What’s next for ethical cosmetics accreditations?

By Kirsty Doolan

- Last updated on GMT

Ecovia Intelligence's research shows the two accreditation categories with the highest adoption rates are 'natural and organic' and 'lower environmental impact'
Ecovia Intelligence's research shows the two accreditation categories with the highest adoption rates are 'natural and organic' and 'lower environmental impact'

Related tags Cosmetics Sustainability Personal care products sustainable beauty ethical beauty

As consumers place more demand on beauty and personal care brands to meet their ethical expectations, we spoke to an expert about the evolution of schemes that are designed to prove this commitment…

Ahead of this week’s InCosmetics Global show in Paris, we caught up with Amarjit Sahota, who is the founder of Ecovia Intelligence – a specialist research and consulting company that focuses on the global organic product industries – about the future of sustainability schemes and ethical labels.

Sahota will be speaking live about the topic in greater detail at 12pm on Thursday 18th​ April in the Marketing Trends Theatre at the event. But here’s what he had to say ahead of the show…

Cosmetics Design-Europe: (CDE) What has driven the ever-increasing popularity of certification schemes in the cosmetics industry in recent years?

Amarjit Sahota:​ One major driver is consumer concerns; this is the main reason why consumers are looking for natural and organic cosmetics, as well as clean beauty products. In this instance, consumers are wanting to avoid chemicals that have possible health risks e.g. parabens, phthalates, aluminium salts, etc. They want to buy cosmetic products that are safer for human health and the environment.

Consumer demand is also responsible for the growing number of cosmetic products that are labelled vegan, halal, leaping bunny, etc. In these instances, consumers are looking for ethical labels that reflect their values or beliefs.

The second major driver is cosmetic brands looking to reduce their environmental impacts and become more sustainable. This is encouraging brands to adopt ethical labels like Nordic Swan, EU Eco-Flower, Blue Angel, etc. which are given to consumer products that have a lower environmental footprint. Cosmetic brands are also adopting ethical labels, such as carbon neutral and climate neutral, to show they are addressing their carbon emissions.

Another driver of the ethical labelling trend is the need for traceability & transparency in supply chains of raw materials. This is the major driver of sustainability schemes like Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

CDE: What kinds of schemes are seeing a surge in popularity now?

AS:​ Our research shows the two major categories that have the highest adoption rates are natural and organic, and lower environmental impacts. For natural and organic, there are now over 20 different labels – however COSMOS and NATRUE are the leading ones. COSMOS has more than 35,000 products that are certified natural or organic.

For lower environmental impacts, a wide range of ethical labels exist. The Nordic Swan label is one of the most popular in Europe, with over 20,000 certified products. Note, this number is not just cosmetic products (but all consumer goods). The EU Eco-Flower and Blue Angel are also important, as well as the growing number of carbon / climate neutral labels. 

Others that are currently showing a rise in popularity include Vegan, Halal and Fair trade.

CDE: Does having a certification scheme on the pack instantly give a product more credibility with consumers?

AS:​ Yes and no. In general, established ethical labels like COSMOS and Nordic Swan do give greater assurance to consumers that certified products meet their needs. In this instance, consumers trust the label as they believe the products have met third-party standards.

The problem, however, is that there are a growing number of ethical labels and consumers cannot distinguish between third-party labels (like COSMOS and Nordic Swan) and self-designated ones.
One of the issues in the cosmetics industry is that it is becoming common for brands to develop their own labels like ‘natural ingredients’, ‘contains organic’, ‘vegan’, ‘eco-friendly’, etc. These labels unfortunately do not meet any third-party standard and are based on a brand’s internal understanding. It is therefore common for consumers to see many ethical labels on cosmetic products, and they unfortunately cannot distinguish between ‘legitimate’ ones and self–designated ones.

CDE: What should cosmetics brands bear in mind when considering a certification scheme to work with?

AS:​ This is a difficult question for many cosmetic brands, as well as ingredient firms. We have been doing research in this area for over 10 years and it is a common dilemma brands and ingredient companies face; which sustainability schemes/ethical labels to adopt and why?

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Adoption and consumer acceptance of ethical labels vary between geographic regions and also between countries. For instance, the highest adoption rate of natural and organic labels is in Europe – whereas labels like Non-GMO are more popular in North America.

Another issue is sustainability objectives of cosmetic brands / ingredient firms. If carbon management is a priority, then companies will look at carbon-/climate-neutral schemes, whereas if traceability or ethical sourcing is important, then they will look at RSPO and related schemes.

CDE: Anything else to add on this topic?

AS:​ In summary, we are seeing a large rise in the number of ethical labels and sustainability schemes in the cosmetics industry. We are seeing more ethical labels being introduced and adoption rates rise. It will be interesting to see how the EU Green Claims directive will make a difference: will it curtail the number of ethical labels, bring consolidation, or will the numbers keep rising? We shall discuss the trends in more details at our seminar at InCosmetics Global on 18th April (12pm, Marketing Trends theatre).

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