PARIS — Never mind calorie counting — shoppers can now total up the impact their beauty buys have on the environment.
Companies including Givaudan, Natura and Weleda are increasingly embarking on sustainable development initiatives.
In a bid to highlight its green commitments, which include reducing its carbon emissions by a third within five years, increasing its use of natural and organic ingredients and cutting down on packaging waste, Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura has developed environmental labels inspired by the nutritional charts that are mandatory on food products.
Each label highlights the following information about the product's formula and packaging:
-l The percentage of ingredients it includes that is of renewable plant origin;
- The quantity of plants used in its makeup that haven't undergone any chemical processing;
- The percentage of raw materials certified by independent authorities as being organic;
- The recycled content of its packaging;
- The percentage of recyclable materials used in packaging, and
- Information on whether refills are available.
"The consumer wants more explanations about what he or she is using," said Denise Figueiredo, managing director of Natura France.
The labels, which first appeared on Natura's products in Brazil last year, are being rolled out to its products in France this spring.
Natura, which is planning to enter the U.S. market in 2009, is the latest of a number of companies answering consumers' environmental concerns by stepping up transparency about product formulations and packaging — and making information readily available. Green indexes have already been introduced by apparel and footwear brand Timberland, while British retailer Tesco introduced its first carbon-labeled products last month.
Such activity looks set to continue in beauty with a plethora of brands making environmental concerns a key element of their identity.
"Beauty manufacturers are innovating by making their products more compatible with the emerging lifestyle trends of ethical shopping and eco-consciousness," stated Nica Lewis, head consultant of Mintel Beauty and Personal Care.
Research published by Mintel's Global New Products Database in April showed that across Europe, more than 2,260 so-called "ethical" cosmetics and skin care products were launched last year — a whopping fivefold increase from 2006. Already this year, Mintel has tracked 420 new ethical beauty products on the European market. These brands claim to either use fair trade methods in manufacturing, to contribute to charity, to use more environmentally friendly packaging or, sometimes, all three.
Organic beauty stalwart Weleda, for one, has pledged to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent within two years, with measures including employees taking the train instead of flying for trips within the same country. The Swiss company is also reducing its harvests of wild plants by cultivating more species in its own gardens, where it introduces between five and six new varieties every year, according to Marc Follmer, director of Weleda France. The company owns six gardens, with the largest spanning 20 hectares, or about 50 acres, in Souabe, Germany.
"Our approach has to be global and coherent," said Follmer, pointing out that Weleda also banks with financial institutions it considers ethically sound.
Meanwhile, fragrance supplier Givaudan has partnered with Mount Romance, a producer in Australia, to recognize indigenous plant rights and find sustainable methods of obtaining sandalwood oil. In Australia, sandalwood harvests are controlled by the government and cultivators are forbidden to extract more than 2,000 tons a year.
There is also a move to unite efforts in the French beauty industry. Cosmetic Valley, an association representing 300 beauty manufacturers with combined sales of 7 billion euros, or $10.8 billion, will host its first congress on sustainable development issues in 2009. The organization is also studying projects including the creation of carbon wells, or areas of dense forest that can absorb carbon dioxide, in Madagascar.
— Ellen Groves
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