet this challenge convincingly, that would surely be a step to a more sustainable future.

The British company NEAL’S YARD REMEDIES, an organic cosmetics firm , shared its experiences in becoming the first carbon retailer in the UK. Together with a consulting company called “Carbon Neutral” they analysed and found the right tools and measure the change. They measure energy use, waste and recycling, commuting (the way people get to work – they are paying bonus for coming to work by bicycle!), business travel, hotel stays, distribution of goods and many more. And the audience learns that washing hands with cold water safes a lot of energy, without making hands less clean. There were talks about it over the sink, while washing hands in the conference break …

The company is a very impressing example of how small changes really have large sustainable impacts! Of course they also have ethical and fair projects in Madagascar where they buy raw material and they try to collaborate with customers to increase their awareness for energy saving for example. One problem is the carbon footprint of suppliers -a question to be tackled at the future. Again it can be concluded, that we need a market transformation and reach the critical mass to really achieve a sustainable impact.

"Reducing Packaging Impacts" – is what we learn about from global leader of Bio polymer, Braskem from Brazil. Their major product is a green PE called I’m greenTM . a renewable replacement for regular PE, which is based on Brazilian sugarcane. It is recycable but not bio-degradable. The product which took a development time of three years actually has a negative carbon footprint. To improve the ecological backpack of the green PE it can be mixed with recycled other PE. Thus for example Ecover uses green PE in mix with 25% of recycled regular PE. Other famous brands to use the green PE (also in combination with reclycling PE) are Aveda and Shisheido.

By the way, did you know that an average adult uses 9 cosmetics products a day, which means that we are exposed to over 126 unique chemicals through personal care products? So it is a good idea to have as many safe and sustainable ingredients among them as possible. Various ingredients companies confirm that sustainability has become essential for the industry driven by consumers of Western markets!

The ingredients company Active Concepts explains about sustainable extraction of natural actives with the example of plant stem cells from pomegranate, acai or coconuts. In this process the plant stem cells are derived from the fruit only without having to harvest the entire plant. Dior, Guerlain and other famous companies use current plant stem cell extraction.

A comment from the audience was to look for stem cell extraction of that kind not only in exotic plans. For instance the ferulic acid could also be found in apples instead of acai. However, currently the market prefers exotic ingredients to locally grown ones, which is not really very sustainable!

Soap out of trees

No problem, as Chris Kilham, Medicine Hunter and Sustainability Ambassador, NATUREX explains to us. He is introduced as the Indiana Jones of natural medicin, as CNN called him. He presents to us an example of South American Quillaja saponaria tree, whose branches contain natural soap, out of which ¨Sapnov¨ a superior surfactant can be derived. The Amazonian rainforest has more in stock for us: The Dragons Blood tree supplies us with a ¨bloody latex¨ that can be used as a pharmaceutical drug. These and other examples show, that indeed there are much more sustainable alternative then just cutting down the rain forest and selling the wood.

That seaweed is a popular ingredient in cosmetics with a high consumer acceptance and growing global demand is a known fact. But seaweed is not necessarily a sustainable, pure, unpolluted and super effective ecological ingredient! Paul Garrott, of Marinova a supplier of eco-certified seaweed ingredients, enlightens us, that it can be contaminated with heavy metal, could come from very unsustainable industrial farming and that there are different seaweeds, some of them which could simply be contained in the cosmetic product as a gelling agent. So seaweed as a high quality and effective sustainable ingredient must be purchased with as much care and knowledge, as any other high quality raw material for sophisticated use in cosmetics production.

Eat the bead? /Eating micro plastics

There is growing pressure to remove polyethylene beads from cosmetic formulations because of their high environmental impact on marine eco-systems. Details were given on green alternatives to these exfoliation materials by Nathalie FAYOLLE, from ingredients company J. RETTENMAIER & SÖHNE. There are a lot of natural alternatives to Polyethylene beads, like rice powder, castor oil beads, jojoba and – the specialisation of Rettenmaier – cellulose beads, derived from sustainable production of mostly German pine or spruce trees (Ель). Inci for such alternatives are ¨cellulose¨ or microcrystalline cellulose. They are biodegradable and can be filtered out of waste water without any problems. Actually they are even edible… Considering, that we already now have a large pollution of microplastics in our seas, with considerable amount to be traced in fish, animals and even humans, there is no more excuse for any cosmetic player not to replace the microplastics with natural ingredients immediately.

Although the replacement of natural origin have a higher price in purchasing, the final consumer price would not go up to the same extent. So actually there is no need to continue the pollution by using micro plastics in such products as tooth paste, facial scrubs and shower gels. Of course replacing PE microbeads are only a small contribution to reduce plastic pollution in our seas, but a least a step that could easily be done quickly.

Green materials, that can also be Fair-Trade oils and butters. The oleochemistry company Sophim is a specialist for green emollients, their core business is vegetable squalene. The company’s formula is consistent: Ethical sourcing (Fair-Trade, social community projects, GMO-free, organic farming, etc.) + Green Chemistry (eco-friendly process, water recycling, re-use of by-products, low carbon footprint, no chemical additive, etc.) = Sustainable Ingredients (natural, responsible, eco-conscious, Sscial). The basic idea is to consider today in all company activity already the interest of future generations. We learn about their sourcing of shea butter from Africa, olive oil from Lebanon and argan Oil from Morocco.

Afterwards there was an important critical comment from the audience, a Moroccan expert, Jalal Charaf from Les Aromes du Maroc. He claimed that all the hype about supposedly fair argan oil production is mainly marketing and does not show the real picture: according to him the argan oil production in Morocco is in a bad condition, suffering from competition, price lowering and big players like a French company that is collecting all the fruit and processing in France! If that is true, the picture of course looks different. Could it be that all the pictures of small and happy women‘s cooperation of argan oil production is mainly a marketing matter of companies? This fact is certainly worth checking upon!

