The Sustainability Committee of the French-American Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco recently delved into the sustainable trends shaping the future of cosmetics with an insightful panel discussion facilitated by beauty industry leaders at the forefront of the sustainable beauty movement. The panelists shared what’s on the green beauty horizon, highlighting key challenges, opportunities, and effective practices for advancing sustainability within the industry.

The beauty industry has an enormous impact on the planet. With an estimated 120 billion units of packaging produced every year, including plastic bottles, jars, tubes, and other containers that end up most of the time in landfills, the beauty industry is a major contributor to the global plastic waste crisis, explained Chloé Soroquère, Co-Chair of the FACCSF Sustainability Committee.

Thankfully, a growing “Sustainable Beauty” movement advocating more sustainable practices is making great strides in reducing the industry’s environmental footprint. From ingredient sourcing, packaging development, product transportation, store operations, to product end of life and waste management, sustainability touches every aspect of the product lifestyle.

With 62 percent of consumers saying that it is even more important to them than it was two years ago, the consumer demand for more sustainable products is stronger than ever. In the beauty industry specifically, 67% of consumers seek out sustainable beauty products, with 76% intending to shop more with retailers offering environmentally friendly products and services.

How are brands, manufacturers and retailers responding to these trends?

Ethical Sourcing 

According to our panel, brands are increasingly prioritizing the ethical sourcing of ingredients to meet the consumer demand for transparency and accountability. Ethical sourcing ensures that ingredients are obtained with fair labor and environmentally-friendly practices. This requires partnering with suppliers who adhere to stringent standards regarding worker rights, wages, and working conditions, and who prioritize environmental sustainability by sourcing ingredients responsibly, minimizing deforestation, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Sustainability assessments provided by companies like EcoVadis help brands assess their suppliers’ sustainability efforts through a range of tools. By evaluating supplier performance across environmental, social, and ethical criteria, brands can identify areas for improvement and collaborate with suppliers to achieve shared sustainability goals. With the Responsible Beauty Initiative, EcoVadis is coordinating an industry-wide collaborative effort to achieve greater sustainability in procurement.

“Beauty brands can leverage sustainability intelligence in their business decisions wherever they stand on their sustainability journey to understand and manage their ESG risks and engage with suppliers to improve sustainability practices.”, noted Heather Walker, Account Manager at EcoVadis.

In a crowded beauty marketplace filled with so many sustainability claims and growing risks of “green-washing”, it can be difficult for consumers to distinguish genuinely ethical companies. 

“Some globally-recognized certifications (including EcoCert, COSMOS, Leaping Bunny, Forest Stewardship Council) require companies to meet specific criteria, providing more clarity and helping consumers navigate the complex environment surrounding sustainability claims.”, explained Claude Dardant, COO of Autajon.


Alternative Packagings

“An increasing number of brands are committed to finding sustainable packaging solutions, beyond the traditional plastics, such as the use of alternative materials like aluminum and glass, which have much higher recycling rates than plastic”, noted Christophe Cammareri, SVP of Operations and Sustainability at Kendo Brands.

”In addition to being lightweight, we found in one of our independent tests that our full aluminum lipsticks were recycled at about a seventy to eighty percent recycling rate, which is probably the largest out of all materials. So we really love to place those alternative materials in our client’s packaging solutions.”, added Jerome Fraillon, President of Alder Packaging.

Some brands also use post-consumer resin (PCR) in product packaging. PCR plastics are the recycled materials from existing PET bottles and other plastics.These materials are recycled into other packaging materials through community recycling programs, providing an environmentally-friendly packaging option for brands to reduce their impact on landfills. 

“PCR is a fairly low hanging fruit for brands, which is easier to use on the outer shell of product packaging, which is not directly touching the product formula. When PCR is considered for the part of the primary packaging touching the formula, then more regulations come into play and certified versions of PCR approved by the FDA in the US are available for procurement”, added Jerome Fraillon.

Refillable packaging has also emerged as another promising sustainability initiative within the beauty industry, allowing consumers to replenish their favorite beauty products without discarding the entire packaging. 

“Fenty by Rihanna has explored refillable packaging for one of its bestselling skincare products and experienced considerable success with 200,000 refill units sold worldwide, significantly reducing the use of single-use containers”, explained Christophe Cammareri.


Returnable Packaging 

Also highlighted by the panel as a best practice in the industry, Sephora and Ulta’s “Beauty Repurposed” program, in collaboration with Pact, offers a solution to the challenges of cosmetic packaging recycling and addresses end-of-life packaging waste, based on the fact that despite efforts to produce recyclable packaging, many products still end up in landfills due to inadequate sorting processes. 

The “Beauty Repurposed” initiative provides consumers with designated recycling bins in stores for their beauty product packaging, ensuring proper disposal at the end of its life cycle. Pact, leveraging its expertise in the beauty and personal care industry, breaks down these materials for recycling, allowing them to be repurposed into new products. Additionally, brands are working with Pact to purchase recycled materials, facilitating the creation of more sustainable products. This program not only addresses the issue of cosmetic packaging waste but also encourages retailers and consumers to actively participate in sustainable practices.


Regionalization 

“The regionalization of production and assembly is another strategy that helps brands reduce transportation-related emissions, a practice which is more accessible to large companies that have reached a critical size and can afford to decentralize their operations.” explains Jerome Fraillon.

With two thirds of carbon emissions coming from companies’ supply chains and 30-50% of emissions coming directly from transportation, regionalizing the production of formulation and packaging and the assembly of products can significantly improve the sustainability of supply chain operations.

Localization of sourcing appears as another opportunity, with a trend towards sourcing materials locally to reduce carbon footprints associated with transportation. However, this must be balanced with other factors such as performance and efficacy of products, warns Christophe Cammareri.


Personalization
 

An innovative concept developed by LipLab offers a personalized lip product experience allowing customers to create their own bespoke lipstick by choosing the shade, texture, finish, scent and packaging of their lipstick and to have the product produced on-site in front of them. 

“This high level of personalization and localized production not only minimizes waste by ensuring customer satisfaction but also reduces supply chain costs.” explains Christophe Cammareri.


Digital Sustainability

Brands also have to consider their digital footprint, in addition to their physical footprint, and how they can reduce it or compensate for it. Strategies are being implemented to design digital platforms that consume less energy for example.

Influencer-driven trends going viral on such platforms as TikTok often drive consumers to impulse and excessive buying leading to product waste, so that’s another consideration for brands.

On the other hand, some digital tools such as AR to virtually try on products reduces the need for physical samples, thereby reducing the brand’s carbon footprint.

Another strategy consists in making sampling optional (and not automatic) to customers through opt-in at checkout during their online purchase as another way to reduce packaging waste from sampling.

 

Balancing Costs

Sustainability is undeniably putting a certain amount of financial pressure on brands especially in the short term, as brands often need to bear higher costs of sustainable materials to lower their carbon footprint while maintaining the brand identity and high performance and efficacy standards. But in the long term the benefits of investing in sustainability are extremely high, both environmentally and economically.

Brands can also balance out their costs, when they source and produce locally, which eliminates duties and reduces freight. To some extent consumers are sometimes willing to pay slightly more knowing the product is designed more sustainably.

“With the demand for such materials as PCR significantly increasing, costs will gradually go down and sustainable materials will become more widely available in a few years, reducing the financial pressure on both the brands and the consumers” added in conclusion Claude Dardant, providing a more optimistic picture of the future sustainable beauty landscape.

 

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