Sustainable Cosmetics Summit: Focus on Sustainability

Author: Karin Heinze

The British marker research and consulting firm Organic Monitor invited professionals from the world of cosmetics to a three-day conference at the Marriott Hotel in the Champs Elysées in Paris. About 150 people from the traditional cosmetics industry and from the natural cosmetics sector came to hear about current developments in the market, the sustainability concepts of manufacturers and retailers, trends in packaging and much else besides. The theme has now arrived in the world of conventional cosmetics, where they are taking seriously the development of new concepts. Karin Heinze was in Paris for organic-Market.Info. (In the video interview Amarjit Sahota, the founder of Organic Monitor – seen here with his organization team – expresses his assessment)


At the beginning of the event on 28 November 2011, Bertil Heerink, the director of Colipa – the umbrella organization of the European cosmetics industry – made it quite clear that there was no question whether a cosmetics company had to seriously engage with the issue of sustainability. Whereas protection of the environment had largely been dealt with already by many firms, and you could see that it was frequently bringing financial benefits, social responsibility and the economics of sustainability were often not being addressed in the same way. He said there was still a great deal to be done in this respect. He announced that, in 2012, Colipa intended to engage more with the issue of sustainability and would develop guidelines. Colipa is also intending to discuss sustainability at the political level both in the EU and globally. In 2012 the association celebrates its 50th anniversary, and at the same time the sustainability agreements from the 1992 UN conference in Rio de Janeiro are 20 years old. Among the participants in the conference in Paris were representatives of Beiersdorf, BASF, Cargill, Chanel, Colgate-Palmolive, Kanebo, L’Oreal, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Yves Rocher. (Picture: Lively discussion in the breaks)

Consumers are subjecting products and their background to ever greater scrutiny. Heerink said that it was becoming increasingly important that customers found not only a firm’s products good but also the company that was behind them. In his address, Amarjit Sahota enumerated some of the reasons for the increasing preoccupation with sustainability: ethical consumer behaviour on the rise, pressure on the part of the media, initiatives and environmental organizations (NGOs) and the imperative to produce in a way that saved more resources. Not least, laws and regulations and a flood of CSR and sustainability reports have led to companies really focusing on the issue of sustainability. Sahota gave some concrete examples of the ecological aspects of sustainability: the ethical sourcing of raw materials, environmentally friendly production methods and packaging in order to reduce the CO2 footprint, and the use of green chemicals. The social aspects include, of course, fair trade activities, responsible partnerships with suppliers, collaboration with regional small enterprises and donations to charitable organizations. Sahota emphasized that in many aspects of sustainability natural cosmetics companies were among the pioneers. (Picture: Amarjit Sahota giving a number of positive examples, from Aveda, Burt’s Bees and Dr. Bronner’s to Primavera)

The talk given by Dr. Laurent Gilbert (picture on left) – engaged in research and development at L’Oréal – revealed how difficult it is for multis like his company to implement sustainability throughout the concern, but his company is nevertheless aiming to include a rising number of natural raw materials with organic certification in the production programme. He said the L’Oréal group currently uses about 500 Ecocert-certified raw materials. The natural cosmetic brands The Body Shop and Sanoflore belong to the concern. Also, energy should be saved, and recyclable and upcyclable materials for packaging should be used. The company has set itself ambitious targets – a 50 % reduction in CO2 emissions, water consumption and waste by 2015. Dr. Gilbert gave packaging, buildings and transport as concrete examples of potential saving. A good 80 % of suppliers are already taking part in a CO2 reduction project. However, according to the assessment of insiders, there were still a number of obstacles within the company itself to be overcome. The greatest problem areas in the efforts to promote sustainability were the size of the company and its internal structure, that made it difficult to adopt a flexible approach to the challenges. Gilbert declared that a company had great responsibility vis-à-vis its customers, and for this reason L’Oréal wanted to promote corporate consumer responsibility (CCR) with a range of measures.
(Picture on right: Mathieu Spies from Melvita / L´Occitane introduced the concept of international Melvita stores)

Small firms that embrace fair trade and organic from the outset find it much simpler to achieve sustainability and create credibility, as illustrated by the Swiss natural cosmetics manufacturer Farfalla. The co-founder Jean-Claude Richard presented a number of cooperation projects in the area of raw materials and stressed that fair trade was most definitely an important issue for Farfalla. He emphasized the positive effects of the fair trade system worldwide, with around 1.6 million farmers and workers benefiting from it. He did, however, criticise what goes on in practice and called for a simplification of the certification process and the avoidance of multiple certification that gave rise to additional costs.

Tobias Bandel (picture) from Soil & More presented as examples of best practice various composting projects that not only create fertile soil and jobs but also lead to big reductions in CO2. Firms can make their products carbon-neutral by purchasing CO2 credits, an example being Weleda Benelux’s collaboration with Soil & More that allows it to label 25 products as carbon-neutral.

The panel discussion (Picture: Tobias Bandel, M. Radau, B. Heerink, Jean-Claude Richard, Stephan Rein) emphasized that it can’t be a question of whether a firm engages with sustainability but only the degree to which it does so. It was once again stated, however, that there are still neither legal definitions nor guidlelines – the term sustainability is as flexible as the terms nature and natural. Tobias Bandel argued that everyone had to take any small steps in the direction of sustainability that their firms could manage, and he condensed his message: “To be or not to be sustainable is a question of being alive in the future”. He said it was important to get consumers on board, since they contribute around 50 % to the problems or to their solutions. According to Michael Radau (picture) from the organic supermarket chain SuperBioMarkt, sustainability was today one of the most discussed but also often mis-used terms. SuperBioMarkt AG preferred to facilitate sustainable consumption by means of its 100 % organic offer and its activities regarding social responsibility. In this respect, creative packaging ideas had a big part to play, according to Stephan Rein, chief designer at the firm Flex/the Innovationlab. His demand is: “Reduce, reuse or recycle”.

Anna Clark (picture), from the market research group GfK Roper, gave an overview of the sustainability situation worldwide. Despite economic crises and their impacts, environmental problems are in fifth place in the international ranking of what people worry about most, with climate change in tenth place. Surveys asking about green consumption produced the following picture: many people worry about the environment but shift the responsibility onto manufacturers and the government. 75 % of interviewees worldwide are of the opinion that it’s up to firms to do something about environmental protection. But when asked about their own buying behaviour, 31 % of consumers (39 % in France) nevertheless include sustainability criteria in the decision to purchase a product. However, 35 % find that the more environmentally friendly products often do not meet their expectations. Also, a good 60 % of people surveyed across the world say that these products are in many cases too expensive.

Info: The conference papers are available from Organic Monitor. Please find more information here:


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