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Special Interview

Weleda executives explain green challenges and plans

By Guy Montague-Jones , 27-Sep-2007

Growing concern about global warming and ecological issues is prompting consumers to seek out cosmetics that are both natural and environmentally-friendly. CosmeticsDesign.com spoke to Weleda executives to explore the challenges that the emerging trend presents.

Demand for environmentally-friendly products is increasing and the cosmetics industry is feeling the pressure to reform. "As customers become more conscious of environmental issues and the impact that each of us can make - for better or worse - companies are being forced to answer to these consumers," said Weleda Naturals' CEO Bas Schneiders. As one of the largest manufacturers of natural beauty products, Weleda is likely to be particularly affected by consumer concern for the planet. Mintel analyst Nica Lewis told CosmeticsDesign.com that the environment is a significant issue for manufacturers of natural products such as Weleda because their consumers are more likely to be ethical shoppers. Weleda's environmental manager Holger Biller said the company is working to become carbon neutral by reducing emissions and offsetting the carbon dioxide it produces. "Carbon neutral production is possible. We have just completed out initial feasibility study to see how we can become carbon neutral," said Biller. "Our next step is to reduce our emissions by using additional renewable energy sources and by offsetting those emissions that cannot be entirely avoided." Weleda is planning capital investments, including a new production plant in Germany, which will become operational in the next few years. These developments will help the company build on the steps it has already taken towards carbon neutral production. "We have already established a water recycling programme in which the water from our production is used to water our gardens," said Biller. "Additionally, our new production facilities feature solar paneling for energy supply." He added: "All production sites are certified by ISO-14001, the international environmental management system, and those in Germany and Switzerland are also compliant with the EMAS environmental management system." Being environmentally friendly is not just about reducing carbon emissions. The replacement of synthetic ingredients with natural ones is posing sustainability issues for manufacturers of natural products. The popularity of exotic and scarce ingredients is exacerbating the problem. Palm oil, a widely used ingredient, hit the headlines recently as conservationists warned that its use is contributing to deforestation and putting the future of the orangutan at risk. "Weleda was among the first companies convert to a sustainable organic certified source for our palm oil," said Bas Scheneiders. He said Weleda follows the same renewable sourcing standards for other ingredients and advised other cosmetics companies to pursue similar sustainable projects. Pursing a green agenda and using natural ingredients poses significant cost related problems for cosmetics companies. "Being environmentally conscious and focusing on quality ingredients always has an effect on pricing," said Schneiders. "In our case, because we are working with such high ingredient quality and social standards we must pay more for our raw materials. He added: "We must also invest in capital to improve carbon emissions and initiate other environmental sustainability efforts." The company head believes that these measures will not only support the environment, but also improve economic efficiency in the long run. In the short run, Schneiders pointed out that the company was able to make savings and remain price competitive by investing far less in sales and marketing than its non-natural rivals. Another problem that cosmetics companies face is the unpredictable supply and pricing of natural ingredients. Rising demand, relative scarcity and weather conditions all conspire to create supply problems. Schneiders said: "We regularly suffer from price and supply problems. This is also why, however, we have a multi-channel sourcing strategy, in which we partner with multiple suppliers to meet our needs." He said Weleda has many farmers to source ingredients from but the company also seeks to establish close relationships with suppliers in order to influence the quality of raw materials and help ensure stable prices.

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