By  on April 10, 2007

Beauty firms work to increase sustainablity in their product chains and lessen their environmental impact.

The beauty business is seeing green — and not just in profits — as companies embrace the environmental movement with a wide range of vibrant organic personal care franchises.

The natural and organic personal care market reached $17 billion globally last year and is expected to hit $20 billion by 2011, according to Julia McNamara, Datamonitor's vice president of consumer markets.

Beauty companies like Aveda, Origins, Lancôme, The Body Shop and Burt's Bees are implementing core values that benefit the environment. As these brands take on social responsibility, consumers' demand for natural and organic products has become increasingly mainstream.

"Being green requires being committed to the health of the environment," said Dominique Conseil, president of Aveda, whose consumers' demand for natural products has grown by 25 percent over the past year. "It's about the positive impact a product can have on the environment."

As one of the first beauty companies to pioneer the green movement, Aveda was founded in 1978 with the goal of providing high-performance botanically based products, while remaining respectful of the planet and its resources.

According to Conseil, Aveda takes a holistic approach to its distribution, creating environmentally friendly packaging and sourcing ingredients.

"Our mission is to care for the world we live in and give back to society," said Conseil, who added that Aveda's packaging consists of more than 80 percent post-consumer recycled content. "We have a commitment to only use renewable resources or sustainable materials."

In an effort to assure responsible harvesting of raw materials and essential oils, Aveda works to improve indigenous communities' standards of living. The company hosts an annual forum at the United Nations focused on protecting natural resources, land rights and other resources.

Aveda is also conserving energy by using wind power in its Minnesota manufacturing and distribution centers. As the largest private business purchaser of green energy in Minnesota, the program keeps 7.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year and has saved the company $231,000 in utility costs, said Conseil. The company now has plans to convert a California distribution facility to solar power.To celebrate Earth Month, Aveda is focusing on protecting clean water for children and families. As part of this initiative, the company will present a text message petition to make clean water a basic human right to the U.N. on World Environment Day on June 5.

Like Aveda, Origins is known for its natural products and commitment to the environment.

"Origins' commitment to the earth, animals and environment guides us in everything we do," said Origins president Daria Myers, who noted that the escalating popularity of eco-products has made it easier for budding green companies. "It's easier to be green nowadays because there are more choices with ingredients, packaging, paper and ink."

When the Estée Lauder-owned company first launched in 1990, it started the "Origins Empties" program for recycling, before recycling became mandatory. To further establish itself as an eco-chic retailer, the company has been redesigning its freestanding stores with sustainable materials, energy efficient lighting, low-emission paints and more live plants. With the opening of each new store, Origins is supporting local environmental efforts by planting trees and funding community parks.

Michael Indursky, chief marketing and strategic officer of Burt's Bees, believes it's important to maximize consumers' health by establishing environmental practices throughout a company.

"Since we're a natural brand that takes from nature, it's important that we also protect and provide for nature," said Indursky. "It's a cycle for us, and we have to make sure we do this."

With its philosophy of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," Burt's Bees has joined forces with Habitat for Humanity to build North Carolina's first low-income affordable green housing development. The company has also formed a group of volunteer employees called ECOBEES, Environmentally Conscious Organization Bringing Ecologically Empowered Solutions, to develop company-wide environmental initiatives.

Lancôme's U.S. president Eric Lauzat said that green is "a way of thinking that encompasses everything from ingredients to offsetting the environmental impact of employee travel."

Lancôme's labs now follow a "green chemistry" mandate to create "green molecules" that are synthesized to be gentle on the environment. In addition, spokesmodels Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann and Shalom Harlow will be going "carbon neutral" for a year, as part of the company's partnership with Carbonfund.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about reducing climate change. The partnership will help offset the environmental impact of the women's travel. As part of the initiative, four Lancôme boutiques across the country are also going carbon neutral. This summer, the company will announce a joint venture with fashion company Rag & Bone to help raise money for Carbonfund.org.Lauzat said Lancôme will plant 10,000 trees to celebrate its new skin care product, Cell Defense, whose launch campaign will feature the company's first online press kit to conserve paper.

Although no USDA rules currently exist for beauty companies, industry executives speculate that mandatory guidelines will soon be set in place. The regulations might help ward off a rising problem known as "greenwashing," when companies mislead consumers about their products' natural or organic properties.

"It's about being honest and transparent with the consumer," said Origins' Myers. "Companies 'greenwash' by sprinkling certain ingredients into their products, allowing them to market their brands as organic."

According to Jody Villecco, Whole Foods national quality standards coordinator, there is a difference between being "green" and being "natural."

"Vendors are forcing organic materials into products, but that doesn't ensure safety because it might counteract with other organic ingredients used in the formula," said Villecco, who added that Whole Foods has started checking into companies' claims more thoroughly. "We're hoping brands begin getting USDA certification before we have to institute our own standards."

Villecco said that public health organization NSF International is working with the Organic Trade Association to develop organic personal care standards. Made up of industry members including Whole Foods Market, certifiers and nonprofit groups, the Joint Committee will soon release its draft standards for organic certification. But environmental awareness is rising around the globe.

"Consumers in the U.K. are realizing their shopping patterns can have an environmental and social impact of the supply chain," said Jan Buckingham, global values director of The Body Shop, which is addressing climate change by striving to become carbon neutral by 2010. "We are working through a structure plan on energy efficiency, sourcing renewable energy and, as a last resort, carbon offset to achieve this goal."

According to Michael Braungart, chemist and founder of the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency, co-founder of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry and professor of material flow management at University Lüneburg in Germany, certain chemicals used in cosmetics, such as silicone and ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), have detrimental effects on the environment.

"Companies only look at the effects of these products on the skin, and not their impact on the environment," said Braungart, who said that people too loosely identify natural substances as "healthy." "Some of the most toxic substances are natural, but lots of them are not designed to be used in cosmetics and can eventually generate more problems than synthetic solutions."Despite his concerns, Braungart admits to being a big supporter of cosmetics and said the world could learn a lot from the industry.

"Cream cosmetics can't save the planet, but they could demonstrate how to save the planet in other areas," said Braungart. "The companies' management can help, encouraging other industries to form new ideas."

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