Beauty products are designed to be stunning and fashionable in many ways… they can be expression of luxury in the make-up organiser, an exquisite palette case or even lipsticks used as pendants on necklaces. However, the beauty industry is also target of discussion for environmental activists who are concerned about masses of packaging, often in plastic, which are promptly discarded after purchase. According to Zero Waste Week (annual awareness campaign for reducing landfill), more than 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global beauty sector.
At the same time, in the last few years, some pioneer sustainable beauty brands were challenged to show the market that luxury and sustainability can work together. As an example, it is possible to cite Kjaer Weis, brand created by the makeup artist with same name (Kirsten Kjaer Weis). Kjaer Weis eliminates the usage of plastic because it has a settled scheme in which the metal compacts to house products are refillable. In 2010, when the brand was launched, retailers were enchanted with the casing design but sceptical with refill concept for luxury goods. According to Weiss, “They just couldn’t wrap their heads around that it was luxury and it was green, all-in-one,” she said. “It was like retelling a new story in a sense about what colour cosmetics could be.”
It is true that part of the “magic” of beauty products purchase is based on “instagrammable” packaging and the joy to remove luxury cardboards and ribbons to reveal a product. However, according to Euromonitor International, the cosmetic sector is responsible for a significant amount of harmful material thrown away on environment because they are “single use,” used just once after purchase. In addition, UN declared that ocean plastic is a “planetary crisis”, and has predicted that, by 2050, oceans will have more plastic than fish if the rate of waste will continue the same.
With such alarming numbers, beauty businesses need to be rethought to meet audience expectations for more sustainable practices. Eco-friendly actions such as to receive discounts using reusable cups in coffee shops are already part of daily life, then, it makes sense to use the same logic for beauty products. For instance, Montamonta, supplier of cosmetic products to bars, restaurants and cafés in London, doesn’t work with disposable plastic containers. The brand only works with refillable bottles, which are collected, cleaned and send back to customers.
It is also important to remember that how stunning a product appears on social media isn’t the only concern for beauty professionals. Certain products need specific packaging to prevent possible corrosions and e-commerce require to protect products during shipping. More eco-friendly alternatives exist but they are often more expensive, once that conventional materials are massively produced, bringing benefits to business, while alternative materials don’t have the economies of scale to bring costs down.
By this reason, brands that use 100% recycle materials and avoid single-use plastic tend to be small and to present a premium appeal because they have a differentiated purpose. In the opinion of Danielle Azoulay, head of sustainability for L’Oréal USA, “When you launch a new brand, you can build in all of the sustainability criteria and attributes and values that you want from the beginning,” “When you have a brand that’s 100 years old, that brand wasn’t necessarily founded with the same sort of priorities and awareness.”
On the other hand, as an example of large beauty brand which invests on sustainability “inside and out”, it is possible to cite Natura. It is a multinational Brazilian company founded with the goal to promote well-being and sustainable awareness through better environmental practices to cultivate relationships with community and nature, creating a better future. Currently, it is present in Brazil, as well as in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, France, Mexico and Peru.
Natura is known as an explorer of Brazilian biodiversity because it has a huge portfolio of products, result of research and development in Amazon region. The main ingredients of its products are based on traditional communities’ knowledge and work, generating job opportunities and income for local families. Through research and work experience in this region, the brand shows that it is possible to use ingredients from Amazon establishing harmony with nature to preserve the biggest forest of world.
Regarding sustainable packaging, Natura is pioneer of refillable items, in Brazilian market. Besides, the company also uses “green plastic” that is produced with sugar cane – renewable raw material and uses bottles with 100% post-consumption recycled plastic. In addition to the awareness of sustainable production, the brand also communicates the positive impact of products purchased on e-commerce. This channel shows how the creation of determined products helps to preserve forests and incentives educative actions for local communities.
In conclusion, brands that are willing to transform processes and become eco-friendly may not see an immediate financial return on investment, but they may become pioneer in this area, if they are already working on brand strategies and actions now. It is also important to remember that, in digital era, the communication needs to be authentic and transparent, revealing company values and its real impact for society. Appealing design still has space in beauty industry but to remain relevant in the future, traditional brands will need to incorporate sustainability with the main brand principles.