Sustainability… blah, blah, blah!

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cosmetics Sustainability

The issue of sustainability seems to have gone in to overdrive for the cosmetics industry in recent years, but are businesses running before they can walk?

Take a look at any of the conference programmes for the up and coming major industry events planned for the rest of this year and there is one clear theme that pervades.

No prizes for guessing that sustainability is the dominating theme, whether it be the sourcing of ingredients from renewable sources, green packaging or the ethical trading of products.

In the past couple of years sustainability has developed from a backburner issue to a fully fledged major component of any new business plan.

That this issue is of vital importance to the way the industry should be doing business in the future, there is no question.

The simple truth is that if we carry on conducting business (and manufacturing) in the same manner as the past few decades, we will be facing a severe shortage of resources, not to mention an even bleaker outlook for the environment.

Questioning industry's approach to sustainability

However, the way the industry goes about embracing the issue of sustainability can also be bought to question. Although every little measure counts for the good, a cohesive, well planned and co-ordinated approach needs to be adopted to reap maximum benefits and ensure that it is effective.

This rule applies to both individual companies within the supply chain, brand owners and the industry as a whole, although the latter is infinitely more complicated to bring together.

Right now the sustainability movement is in its infancy. Some companies have got their strategies right, some companies have got it wrong, others have simply adopted a wait and see approach.

For those that have taken the plunge, the vast majority of companies have decided to scream their sustainability message from the hill tops, and, not wanting to be left out, the competition is keen to get on board and do the same thing.

Panic to get sustainability message out there

In the resulting panic, companies have been harking on about whichever sustainability message they see fit to communicate, but with the increasing number of such campaigns, the message is either getting diluted or just failing to hit the right spot.

One particular example of not being on target is the industry’s focus on formulation. Time and time again, companies have chosen to focus on sustainable ingredients and formulation to stress their green credentials.

Most companies have decided that the best way to connect with the consumer is to make the product formulation as eco-friendly and environmentally sound as possible, in the belief that this is the best way to connect with the consumer.

However, besides the fact that consumers are starting to suffer from overkill, there is also the fact that, as part of the global sustainability equation for personal care and cosmetics products, it is actually not the most important issue.

Packaging being overlooked in the sustainablity equation

Only last week natural and organic market researcher Organic Monitor pointed to a glaring issue that is constantly overlooked by cosmetic and personal care manufacturers.

The point it made is that the packaging for the majority of cosmetic and personal care products invariably has the highest impact on the overall carbon footprint, a startling fact that suggests many companies are either misguided or simply do not have their priorities in order.

Although this underlines the fact that packaging is clearly a very important part of the sustainability equation and should not be overlooked, it also stresses the point that sometimes businesses have to take one step back to bring crucial perspective to this evolving but increasingly important aspect of the business.

From this the message is simple. Consider the broader picture : think about what is best for the consumer, what is best for your company and ultimately how best your efforts can serve the sustainability equation.

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1 comment

Where is the data?

Posted by Heidi Graham,

In a comprehensive study conducted by Gary Parker, Sustainability Director at Ciba Expert Services, Packaging was NOT the major culprit, rather, Transport & Energy use far outweighed Packaging in terms of carbon footprint. We need to be careful about making grand assumptions about packaging's impact. It's the most visible to consumers, but it is not at all the worst offender.

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