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Are we approaching sustainability in the wrong way?

By Andrew McDougall+

22-Oct-2013
Last updated on 22-Oct-2013 at 12:22 GMT2013-10-22T12:22:17Z

Industry experts discuss sustainability at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Paris
Industry experts discuss sustainability at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Paris

Call it a buzzword, call it a trend, call it a responsibility. Sustainability has long been at the forefront of consumer goods markets; but now a number of cosmetics industry professionals are questioning whether it is being approached from the right angle.

The discussion began at the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Paris on Monday, when a room full of experts spoke about the sustainability metrics in place and the challenges and opportunities available at present.

Amarjit Sahota, president of event organiser Organic Monitor, reflected on a morning looking into sustainability initiatives and how brands can be helped on their green journey; and suggests that maybe consumers do not know enough about the issues at hand, and that companies alone cannot solve the problems themselves.

Challenge

“The challenge here is that we can do all these good practices to be sustainable and reduce our carbon and water footprints, but we need to communicate this effectively to the consumer,” he said.

This led several delegates at the conference to question whether the approach is all wrong and is actually hindering progress.

“We have a fight on our hands,” announced Chris Kilham, Naturex Sustainability Ambassador, who gave the keynote speech at the start of the day.

“There are companies in every industry that are calling themselves green, many times when they are not, and this is confusing the consumer,” he continues.

“If everyone, even non-sustainable companies, are calling themselves ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ then we are sending out the wrong message, confusing people, and ultimately the consumer will become disillusioned over the concept.”

Time for honesty

Perhaps it is time for industry to be honest with itself and consider the idea that it may have been embarking on the wrong path when it comes to sustainability.

Somewhere along the lines, the idea of doing good for the earth has got lost and we may just be doing good for ourselves.

That is not to discount the work being done by cosmetics brands in making their processes more sustainable, but more focus may need to be directed at the consumer and how to best educate them on sustainability, given that almost six tenths of the emissions comes from consumer's use of products, rather than from production.

Consumers need to understand the values of minimising waste, reducing water, and recycling, as well as being educated as to the other issues surrounding sustainability to ensure the right things are being done.

“Sometimes, in this aspect, competition is not helping,” adds Kurt Nϋbling, CEO and co-founder of Primavera.

“We need to work together to educate people. We cannot say we are being more sustainable than our rivals all the time; it misses the point and does not help.”

The time is now

Nϋbling stresses that going forward the cosmetics industry needs to make sure that it only practices ‘honest marketing’ too, as this is key to communicating sustainability issues effectively.

“Consumers do not appreciate being lied to – they will understand if we explain,” he ends.

Of course there are some great examples of sustainable initiatives and practices taking place in the cosmetics market by many brands, but now may be the time to reflect, analyse and strategize as to what the next step is for a greener future.

The cosmetics industry often takes influence from the food side when it comes to formulation and packaging, yet is still behind when it comes to the sustainability conversation; maybe now is the time to do something about it.

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