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Organic Standards – just how relevant are they?

By Andrew MCDOUGALL contact

- Last updated on GMT

Organic Standards – just how relevant are they?

Related tags: Personal care, Organic certification, Organic food

There has been much debate recently over the use of organic standards and what effect this has on the cosmetics and personal care industry, with some for and some against. Here we ask two experts to provide their view…

At the Scancos conference, held at the end of 2014, cosmetics chemist Colin Sanders and Organic Monitor director Amarjit Sahota both presented on the topic of organic certification, so CosmeticsDesign-Europe.com thought it would be good to get both their views on this topic.

On the one hand, Colin presented an argument that Organic Standards were merely a marketing exercise; however Amarjit says, despite agreeing with Colin that personal care companies should be green, especially if they are going to project a green image, he does not agree on this point and that standards have an important role to play.


"I don't think that the future for organic standards is particularly rosy,”​ Colin explains. “They haven't resonated with the public in the way that animal cruelty and fair trade accreditations have.”

“They also don't have really solid rationale, scientific or otherwise, which makes it hard to justify the restrictions in the standards,” ​he tells CosmeticsDesign-Europe.com.

However, Amarjit tells us that standards play an important role in giving legitimacy to brands making marketing claims, as only products that meet set standards for natural/ organic products can get certified, which strengthens consumer confidence and sets a level playing field for green brands.

“The importance of certification was affirmed by a research study we did in 2014 in which we interviewed buyers of natural & organic personal care products in the UK,”​ explains the Organic Monitor boss.

“Almost half (45%) of UK shoppers said they look for natural & organic symbols and logos when buying these products. Furthermore, research we recently did on the European market showed that about 60% of natural & organic personal care products are certified.”

Questioning standards

Sanders’ response on the question of the public is to agree that people are very keen on natural and environmentally friendly products, but he says the average member of the public doesn't understand the connection to organic accreditation.  “Frankly, I don't think anyone else does either," ​he adds.

Colin also says that by having an organic standard in place, it places restrictions on what ingredients can be used and that the products may not perform as well.

“It is like trying to write a poem with a rule that prevents you from using the letter p - yes you can do it but the results are not as good as using the full alphabet,”​ he says.

The worry here, he says, is that people are quite likely to begin associating the accreditation label with poor performance and will start avoiding them.

“If we really want to project a green image the best approach is to actually act in a way that really is green. If you do that, you’ll generate a lot more interesting stuff for your marketing people to talk about,”​ adds Sanders.

‘Important role’

This is not what Sahota believes with regards to the standards as some of the leading brands have been advocates of these standards whilst being very green in their actions.

“Standards play an important role in the natural & organic personal care industry. Furthermore, many of the brands that are leading in terms of adopting standards are some of the greenest personal care firm,” ​Amarjit says, giving Weleda, Neals Yard Remedies and Burt's Bees as examples.

He says that one of the problems is the amount of greenwashing that goes on in the personal care industry, with many brands making green marketing claims.

“Many brands use green imagery on product packs and labels to suggest their products are natural, whilst their formulations are conventional. Some have gone further and made organic claims, whilst their formulations are conventional (with some organic essential oils or ingredients),”​ he says.

“The high level of greenwashing has led to a number of lawsuits and legal cases in which brands have been prosecuted and found guilty of making false claims. There have been a number of such instances in the UK (e.g. Sanex Zero), USA (e.g. Avalon Organics), as well as other countries.”

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