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Brief Published: 9 Jun 2016

Sustainable Cosmetics Summit, NYC: Top Insights

From sustainability as the new normal, to positive impact and brutal transparency, Stylus digests the most inspiring and actionable takeaways from the 2016 Sustainable Cosmetics Summit’s North American event.

Tom's of Maine
  • Sustainability as the New Normal: Tom Chappell, founder of natural toothpaste and cosmetics brand Tom’s of Maine and sustainable clothing brand Ramblers Way, acknowledged that society is moving to a place where sustainability will be the norm. “Health is becoming the number-one issue, and millennials are leading the charge for green,” he said. “Not only are they passionate about sustainability; they expect convenience, responsiveness from brands and affordable prices.”  

    Jonathan Maher, vice-president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability at L’Oreal, cited repositioning and rethinking as key challenges for the international mega brand. However, he noted that this is a problem that affects many companies: “If the brand is about performance, how does sustainability relate to consumers?”
  • From Zero Impact to Positive Impact: Amarijit Sahota, founder and president of London-based organic marketing and information services company Organic Monitor, said: “The cosmetics industry is focusing on reducing its environmental impact. But the issue for the future is striving for a positive impact, not just reaching the zero-impact goal.” The key is thoughtful design.

    Indeed, doing ‘good’ – not simply ‘less bad’ – was a recurring theme at the conference. “Companies must constantly be thinking about what will happen to the materials tomorrow,” said Ken Alston, president of consulting and education services at sustainability consultancy MBDC. “Redesigning is the first step; cradle-to-cradle design thinks about the whole life cycle of a product and what the impact is after the consumer is done with it.”
  • Acknowledge the Bad with the Good: Our report Beauty Transparency: Valuing Best Practice highlights the importance of brand transparency and honesty when it comes to areas in need of improvement. Maher openly admitted it would be a lie to say that L’Oreal creates natural products. However, the brand is figuring out how to introduce more green chemistry into its products, and is also implementing a global protocol on sustainable packaging.

    Maher advises: “Avoid the authoritative approach and use kind and open language when communicating with consumers. Be incredibly transparent and know your supply chain and all your suppliers. There needs to be more education between consumers, retailers, manufacturers and formulators.”
  • Labelling Simplicity: Issues surrounding labelling and ethical stamps were similarly explored. “There is a place in the consumer marketplace for all labels, but at one point there, it gets too cluttered,” said Jody Villecco, global quality standards co-ordinator at international supermarket chain Whole Foods Market.

    Future developments should look at the convergence of labels for increased simplicity and understanding, as well as more entities in the marketplace that help analyse, communicate and simplify guidelines. For example, Chris Koestline, eco-products certification officer at French organisation Ecocert, is looking to bring out a natural cosmetics standard that could become global. For more on labelling, see Beauty Transparency: Valuing Best Practice.