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Beauty Brands Team Up in Shared Sustainability Efforts

Beauty companies are increasingly clubbing together to help meet their sustainability goals.

PARIS — “#WeAreAllies” declared skin care brand Ren in a groundbreaking campaign last year.

Ren teamed with competitors Biossance, Caudalie, Herbivore and Youth to the People, which jointly made sustainability pledges as part of the campaign. It was the first time a group of beauty brands had worked together to communicate their sustainability credentials to consumers, and marked a U-turn in corporate mind-sets. Today, it is just one of many sustainability partnership initiatives that has emerged involving beauty companies large and small.

“We are in a context of climate urgency, and so it’s really critical that all forces mobilize for better results,” said Clémence Gosset, director of consumer information at L’Oréal’s Corporate Responsibility department. “We need to put collaboration at the center.”

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The world’s biggest beauty player is one of the founding members of the EcoBeautyScore Consortium, launched early this year with the aim of developing a brand-agnostic sustainability scoring system for beauty products that factors in a product’s full life cycle, from formula and packaging to usage.

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The alliance includes 36 beauty and personal care companies — and counting — including beauty majors like Amorepacific, Beiersdorf, Colgate-Palmolive, Coty, The Estée Lauder Cos., Henkel, Johnson & Johnson, Kao, L’Oréal, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Natura &Co., Procter & Gamble, Puig, Shiseido and Unilever, as well as consulting firms Quantis and CapGemini and various industry associations.

EcoBeautyScore’s working groups started up at the beginning of 2022, aiming to developing a prototype scoring system based on the European Product Environmental Footprint framework by the end of the year, before testing the system to make it available to the market by the second half of 2023.

“There is really a need to build knowledge so as to better eco-design our products,” Gosset, speaking on behalf of the consortium, told WWD. “To do so, we need a common, science-based footprinting methodology….It’s really important to embark our consumers collectively…to provide all consumers, whatever their preferred brand, with clear, transparent, consumer-friendly scoring information that allows them to compare products.”

“We believe that in order to achieve true and long-lasting change in the area of sustainability, it’s going to take all of us – manufacturers, consumers and retailers – working together,” said Kao Consumer Care director of sustainability, Americas and EMEA Nicola Bäuerle.

“Many of us want to make more considered choices in our lives, but it’s not always easy to know the environmental impact we are making through simple things like selecting the soap or shampoo we use,” said Chloe Campen, communications and corporate affairs director for Unilever Beauty & Personal Care. “Working alongside our peer companies, we’re aiming to provide people with easy-to-understand, transparent and comparable information, based on a robust scientific approach.”

One of the aims of the consortium is to eradicate greenwashing by offering a clear, easy-to-read system for consumers. “It’s really necessary to create a whole new system for the industry, it’s the only possibility to deal with greenwashing,” said Lenka Mynářová, a board member for Czech startup Nafigate Corp., which makes cosmetics ingredients from upcycled natural oils and beer waste, including under its own brand Naturetics, and is a member of the EcoBeautyScore Consortium. “Greenwashing and non-transparent communication is the current status of a lot of products and areas in the cosmetics industry.”

The emergence of collaborative groups comes as many beauty companies are striving to reach stringent sustainability commitments by 2025. There are goals when it comes to their packaging — via the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy, for example — but also, increasingly, on formulas and end of life. While many businesses have made significant inroads on their corporate sustainability programs, most have come to the realization that they can only go so far alone.

Another tie-up that officially launched earlier this year, the B Corp Beauty Coalition, brings together upward of 40 certified B Corp beauty companies with the aim of sharing best practices and publishing their research. Members include The Body Shop, Davines, Laboratoires Expanscience, Rituals, Arbonne, Beautycounter and Weleda. The coalition has established three working groups on ingredients, packaging and logistics, and plans to publish white papers, available to all though an open-source system, over the summer.

Shaun Russell, the organization’s supervisory board chairman and the founder of fragrance brand Skandinavisk, said the coalition will initially focus on knowledge sharing, but in the longer term, aims to be instrumental in helping new sustainable technologies achieve the critical mass needed for implementation at scale.

“The pre-founding members felt that maybe we need to pool our resources because things weren’t happening fast enough in the industry,” Russell said. “Each of us felt that no matter what we do individually, it’s not enough to move the industry as a whole, so perhaps it’d be better to work together, on a pre-competitive level.”

Other collaborations also focus on helping industry players to pool their resources to scale up new technologies, especially when it comes to the recyclability of packaging. In the U.S., for example, companies including Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Burt’s Bees, as well as nonprofits and universities, have come together to work on small-format packaging with The Sustainability Consortium. Their aim is to develop circularity for small-format packaging. According to the Association of Plastics Recyclers’ definition, small packages like lip balm tubes, bottle closures and samples that are smaller than two inches are not easily recycled. Around 10 percent of all packaging by weight is considered small format, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a group focused on promoting the circular economy.

“Companies that have any percentage of small format in their packaging portfolio can’t reach their sustainability commitments,” explained TSC collective action manager Jennifer Park. “Broadly, with many sustainability challenges, there are very systemic issues, they’re by nature not something that one company can do alone in their supply chain, especially with recycling. It takes a large diversity of stakeholders to get a product into the recycling system,” she said. “There’s a need for all the companies to come together and standardize to a certain extent so that all small format can be captured.”

Initiatives are also multiplying in a range of areas. France’s Groupe Pierre Fabre has been working on the Green Impact Index — an initiative for scoring products — over the past three years, and is currently rolling out the system with ratings from A to D across its portfolio. The company hopes to onboard other beauty players with its system.

“This methodology is open to all beauty and health care companies, whatever their size, as long as they share our high CSR standards,” said a spokesperson for the beauty and pharmaceutical company.

In another intercompany collaboration, Kao has joined forces with domestic rival Kosé on two waste-reduction projects in Japan, firstly through the recycling of plastic cosmetics bottles and secondly by recycling waste makeup products into paints. The companies will look at further areas of potential collaboration for the future.

“We would like to create a scheme that any companies with the same aspirations can participate in,” explained a Kao spokesperson. “Our priority is to create a framework for cooperative solutions to environmental and social issues that goes beyond corporate boundaries, speedily.”

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