Complex chemicals: Beauty must ‘invest a lot more’ in sustainable supply chains, says association chief

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The beauty industry can work closely with chemical trade associations to better understand and manage supply chains moving forward, especially amidst ongoing disruptions and today's climate crisis [Getty Images]
The beauty industry can work closely with chemical trade associations to better understand and manage supply chains moving forward, especially amidst ongoing disruptions and today's climate crisis [Getty Images]

Related tags Chemicals Supply chain Sustainability Regulation Supply chain management Logistics COVID-19 climate crisis

The beauty and personal care industry must invest more in better understanding complex chemical supply chains and work with its partners to drive sustainable action, especially during disruptive times with COVID-19, Brexit and the climate crisis, says the head of the UK Chemical Business Association.

Founded in 1923, the UK’s Chemical Business Association represented the entire chemical supply chain for business conducted in or with the UK, from logistics to warehouses and traders and manufacturers. According to the trade association’s CEO Tim Doggett, its work covered “one of the most complex”​ supply chains in the world.

Cross-border movement of materials

Speaking to attendees at this year’s SCS Formulate in Coventry, UK, last month, Doggett said the complexity related to the number of raw materials, but also hazardous materials, moving across borders under multiple regulations. And with globalisation, he said, this complexity only deepened.

It was critical, therefore, that the beauty and personal care industry better understood and more closely managed every part of the chemical supply chain it engaged with, particularly with the ongoing recent disruptions around COVID-19, Brexit and the energy crisis.

“One of the important things for globalisation is stability, so you can invest. And we’ve had anything but that,”​ he said.

And Doggett said many of these challenges were set to last, particularly raw material shortages, unreliable lead times, inflation and probably recession.

Knowledge and trade association engagement

Solid supply chain management, he said – across chemicals and other aspects – would be key for industry moving forward.

“In my experience, supply chain has been neglected for so long; it’s something that just happened. So, people need to invest a lot more in their supply chain and probably go back to what we had 20-30 years ago: transport managers, customer managers, supply chain managers. It just became so easy, it just seemed to happen like magic.”

And it still does seem to happen ‘by magic’ for many, he said, with the likes of Amazon orders arriving the next morning but taking huge amounts of work to achieve.

Doggett said engaging with trade associations like the Chemical Business Association could help beauty businesses better manage supply chains and plan ahead for disruptions.

“We represent the chemical supply chain. We lobby heavily, we advocate, we talk about the great chemicals do, but we also talk openly about the disruption,”​ he said.

“…We represent business, we understand issues, we provide advice and guidance, we convene power and bring together your voices.”

Asked how cosmetic companies could more specifically future-proof their chemical and wider supply chains, Doggett said: “I would say, spread your risk. There is no silver bullet, but contingency plans, for sure.”

When talking to a transport provider, for example, he said it would be important to discuss options one, two and three to spread the risk of any potential disruptions. Similarly, businesses could try and work with larger transport vessels – “moving bigger, less often”​ – to help tackle some of the issues whilst also addressing the sustainability side, he said.

‘Supply chain has a huge amount of responsibility’

And sustainability was a topic the chemicals industry was sharply focused on, Doggett said.

“We can’t forget the environmental and social factors of globalisation. Global climate change is happening, so we need to work on what to do,”​ he said.

“The supply chain has a huge amount of responsibility.”

And the global chemicals supply chain, he said, used around 10% of the world’s electricity – “quite a small polluter in the big scheme of things” ​but important when adding the “significant” ​Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) associated with road transport and sea freight. Chemicals were also intrinsic to all parts of life and widely used, from cosmetics to paint and fuels to additives; “we utterly rely on chemicals”​ and so ensuring a sustainable supply chain was critical, he said.

Being upstream, the chemicals supply chain also influenced corporate sustainability amongst brands, manufacturers, and retailers worldwide, he said, and so held a key responsibility. “…There’s probably never been a more important time and crucial role for us to play.”

And the chemicals industry, Doggett said, was certainly ready to create large-scale sustainable change alongside its beauty industry partners and communicate this to consumers worldwide.

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