Established in 2017, Provenance offered businesses a plethora of substantiated sustainability impact claims via 50+ ‘proof points’ displayed as smart symbols or ‘digital badges’ online that linked back to quantified evidence and verification on the claim. Under its open-source Provenance Framework, brands were able to back up a range of green claims, including ‘recyclable packaging’, ‘supports diversity’ and ‘net zero, and provide evidence on third-party certifications like Cradle-to-Cradle, COSMOS, FSC-Certified and Cruelty-Free, among others.
Whilst Provenance initially launched to offer sustainability transparency to the food industry, it had more recently expanded into beauty and personal care – a category primed for a green revolution, according to Jessi Baker, founder and CEO of Provenance.
“I think the demand for transparency on sourcing and impact has been greatest in food; it’s certainly what we’ve seen, so it was a natural place to start with Provenance (…) We only started working in beauty 18 months or so ago, but that’s growing really, really quickly,” Baker told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.
“It was quite a novel concept at the beginning, and it took a while for people to get their head around the fact ‘farm to table’ might actually apply to the beauty industry, but we’ve been really surprised by the interest,” she said.
100+ beauty brands and Cult Beauty partnership
Provenance was currently working with just over 100 beauty companies, including Unilever with its REN brand, though the majority were smaller indie beauty brands like US perfumer Sana Jardin and natural skin care specialist Vintner’s Daughter.
Provenance had also forged an important partnership with online retailer Cult Beauty, starting as a pilot project in 2019, that had “introduced” many beauty brands to the Provenance Framework, according to Baker.
“The early-adopters [with Provenance] were the smaller, independent beauty brands which have an ingredient or sustainability story at their core. But I think Charlotte Tilbury is part of the initiative with Cult Beauty, and that’s a massive brand,” she said.
“The beauty brands that are putting the work in and are founded with a sense of impact at their core or have top-level ingredient sourcing totally get it, because they’re losing in the market to those making similar claims without doing the work. I think they see Provenance as an ally to get rid of the false claims and to make sure the hard work they are doing doesn’t get overshadowed,” Baker said.
Sustainable beauty – ‘it’s complicated; it’s like taking your clothes off’
What was interesting about the beauty industry, she said, was that the extent of sustainability efforts were often not widely publicised.
“There’s a lot of beauty brands that know a surprising amount but because they don’t know everything, they’re not being as transparent as they could be. Some beauty brands own farms, production, but they don’t talk about it at all,” she said.
This lack of communication was particularly common amongst luxury beauty brands, she said, perhaps because of entrenched traditions that the consumer should simply trust brands were “doing the right thing”.
“They just don’t talk about it; I think they’re massively missing a trick. Branding is changing. We don’t just believe labels. For me, the future of branding is glass boxes – seeing right in and knowing the values of that brand match your own. There’s a mentality change, consumers are going through that mentality change, but also for brand managers and those who are guardians of the brand.”
“It’s complicated; it’s like taking your clothes off in public. And a lot [of beauty brands] are waiting for perfection which could be an error,” she said.
Baker said there were so many aspects of a business brands could easily be transparent on, from the ownership or structure of a company to what sort of long-standing supplier relationships they had in place.
Green beauty progress? ‘I’ve been quite encouraged’
So, after just 18 months working in the realms of beauty, did a future of transparent sustainability communication look promising? “I think so. I’ve been quite encouraged,” said Baker.
“There are a number of beauty brands that are now B-Corps. There are brands that realise this is happening and are responding to a customer base (…) And if you look at other industries, food for example, it has happened. I think the question [for beauty] is time, rather than whether it will happen or not,” she said.
For beauty businesses, recyclability of packaging remained a key challenge to address, she said, along with overall carbon footprint and labour issues throughout global supply chains. Cruelty-free also remained a hot topic amongst consumers, she said.
Moving forward, Baker said there was plenty beauty could learn from food, particularly luxury beauty players. In luxury food, for example, terroir, farming practices and production had long been “a proxy for quality”, she said, and this was a “massive missed trick” amongst prestige beauty brands.
Highlighting the supply chain, production and sourcing aspects of any beauty product, Baker said, could be done via Provenance’s open-source and free-to-use framework, and the software specialist hoped more and more beauty brands would onboard in the coming months and years.
“Working with Provenance means you’re adding the credibility behind those claims,” she said. “…We believe every product should come with information on its impact on people and planet. We’re on a mission to make that happen.”
“…I’m very hopeful for a transparent beauty industry that puts impact on people and planet right up there with more traditional marketing and efficacy. And from the conversations I’ve had with industry, I do think there’s a new generation of beauty leaders who feel the same way,” Baker said.
*Green Beauty was highlighted as one of CosmeticsDesign-Europe's top 2021 beauty trends to watch last year - a movement set to become 'paramount' as planetary health worked its way deeper into the hearts and minds of consumers.