This week, I take a look at what brands are prioritizing on the sustainability front this year.
Implementing more sustainable practices is on the mind of many beauty companies. But despite the public urgency around the environment — especially when it comes to climate change — brand goals are often set for years in the future. For instance, 2025 is a popular deadline for L’Occitane Group and Unilever.
“This is the problem with announcements. You need them to come with a plan, a monitoring process throughout and actions to help you reach your milestones,” said Arnaud Meysselle CEO for Ren Clean Skincare. “We had a huge goal of zero waste by 2021. We made this promise in 2018, and for us, transparency has always been a crucial part of the [process].”
Of course, change can’t happen overnight. But beauty executives and insiders expect more actionable activity on the sustainability front this year. Below, a look ahead.
Rethinking the end lifecycle of products
To reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, some beauty companies, like Credo, are following Starbucks’ lead. Last year, the retail giant eliminated straws in favor of sippable lids. For its part, Credo will be ditching all single-use items, including face wipes and sheet masks, as of May 31, in accordance with its annual sustainability guidelines. This will extend to items for sale, as well as in-store items for testing and sampling.
“What has been the awesome thing of the last year is that we have been intellectually challenged as an industry to innovate,” said Annie Jackson, Credo co-founder and COO. “Beauty has been stuck with old-school formats like testers and sampling, so to [be able to] stop and rethink how we do things is a mic drop.”
Jackson admitted that single-use wipes and masks are “big unit drivers” for Credo, but said they’re at odds with its broader ethos. The retailer currently carries single-use wipes and sheet masks from RMS, Kaia Naturals, Bawdy and Pipette, among others. It is working with brand partners to focus on reusable innovations, like reusable cotton rounds, for instance, and store associates will be trained to speak to customers about the changes. “We think reusable and refillable options are about to explode,” she said.
Jackson added that, although this is a Credo-only initiative, she hopes that brands won’t spin-off the single-use SKUs to other retailers like Sephora or Ulta Beauty. Credo’s shop-in-shops are still present in Ulta stores across the country.
“How a product is created and where it goes are values to the mainstream consumer. They don’t want a lot of plastic or waste. When you add that to already creating an efficacious product, it may seem like a tall freaking order, but you have to do it all,” she said. “The customer is demanding it.”
L’Occitane, too, is rethinking single-use items. The company discontinued all plastic spatula production for testers and products. Just two products still have them, but they will only be available until 2022, said Corinne Fugier-Garrel, director of packaging concept development at L’Occitane.
For its part, Ren Skincare is also prioritizing recycled or reusable materials for its packaging. “2021 is the completion of our first chapter to champion sustainability in beauty. We are tackling packaging first, because [it’s responsible for] 70% of the beauty industry’s waste,” said Meysselle.
Ren will also move forward with changes to ingredients, products and in-store items, but it’s making the updates slowly so the consumer understands all components. “The challenge in prestige beauty is to keep evolving the brand, and staying sustainable and visually attractive, while preventing waste that inevitably ends up in a landfill,” said Meysselle. “From a consumer perspective the changes are not very visible. The product experience is the same or improves, but we are explaining as we make these changes that [components] are now recycled and recyclable.” For example, the company’s Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic is set to debut in new, fully recyclable packaging.
Post-consumer recycled materials
While not new, PCR materials are gaining steam. In the last month, Refreshments, Ipsy’s new personal care offshoot, launched with 30% PCR plastic; Beautyblender came out with a sugarcane-based makeup sponge, as well as PCR-containers; and Farmacy debuted a new Whipped Greens cleanser made with PCR resin.
Sabeen Mian, svp and gm of Refreshments said that a “fun, extra brand ethos” is not mutually exclusive with sustainability.
“With Refreshments, we wanted to create a personal care brand for the future, and a big part of that is our commitment to sustainability,” she said. “While we are certainly committed to delivering more convenience to our members, we also have a responsibility to the environment.”
All of Refreshments’ packaging is composed of post-consumer recycled materials, and its hero product, the Luxe razor, has a reusable handle to curb disposable plastic razor usage. The company is also combining shipments for its members that are Ipsy subscribers to reduce packaging materials and is working on refillable packaging for upcoming product launches.
Fugier-Garrel said that for L’Occitane the transition to PCR materials is “a long journey, with continuous improvements possibilities.”
“We are happy to implement, day after day, better packs for the planet — that’s a positive evolution we are constantly working on,” she said. Forty-percent of L’Occitane bottles are made from 100% recycled materials that can be found in its Aromachologie and liquid soap collections, among others. Forty-seven percent of L’Occitane’s worldwide boutiques also offer in-store recycling services.
Climate change is a grave situation worldwide, and President Joe Biden has already emphasized the U.S.’s changing role in the situation. In his first days in office, he rejoined the Paris climate agreement, revoked the Keystone XL oil pipeline’s federal permit and pledged to review many of the Trump administration’s regulatory actions for high-emitting industries.
Melanie Bender, president of Versed, said these are important first steps for all companies, especially those in beauty.”Beauty brands are obsessed with recycling. In the context of the climate crisis, it’s like worrying about taking out the trash when your house is on fire,” she said. “A cool climate future needs to be the top environmental priority for the government and businesses, alike. Thanks in part to the election, we’re starting to see more consumers prioritize climate action, and with that, more beauty brands will follow suit.”
Versed became one of the few beauty brands to accomplish net-zero emissions last year. It also signed the United Nations’ Climate Neutral Now Pledge and open-sourced its Climate Action Plan to allow any brand to use its framework. In addition, it will be signing on with Climate Neutral, to certify its commitment, and join other brands like REI to drive collective action.
“Beauty is an industry known to guard its trade secrets like the CIA, but that type of thinking runs counter to the shift toward purpose-driven, societal missions like sustainability. We can make far greater, more efficient progress by collaborating on sustainability, including sharing methodology, materials and vendors. Versed believes this collaboration is essential to achieving our sustainability mandate,” she said.
Michel Brousset, founder and CEO Waldencast, expects investors to incubate and fund environmentally responsible businesses in response to the “conscious consumer.”
“We are very interested in more responsible supply chain and ingredient provenance,” he said. “The values of Waldencast are based on purpose and human and social values: sustainability, responsibility, inclusivity. It is imperative that the industry progresses toward a more sustainable and improved way of sourcing, manufacturing and distributing. Conscious consumerism is growing, and is a major consideration during the customer buying journey.”
We’ve already seen that happen as luxury sustainable brand La Bouche Rouge raised approximately $3 million in funding last September.
Jackie Dunklau, principal at private equity fund Aria, compared upcoming discussions around sustainability to the now tablestakes conversation brands are having around clean and better-for-you ingredients. Aria recently made its first investment in Hero Cosmetics this month. “The idea of sustainability is going to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds, like clean skin care and, now, clean makeup,”she said. “People want to buy products that you can upcycle or feel better about. They don’t want to create more waste in the environment.”
But Dunklau emphasized that sustainable practices alone aren’t going to draw the consumer to beauty products. “It’s not going to be the sole reason someone buys beauty, but if a customer is choosing between similar skin-care or makeup products, and one is more environmentally conscious, the conscious option will win.”
Beyond the brand space, L’Oréal Group also intends to contribute $50 million over the next three years toward impact investments, with a focus on projects that restore biodiversity.
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