Interesting to see, how many companies are already trying to consider sustainability with sourcing cosmetics ingredients. As it looks the growing consumer interest in sustainability is stimulating the demand for ethical sourcing (e.g. fair trade), green chemistry and sustainable ingredients. So the appeal to producers is to add Fair-Trade certified ingredients to products, and thus join a global movement to protect the environment and improve lives for farmers and workers around the world. However, it is important that companies act accordingly and consistent, and that they are committed and really stick to it. Then these pioneer companies can inspire the rest of the industry by their sustainable action and products.

Too many labels

There are over 20 logos now representing natural & organic cosmetics in Europe! As well as the most popular natural & organic labels (NaTrue and COSMOS for example), there continue to be new labels that cover eco-friendly processes (e.g. Nordic Swan and EU Ecolabel), biodiversity, fair trade, and ethical practices (e.g. Vegan society, Cruelty Free, Halal). Fitting all the labels on the packaging is a real challenge to the marketing department, but here is a solution: just put a QR Code on the packaging leading to information about the labels of the product.

Transparency, control and labels are important for credibility of a brand and company. This is also confirmed by Peter Brändle, Regional Director Western Europe, stating that, yes, it is worth to take the pain to certify! Although it costs human and financial resources, as a large benefit controlled eco-labelling gives consumers orientation and differentiates against green washers. Weleda believes that due to that certifying will become more important in the future. Even for brands with such trust and popularity as Weleda.

Among the emerging Ethical Labels there are two noticeable ones: one is THE VEGAN SOCIETY label. There is a continuously growing trend for vegan lifestyle and cosmetics so the label becomes more and more popular: 625 companies and 18.000 products are registered worldwide. eg ‘Dr Bronners, Lush, Oriflame, Laverana and many other. But remember: vegan cosmetic does not mean that the product is necessarily natural or organic, nor does it say anything about the sustainability of the ingredients or the company behind it. For example, vegan cosmetic does not allow beeswax to protect bees, but they allow palm oil, which production does harm animals. Or it does allows paraffin or other chemicals which might end up in nature and harm animals there? So it is not easy to find answers to these questions…

Halal Cosmetics

Farhan TUFAIL, from HALAL CERTIFICATION SERVICES explains about the particularity of Halal certificate for cosmetics. Halal means “permissible”: things and actions allowed to Muslims according to religious regulation. Everything that is not forbidden is allowed. The opposite of “halal” (allowed), is "haram" that means forbidden”. What is not allowed for “halal” cosmetics: anything from pork, nothing in-toxic, so no ethanol (only small concentrations as solvent in some countries)! To a Muslims “halal” means pure, good safe, permissible – so quite a good connotation for cosmetics also! The amount of halal certified cosmetics is growing constantly. Considering that there are expectations that by 2050 40% of world population will be Muslim – the label might win popularity for cosmetics in the next decades.

Tom HORNSHØJ-MØLLER, R&D Manager, from Urtekram, Denmark, held an enlightening presentation about the daily challenge for a multi-certified company: they have changed labels a few times and have several certificates (Ecocert, vegan, cruelty free, fair trade, Nordic Ecolabel etc.) and thus a lot of experience. He shows how difficult formulation becomes if you have many difficult labels which sometimes have differing restrictions with regards to ingredients, different label regulations, new information coming out about ingredients etc.

Digital Marketing

The digital marketing session looked at the disruptive influence of mobile technology on the marketing of cosmetic products. How are mobile apps, social media, and m-commerce changing the relationship between brands and customers? What are the sustainability implications of these changing dynamics? Why, and how, should brands create their own communities? Why are communities becoming the new media?

Some answers we received from David Dewilde, Social Strategy Manager of French digital agency, DISKO. He tells the audience about future trend: longer content again, branded hashtags, “crowd- everything”, shared-economy, video (vine, instagram auto play, 16 second videos!) Did you know, that now already more videos are regarded in Facebook than at google/youtube? Users want to be active in the community, for example users were encouraged to redesign Starbucks cups. It is important to know the audience and prepare information for them in the right way. According to his opinion WhatsAp cannot be used successfully for b2b communication and recommends to use LinkedIn instead.

Achieving Success in the Digital Future

Richard STACY, Social Media Consultant, reminds us that “a revolution does not happen when society adopts new tools, but it happens when society adopts new behaviours.” So the rules of social media include a shift from audience to individual: consumers want to be treated individually. In the past advertisement was done for a particular audience in a large context. Now the consumer wants that brands create individual values for him! So, think about you customer as individuals. According to Stacy, it is not important which social media tool you choose, but operate in the community and create a community within the communities where your consumers are!

There are ready community platform tool like "get satisfaction" – which he thinks will be used broadly in the future. They help to enable you for quick response, open communication and transparency, give many ways to ask questions. There was an interesting picture explaining how big data and the word of algorithm works: do not focus on the needle in the hay but understand the hay! So knowing a lot about "everybody" (through Big Data) allows us to draw conclusion about the individual.


The leading UK e-tailer (= internet retailer) of natural cosmetics LOVE LULA (with four internet shops with different specialisation) gave insight into how it is capitalizing on e-commerce and m-commerce opportunities. The advantages of online retailing (personalised shopping experience or scalability – brands, information and customers) and its challenges (e.g. traffic, social media). The figures for online shopping go up constantly, so if you do the business right, there is a lot of potential, also in Russia.

Next Sustainable Cosmetics Summit will take place in Paris in November 2016. Do not miss it!

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