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Amid recent demonstrations in London, thousands of protesters occupied several of the main bridges spanning the Thames in central London during a huge act of civil disobedience. The move was part of a campaign organised by Extinction Rebellion – a new group that aims to force governments to treat the warnings of climate breakdown as a crisis.

Disagreements about the reality of climate change and its effects on the environment continue; however one thing is clear- sustainability will be a major issue for many companies; impacting on every aspect of their business. For many brands in the beauty sector, the way they source, produce, package and ship products will raise an array of issues for decision makers in the move towards sustainability.

The sector is facing challenges on a number of fronts; the trend towards waterless beauty, reduced use of plastics, pressure from consumers to be more eco-friendly and the “Zero Waste” movement.

Waterless Beauty

World water day took place this year on the 22nd March, to highlight the importance of fresh water and to advcate for sustainable management. Increasingly, fresh water is set to become a commodity and it is in fact incredibly rare; only 2.5 – 3% of the world’s water is fresh, and as a result 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to fresh water and a further 2.7 billion find it scarce for at least one month in the year. As the world’s wetlands disappear, rivers dry up and climate change alters weather patterns many analysts predict that two thirds of the world’s population could face water shortages by the year 2025.

The cosmetic industry’s demand for water is huge; it’s the most-used ingredient. Increasingly the industry is embracing water-saving efforts and is moving towards anhydrous (water free) products  as well as providing consumers with greater transparency on the sources of water used.

For creators of emulsions and creams it will become increasingly important to ensure that water is obtained in a sustainable and responsible way and to ensure that there is transparency on the sources. Water shortages or restrictions could have a telling impact on manufacturers who fail to plan ahead

Water impacts in other ways too. It’s usually the heaviest ingredient used in formulations and any reduction can reduce product weight and size. This can dramatically reduce shipping costs and have a knock-on effect on minimising fuel usage.

The reaction from brands has been to cut back on water consumption in manufacturing processes and to reduce or eliminate water entirely from their products and incorporate their eco-friendly message into their brand story. Brands have also been developing new products that do not require the use of water at all – such as dry sheet masks and powdered products.

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Companies like LOLI have eliminated  the water content of their products from their Zero Waste Beauty range and their packaging is re-usable and certified 100% compostable. The brand uses glass and post-consumer recycled cardboard in its packaging.

Consumer Pressure For Plastic-free

The increasing level of awareness among consumers of efffects of plastic pollution, especially in the ocean, is putting pressure on personal care and cosmetic brands to review how their packaging impacts on the environment. Going plastic-free is difficult for large companies with many claiming it is too expensive – but for smaller brands it can be even more so. The cost of customising containers can be prohibitive unless they can justify buying in large quantities.

Pressure from consumers is influencing company decision making and forcing companies to change. A long time plastic waste activist, Beth Terry, who runs a blog called My Plasic Free Life contacts companies when she comes across unecessary plastic in her life she contacts the company that produces it and encourages other to do the same. Her tactics work. When she campaigned for the makers of tap water filters in the US to make them recyclable over 15,000 people signed her petition; the result– Brita water filters are now recyclable.

Zero Waste Movement

“Zero Waste” is a relatively recent movement that began with minimising household waste. The philosophy behind it was to encourage the redesign of products so that they could be recycled and reused.

Although there is some discussion, about whether the Zero Waste movement is supportive or in conflict with a sustainable life cycle of resource consumption, it has gone from a trend to a movement that will reshape the beauty and personal care industry.

Re-usable Alternatives

In tandem with the search for alternative packaging is the move away from single-use items towards re-usable alternatives. A single-use item can result in enormous quantities of waste over time, so re-usable alternatives can have a huge impact on the amount of waste sent to landfill. Skin and Tonic produce 100% organic bleached cotton washcloths – certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard- as an alternative to single-use pads and makeup wipes.

Recycled Or Recyclable Packaging

Glass is made from sand without using oil and can be recycled without loss of quality –making it ideal as a packaging option for many cosmetic products. One drawback is its weight, which increases shipping costs.

Aluminium Packaging

Aluminium can be recycled endlessly without any deterioration in quality in a similar way to glass and offers excellent protection against bacteria, moisture UV rays and variations I temperature.

Zero Packaging

Some companies are even considering doing away with packaging completely. Indie brands have been at the forefront and have had the advantage of building their business from the beginning around ethics and environmentally friendly practices, forcing the bigger brands to play catch-up. Consumers are paying more attention to how their individual actions affect the environment and climate change. The Zero Waste movement will be a pivotal factor for the industry over the next few years. According to intelligence agency Mintel, brands who fail to embrace the movement towards zero waste will struggle to survive in the future as consumers drift towards eco-friendly brands due to concerns over the environment.

Other Options

Brands will have to look to options such as reducing packaging, repurposing, extending product life cycles and refillable options as consumer awareness of the impact of single-use plastics gains momentum.

Several have been experimenting with zero waste ideas such as bio plastics and recycled paper. La Saponaria offers its organic Aloe Vera Gel in a bioplastic made from sugar cane. It is 100% recyclable and emits 75% less greenhouse gases during production than conventional plastic.

Paper is one of the most used as a recycled material. Deodorants for Ben and Anna come in fully biodegradable paper tubes.

Metrics And Assessment

As the industry moves towards sustainability it has become necessary to develop ways to assess progress. Larger cosmetics and personal care firms are taking a more systematic approach to sustainability and metrics are becoming more prominent; measuring energy usage, waste and carbon footprint in an effort to reduce the impact on the environment. Forum for the Future and the Sustainability Consortium have together gathered representatives from across the beauty and personal products supply chain to develop an assesment tool to evaluate products.The aim is to simplify the wide array of assesment criteria into one easy-to-use rating system. Participanting organistaions are wide ranging including Burt’s Bees, Colgate, Sephora and Johnson & Johnson.

Brands Must Be Visibly Proactive

The protests in London highlight the strength of feeling around climate change in many parts of the world. And while in others there is some, at the moment, lack of awareness or even indifference towards the concept of sustainability the movement is growing rapidly.  Brands in the beauty sector will need to be not just proactive, but seen to be working towards sustainability or may risk being overtaken by events.

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