U.K.-based beauty and wellness brand The Nue Co. released its first sustainability report on its website on Monday, showcasing how younger brands are future-proofing their sustainability profile and advancing brand accountability.
Founded in 2017, The Nue Co. as a brand focuses on the health-based relationship between people, the environment and the planet. Much like beauty brands like Bybi, Unilever-owned Ren, Versed and L’Oréal-owned Youth to the People that have disclosed information about their sustainability goals, The Nue Co. is hoping to change attitudes in the industry with its report.
Recently, both the U.K. and E.U. have introduced greenwashing legislation on consumer products. As such, the beauty industry will need to make sure that their claims, typically found in sustainability reports and communications on their e-commerce and social media, are accurate. Just last month, L’Oréal, P&G and L’Occitane were among several consumer product companies accused of greenwashing, according to findings by the Changing Markets Foundation.
Ahead, we break down the industry goals these brands are advancing through their reports, with a focus on actionable goals for beauty brands.
Brand goals: Disclose data for transparency and accountability
George Harding-Rolls, campaign manager at Changing Markets Foundation, said beauty companies have a responsibility to disclose their sustainability data. Harding-Rolls was part of the beauty greenwashing investigation led last month by CMF. He said that disclosure and data through sustainability reports can be very useful for holding brands accountable. “It depends on the depth of reporting and also who is holding the brands accountable. If you look at Unilever, they’ve got very in-depth reporting, and they mark the trends, as well, showing that something improved X percent from last year,” he said. “Providing transparency and its [corresponding] data is a fundamental pillar of sustainability because you don’t know what you can’t measure.”
Flo Glendenning, vp of product and sustainability at The Nue Co., said climate impact accountability within business decision-making is the next step for beauty brands. Sustainability reports are a way to keep companies on track with year-to-year progress. The Nue Co. is making moves toward this by setting its goals towards B-Corp certification and moving beyond being a net-zero business within five years.
“The most valuable thing a brand could have is B-Corp certification. That is the most official scoring system, in terms of accountability, with an obligation to update your governing documents within the business to demonstrate legal responsibility for all stakeholders,” said Dominika Minarovic, co-founder of skin-care brand Bybi. B Corp certification can take between six months to two years for approval. Only a handful of beauty brands have this certification, including Weleda, Sunday Riley and Dr. Hauschka.
Brand goals: Avoid greenwashing through sustainability reporting
Amy Nelson-Bennett, co-CEO of sustainability advisory company Positive Luxury, said it’s important for beauty brands to avoid greenwashing; Positive Luxury is the company behind the Butterfly Mark, a luxury market sustainability certification, and has worked with 111 Skin and Dr. Barbara Sturm in beauty. “While the beauty industry isn’t yet under the huge pressure of fashion or jewelry to provide traceability at the product level, the demand is growing fast,” she said.
Melanie Bender, president of Versed, said that, compared to other industries, beauty is in the nascent stages of addressing its sustainability. “While our intent is real, our impact falls short,” she said. “Sustainability reporting can play an important role in closing that gap.”
According to Bender, a sustainability report should accomplish three main things: first, provide transparency into the brand’s material impacts on areas like climate, waste and ecosystem; second, define time-based, measurable goals for mitigating those impacts; and third, report on progress toward the achievement of those goals.
For its part, Versed is focused on aligning its sustainability goals with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), establishing transparency around environmental impacts on a product-by-product level and holding the line against greenwashing, whether intentional or otherwise. The company released its five anti-greenwashing principles in April.
Nelson-Bennett said brands should look deeper, in order to understand and then address specific areas in their reports. These include formulations and sourcing, biodiversity, shipping and logistics, production quantities, and packaging and shipping materials.
Finally, she said beauty is likely the worst offender, in terms of greenwashing. “Authenticity is being redefined by both consumers and legislators,” she said. “The expectation is now for brands to make true, verifiable claims and to publicly disclose their sustainability performance. Showing areas of strength as well as areas for improvement, including targets and deadlines for meeting them, [is the goal],” she said.
Brand goals: Reduce air freight and carbon emissions
For The Nue Co., some of the most important goals for business accountability this year include reducing carbon emission hotspots in air freight, redesigning products for lighter transportation, and focusing on sourcing ingredients from organic and community-owned growers.
Carbon emissions have become an especially hot topic for all brands. For example, The Nue Co. measured that 82% of its Scope 3 emissions, which come from indirect emissions in the company’s value chain, were from air freight. As a result, the company is pivoting to make sure that it does as little transportation by air as possible in the coming year.
“Throughout the last 12 months, we’ve been working very closely with our senior planning team to make sure that we are forecasting better and ensuring that we are splitting stock,” said Glendenning.”We’re moving more by sea slowly and in a much more environmentally friendly way. We’re moving very low volumes by air, only when absolutely required; we’re trying to avoid it altogether.” The Nue Co.’s five-year plan is to move beyond net-zero to net-positive, which is defined as being a business that improves the well-being of everyone it impacts.
When it comes to Scope 3 emissions, which typically account for 70% of a business’s carbon footprint, specificity is hard to come by. Youth to the People has made a commitment to reduce its emissions by 25% by 2025, although it is unclear as to whether this is in the Scope 3 arena. Comparatively, The Nue announced that its target for reducing Scope 3 emissions is 50% by 2022.
Bybi, which launched in 2017, decided to move all of its production to the U.K. to avoid the excessive carbon emissions associated with transportation within production. “In the early days, we came into the industry and saw that there was quite a lot of bad practice around the reliance on fossil fuel use, single-use plastics and unnecessary distribution across the entire supply chain,” said Elsie Rutterford, one of the two co-founders of the brand. However, the brand is still working to reduce the carbon emission tie-ups within its distribution to its global retail locations, which include Target and Sephora.
Brand goals: Shorten packaging supply chains and redesign packaging
Glendenning works directly with The Nue Co.’s packaging and sourcing team to ensure brand accountability for products at every level of the supply chain. For repeat orders, the brand’s bioplastic refill pouches cut the average packaging weight by 75%, significantly reducing their carbon footprint when shipping.
The company has shortened its supply chain for packaging by relying on one company to do printing, labeling and seals. They has also focused on removing non-recyclable plastics from its supply chain. “I work closely with our procurement, packaging, sourcing and logistics teams to ensure that sustainability is factored into every single decision,” said Glendenning.
Packaging is one of the areas that beauty brands often focus on, when it comes to being more sustainable. Versed, Ren and Youth to the People, for example, all mention packaging in their sustainability communication, but don’t provide products’ full life cycle analyses.
The Nue Co. reports that, currently, 95% of its packaging is infinitely recyclable. Youth to the People offers just 17 products housed in glass packaging, showing its commitment to limited inventory. And Ren offers 36 products in its skin-care category alone, with some packaged in glass and recycled PET plastic. Both Ren and Youth to the People were part of a consortium last year, in which participants pledged zero waste by 2025.
“A lot of greenwashing will be about the packaging itself,” said Harding-Rolls. “In our investigation findings, there was a L’Oréal shampoo bottle that had a label saying 100% recycled packaging on the front. On the back, it said, ‘Except for the label and the cap’. So that’s not accurate – it’s misleading.”