With the global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, questions are emerging about sustainability in the cosmetics industry and critics argue that natural and synthetic raw materials going into cosmetic products could be re-directed to other worthwhile applications.
Others question the role of beauty products in geographies where food poverty is rife and resources scarce. In the western world, life-cycle analysis shows that over 90 per cent of the environmental impact of many personal care products is at the consumer level.
Against this backdrop, the summit organizer believes the way forward is greater efficiency in the production and use of cosmetic and personal care products, as well as encouraging sustainable purchases. A major challenge however is changing consumer behaviour.
"A paper by Accenture showed that 72 per cent of consumers said they are ready to pay more for environmentally-friendly products, however just 17 per cent actually purchase such products. Other research presented at the summit stated just 19 per cent of American consumers are regular buyers of green products."
The cosmetic companies leading the way in reducing environmental footprint
A number of solutions to translate green consumer intent to action were proposed by speakers at the Summit in NY last month as was the growing use of green ingredients in cosmetic formulations also extensively discussed.
Global companies like Mibelle Biochemistry and IRB / Sederma gave details on how plant stem cell technology can be used to extract actives from plant materials while AkzoNobel showed how its zeta fraction technology can also be used as a sustainable alternative to traditional extraction methods.
Other papers highlighted the varying approaches companies have towards sustainability that revealed most as focusing on raw materials / formulations and business processes for efficiency, and often leaving the social aspects of sustainability neglected.
Mike Rohlfson from Heliae stated that marine algae could emerge as an important feedstock for cosmetic ingredients; unlike agricultural materials, algae are not susceptible to weather disruptions and poor harvests while P&G demonstrated how large companies can make a social difference; 5.5 billion liters has been provided by its safe drinking water program, saving thousands of lives in Asia and Africa.